It's okay to not be okay

My soul is numb

I'm trying to escape the realities of my current life, but running only makes it worse.

Attempts at escape only make me more numb. 

Why?

Three weeks ago, my daughter passed away before ever taking a breath. My wife was 36 weeks pregnant and our baby's heart stopped beating. With no explanation. No known reason. 

My wife labored and delivered our stillborn child on January 17. We said hello and goodbye at the very same time. 

And that just shouldn't be so. 

Everything in life seems harder to do now. Reading, writing, cooking, cleaning, sleeping, talking...everything.

I'm currently reading a book on anxiety and depression. In it, the author states, "How we think influences how we feel." And I completely agree with that statement. But it seems to be getting harder and harder to control my thoughts these days.

I want life to go back to normal. I want my baby back in the womb, alive. I want to feel joy and happiness. 

But all I seem to feel is space. Emptiness. Loneliness.

I'm doing everything I can to be strong for my family. To put on the right face and do all the right things. To make sure my wife has all her needs met as she mourns the loss of our daughter. To make sure our 2-year-old is fed, clothed, clean, healthy and loved. 

And it's the hardest thing I've ever had to do. 

I've always known life wasn't fair. There are winners and losers. There are those who succeed and those who don't. Good people get treated poorly and bad people get treated better than they should. 

But life and death? Wow...seems totally unfair.

What should be normal is: you're born, you live a full life, and you die at an old age with plenty of family and friends around you. That seems fair.

What's not fair is never having the opportunity to live outside the womb. What's not fair is having to explain to a 2-year-old that the baby that we've been talking about for 9 months, whom we named Haven, is now no longer with us. What's not fair is having to continue with life with a large chunk of your heart missing. 

I honestly feel like I'm wading through molasses. Is this what depression is like? Grief and depression have a lot in common. 

I know things will eventually get easier. I know we'll have more kids. I know the sun will shine brighter and the clouds will go away. 

But for now, the days are just gloomier than they used to be. And it's not because I live in Portland...although that certainly doesn't help. 

Why am I pouring my heart out like this? Well, for one, I just want to be honest and transparent. And I want my writing to be helpful, so in an effort to help, here's my maxim:

It's okay to not be okay.

You don't have to pretend that life is perfect and nothing is wrong. If I've learned nothing else through the death of my daughter, it's that family and friends want to help. They want to be by your side and offer whatever encouragement you need. 

So don't pretend to be okay if you're not. Whether it's grief due to loss, or life has just decided to slap you in the face...it's okay to not be okay.

Another thing to keep in mind is that everywhere we go, there are people who are not okay. At the post office, in the coffee shop, at work, on the highway...there are thousands of people attempting to go on with life in the midst of difficult circumstances. 

So instead of assuming the worst about that guy who just cut you off in traffic, maybe you should contemplate the possibility that they've just lost a child (and I'm sorry if I recently cut you off in traffic). 

It's okay to not be okay. But surround yourself with people who love you and will support you and help you out of the pit you may find yourself in. Whether it's a shallow pit, or a really deep one...don't climb out alone. 

If you're interested in reading the birth story that my wife wrote, here's the link.

Posted on February 8, 2017 and filed under life design.

Stop trying to be perfect

Well, we’re a couple of weeks into the new year, and I’m going to ask you a question.

I’m a tad afraid to ask because of what the answer might be, but…here it goes.

How are your New Year’s Resolutions going?

Sorry if I hit a sore spot. It’s quite possible that many of you just doubled over in pain, wanting to forget that you even MADE resolutions this year.

I get it. We’ve all done it. We’ve all made resolutions that lasted, oh…maybe a week. And then, other things pop up. Or become more important. Or we just lose motivation.

Or we set extremely high expectations for ourselves that doomed us to failure before we even started.

Here’s what I know about creative people like you and I…we have high standards. We set expectations that can sometimes be way out of reach. And for good reason. We want to be the best we can be with the skills and talents we have. It’s noble and honorable.

And often downright stupid.

Don’t get me wrong, I want you to reach high and make some risky goals. But if I know you at all as a creative, I know that you probably suffer from perfectionism-ism.

You read that right, perfectionism-ism. It’s not a typo. It’s not misspelled. There are two “ism’s.” Why, you ask?

Here’s my theory. Many people suffer from perfectionism. We see the movies, the TV shows, the magazines, the advertisements, and everything else that communicates to the general public that we’re not good enough. We see the models that look beyond perfect and compare our own bodies to them and think, “I’ll never look that skinny.”

That’s a general shortcoming of citizens of humanity.

But as creative people: the writers, artists, designers, photographers, and musicians…we tend to over-perfectionize (that’s also on purpose…even though “perfectionize” is not a word).

We not only compare ourselves to other great creatives, but we compare ourselves to the “perfect” version of ourselves. That version doesn’t create “rough drafts.” That version nails the biggest clients and high accolades. But that version…does not exist.

Here’s what I’ve learned to be true: perfection is the enemy of done. Or as Voltaire puts it:

Perfect is the enemy of good.”

Interesting. Perfect is the enemy of good?

If I asked a random person on the street, or even you, “Do you want to be good at what you do?” They/you would probably say, “Heck YEAH I want to be good!” But we’re waging war against good in pursuit of perfect.

Perfectionism-ism suffocates our creativity by putting ginormous expectations on ourselves. It doesn’t fan the flame of our desires…it pours gallons and gallons of water on the wood before we even try to light it.

Good and done is WAY BETTER than perfect and unfinished.

Seth Godin says it best by saying, “Just ship it.”

Again, I’m not saying we shouldn’t aim high, but we need to have a balance between being “risky” and being “delusional.”

Delusional = perfectionism-ism.

I want to share two things that I think will help you.

  1. It’s okay. We’ve all been there and we all struggle with perfectionism-ism from time to time. It’s just not okay to stay there.
  2. Dial back the crazy and just start. Many of us are afraid to ever take a step in a direction because we’re afraid of not meeting our perfectionism-ism standards. And you won’t. So stop beating yourself up about it.

It’s okay to have high standards and be risky. But maybe we should set our sights on good instead of perfect.

So who’s with me? Ready to start a revolution for “good?” Leave a comment below and let us know: what goals are you striving for this year?

Posted on January 15, 2017 and filed under life design, creative.

2 Motivational Words to Kickstart your new year.

Just start. 

Those are two of the best words that I’ve ever heard. 

It’s so easy. No matter what you’re wanting to tackle, just start. 

No matter what your goals are this year, just start.

No matter how far away your ideal life seems, just start.

When I was in college, I had an incredible mentor whose name was Nathan. I still consider him one of my closest friends even though we don’t talk often. 

Nathan was the kind of guy who just bled encouragement. No matter how you felt, he was going to make your day. 

There was a particular day when I was thinking about the future. As many college students know, your life is practically planned out through college. But what happens after that? Then what? 

College is, for many young people, the first time they’re out on their own…making their own decisions. It’s a nice, safe environment to test out their new freedoms. 

But after college comes a rude awakening…

What the heck am I doing with my life?!?

We’ve all felt that at some point. Some of us are still feeling that at times (myself included).

But eventually, we have to start going in a direction. Any direction. It almost doesn’t matter what direction because…everyone is expecting us to go and do SOMEthing with our lives.

But it doesn’t have to be that complicated.

As I’ve written about before, clarity comes with movement. Sometimes we just need to get moving. We don’t need all the nitty-gritty details of the destination. The joy is often in the journey.

But back to Nathan…there was a certain day where I was really anxious about the future. Where was I going to live? Where was I going to work? Who would be my future friends? What if life isn’t as exciting as it is right now? 

And my wonderful friend Nathan, in all his wisdom, could sense my anxiousness. Without any prompting, he simply put his arm around me and said:

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

I immediately felt a weight lift from my shoulders. 

I thought to myself, “You mean, I don’t have to have it all figured out?”

Isn’t that beautiful? You don’t have to have it all figured out to take a step! You only have to start. 

Just start. With a single step. It’s okay to merely have an idea. But once you start going, other things come into view that you didn’t expect. And your course will change. And that’s okay.

So no matter what you want to change or embark on in 2017. Just start. Take a step. Ask yourself, “What’s the next best step?” And take it. And then another, and another, and another. Until you eventually get to where you’re going. And when you get there, it starts all over. 

So my encouragement to you today is simple: just start. Whether you’re wanting to lose 50 pounds or start a new business or FINALLY get your life in order. Just start.

 

Posted on January 10, 2017 and filed under life design.

When Things Don't Come Easy

In my life, things have come easy. School, sports, music…I’m pretty good at all those things, and it didn’t take me long to excel at them. 

In school, I was a quick learner and a straight-A student. I played several sports and was pretty good at all of them. I was fast, agile, smart, and a good team player. 

For music, I picked up playing drums and guitar with ease, and I had a good singing voice. I didn’t have to work too hard to learn to play or sing. They just seemed to come naturally.

I’m not trying to sound smug, so please here me… I’m merely trying to say that I haven’t had to work very hard for what I have. Including my wife! When we were dating, she moved across the country to live in the same city as me while I finished up my degree before we got married. (She reminds me sometimes that she didn’t make me work for it…and it’s true.)

But I didn’t really understand how easy things came to me…until now.

Recently, I’ve embarked on an entrepreneurial journey that has taken me for quite a ride.

It’s one thing to talk about starting a business. It’s another thing to actually DO it

This journey has had me sailing in uncharted waters (uncharted for me, at least). I’ve had later nights trying to finish projects and solve problems, and I’ve had earlier mornings doing the same. Since my wife and I both work from home with a 2-year-old, most of my work recently has been happening before 8 am and after 8 pm...which is not ideal AT ALL for me. But that’s the season we’re in. 

In pursuit of this new business venture, I’ve had to face things I don’t think I’ve ever had to face before…particularly, things not coming easily. On top of that, an enormous amount of doubt, insecurity and fear charge into my headspace and trample on my thoughts daily.

And because this new venture isn’t something that comes naturally, it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever embarked on.

Any day can be filled with an extravagant amount of energy and motivation, as well as a terrifying amount of fear and doubt and thoughts of quitting to go work at a coffee shop or drive for Uber. No seriously, I consider driving for Uber several times a week.

So why do I keep going? Why do I run after something I’ve never done before? Something unfamiliar that doesn’t come easily? Why do I stay up late and wake up early to pursue an idea that could completely and utterly FAIL?

Because my wife believes in me.

That's my wife, Tessa J.!

That's my wife, Tessa J.!

I wish I could say it’s because of my own self-confidence or drive to succeed. But if it were left to me, I would’ve probably been driving for Uber for months now. And delivering pizzas. And making coffee. 

But because my wife supports me, believes in me, and has an incredible amount of confidence in me, I press on. There are other factors, sure, but without my wife’s encouragement — I’d quit. 

As a spouse, a parent, a boss, or a friend — you have no idea the amount of influence you might have on someone else. Your encouragement and support could be the difference between starting a business or quitting a job, marrying that girl or breaking up with that girl, taking one's life or choosing to give life another chance. 

Don’t underestimate the power of your words and support. They mean more than you probably will ever realize.

Who could you encourage today? Who could you speak life to that needs uplifting? Who’s confidence could you bolster by simply saying, “I believe in you”?

Posted on December 18, 2016 and filed under life design.

What I learned while growing a moustache

For the month of November, I grew (am growing) a moustache.

I haven’t had facial hair since the last time I grew a moustache, which was 3 years ago. 

There're all kinds of nuisances and annoyances of having a moustache. Those small, coarse hairs annihilate my upper lip like a band of ninjas, stabbing my face with their tiny sword-like points. And the itching…oh, how I loathe the itching. The itching is bad enough, but when I go to scratch I get attacked again from the tiny ninja squad. Oh, the woes of manhood…

But there’s something else that’s also a bit annoying. Growing this sweet ‘stache has revealed yet again, that: 

People don’t say what they actually think.

Having a moustache on one’s face can be quite provocative...especially when there’s not one normally there. I often do double-takes when passing a mirror, almost frightened by the image. Is that a cop from the 80’s or a criminal? A cop from the 80’s, of course.

As some of you may know, November (or Movember, as it’s called) is men’s health awareness month. It’s an opportunity to bring awareness to things like prostate and testicular cancer. And what better way to bring awareness than growing a moustache!

But here’s the problem: I don’t talk about prostate cancer or men’s health issues unless someone brings up my moustache. Not because I don’t want to, but because I often forget the moustache is even on my face!

But I’m not sure what I’ve been more bothered by: not bringing awareness to men’s health issues or people ignoring I have a moustache.

Here’s are three different responses from people this month:
 

#1 - Pretend it doesn’t exist.

This is by far the most popular stance.

“Oh, HEY Derek! I didn’t see you there!”

Didn’t see me? I look exactly the same. I’m just exercising my facial-hair-follicle-freedom. I have rights, you know!

There’s always this brief pause before a friend or family member says hello or embraces me. It’s like they’re trying to figure out if what is on my upper lip is on purpose or not. I mean, if it weren’t, I’m SURE they’d try to help me out.

“Hey man, you’ve got a caterpillar crawling across your face or something...kind of looks like a moustache.”

No duh.

#2 - Pretend it’s the coolest thing in the world.

“Nice work, Derek! Rockin’ the moustache...I like it.”

Don’t lie to me. Seriously. I don’t even like it. If I don’t like it, surely you don’t like it. It’s kind of weird (at least at this stage...not-quite-full-grown-‘stache stage). If you had a daughter, you’d probably try to shield her for fear of me being a creeper.

I assure you, I’m not.

#3 - Pretend you’re my real friend and tell me the truth.

Only one person did this. While most avoided the obvious, and a few sprinkled on some moustache glory, one friend supported me with the truth.

He laughed out loud when he saw me.

I’m not talking about a giggle or snicker. No, no...those are way too gentle of words.

He belly laughed...for a good amount of time...before he could even speak. And when he did speak, he said...

“What is on your FACE?!”

Now that’s a true friend. Someone who will tell you like it is. Someone who isn’t afraid to hurt your feelings, your pride, or your manhood.

Someone who tells you the truth even when you’re trying to do something for a good cause.


Why don’t people say what they really think or feel? Why do we avoid communicating what we actually want to say?
 

My theory? Lack of connection.
 

When you’re truly connected to someone, you’re vulnerable. But vulnerability poses a threat. When you’re vulnerable, you’re open to getting hurt. You’re intentionally leaving yourself open to possible harm.

But unless we become vulnerable, we’ll never truly feel connected. And if we’re not connected, we’ll never actually say or do what we think.

I tell my wife everything. Absolutely everything. All my victories and shortcomings are shared with her. She knows the best of me and the worst of me. And vice versa.

If I intentionally kept things from her, I would damage the connection. And of all the people I need to stay vulnerable with, it’s my spouse.

And the beautiful thing about vulnerability and connection is the freedom that results.

You can only be free when you’re willing to be vulnerable.

Yes, you’ll probably get hurt sometimes. But you’ll also experience the deepest, most meaningful relationships of your life.

So the next time you see someone growing a moustache or doing something different, don’t avoid it or pretend to like it. 

Instead, ask some questions. Get some clarity. You might discover deeper connection and freedom.

Posted on November 28, 2016 and filed under relationship.