Everything Will Be Just Fine

I came to believe I had made a grave mistake in letting our four year relationship fall apart. It had been a couple of months since it had ended and the unexpected murder of my cousin and her son had drastically altered my perspective. I wanted my girlfriend back. I needed her. We could avoid the pitfalls we had cyclically fallen into. The new and improved me was perfect for her.

I would do everything I could to show her how important she was to me.

Before I began I wrote a letter to myself. I just came across it the other day. It read:

Karson, If it doesn’t work out don’t feel bad. You tried as hard as you could. Don’t have any regrets. There was nothing you could do about it. It wasn’t meant to be. Anything else you could have spent doing those hours you put into stuff for her you can still do now. Reading, movies, etc. will always be there, this was probably the only time in your life you had to get her. You have learned so much about what is important in life and you will have the opportunity to show it to someone else. Be happy for her, be happy for everything that happens to her. Move on, find someone else, and treat them the way you would have treated her. Everything will be just fine.

I went on to take every opportunity I could to see and talk to her. I wrote her letters and made her CD’s. Before going to Asia I explained 45 different things that I loved about her on index cards and placed them into individual envelopes so she would have a new one to open every day that I was gone. I arranged flowers to be delivered to her every other week. I emailed and messaged her when I had the chance. I did everything I could. It wasn’t enough.

We didn’t get back together.

Perhaps it was too much? Perhaps I came off as desperate? Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps. Life is too short to play guessing games with myself. I learned it is much easier to accept a failure knowing that I acted true to myself. My golden rule is a combination of treat people the way I want to be treated and the way I’d want someone to treat my sister.

When I act against my better judgement I expose myself to thoughts such as “what if I would have done this… then maybe it would have worked.” Even worse is when I’m not true to myself and get what I think I want. I ignore the voice in my head saying “this is wrong” and “this isn’t you.” Next thing I know I’m going out every night and getting an hour of sleep before work to keep someone in my life (a story for another day). Requirements lead to unhappiness. By being genuine I can trust that when relationship, or any sort of opportunity, comes my way I’ll be a good fit.

This letter can apply to anything in life. A job, a business venture, a hobby, etc. When you find something you are passionate about don’t be afraid to give it your all. The more you work at it the more you’ll learn and the better you’ll become. Care about what you are doing but don’t worry about the outcome. Worrying isn’t action. It is by doing that you will learn and better yourself. If you’re doing something you love it’s never a waste of time. If one opportunity doesn’t work out you have bettered yourself and are more prepared for the next one.

Try not to begrudge someone for not choosing you. Trust that you can’t satisfy them. Be happy for them. Keep improving yourself. Be kind. The more kindness you put into the world the kinder it will be. I’ll use simple math to prove this: World + Kind = More Kind World. World + Mean = More Mean World. You control your world’s equation and choose the people who contribute to it. The more you practice being what you want to see in the world, the more prevalent it will be.

Whether you’re on top, at rock bottom, or somewhere in between. Find things you love doing, people you love interacting with and do it as much as you can. It’ll make your day a little bit better. It’ll make the world a little bit better. Opportunities will find you.

I still struggle with this. I still get impatient and anxious. I want things now. What if I’m wrong? What if they never come? I close my eyes and take a deep breath.

Everything is just fine. Everything will be just fine.

 

One Rock At A Time

When reflecting on the summer of 2012 I often think of the line from Charles Dickens’ A Tale Of Two Cities, “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” This post falls into the former. For the months of July and August I was fortunate enough to backpack throughout Southeast Asia with two of my tallest friends, Kaleb and Dayna. This is the tale of one of our Indonesian adventures. Climbing Mount Merapi, an active stratovolcano.

It was the middle of the afternoon before our overnight hike up the volcano. Kaleb, Dayna and I were relaxing in our hostel room in Yogyakarta when we heard a screeching from outside. It took awhile for us all to notice but there was definitely something just beyond our room. We opened the door and walked out into the hall together. I don’t think any of us expected what we were about to witness…

About ten feet away there was a cat, it was raping another cat.

I can’t recall many moments in my life that made me feel more uncomfortable than this. Despite the squealing and walking of the smaller cat, the larger one would not dismount. We didn’t think there was anything we could do without putting ourselves in danger. What would you have done? We looked on for a few more minutes then returned to our room and hoped for the cries to subside.

The next logical thing to do would probably be to have a nap before our 10 pm departure. However, I decided watching a movie would be a better use of my time.

“What movie would best prepare me for climbing a mountain?” I asked myself.

Perhaps Vertical Limit? K2? The Mountain? – I ended up choosing Piranha 3DD. Kaleb napped while Dayna and I watched it. I thoroughly enjoyed it, I can’t speak for her though. I would provide some of my favourite one liners but no one seems to find them funny outside the context of the movie.

“Titanium mother fuckers. Eat this!” Sorry, couldn’t resist.

We have a little over an hour to kill now. Perfect time for a nap. Instead we decided upon snacking. Fuel up, good idea. We head down to the restaurant in our hostel. I order a fruit bowl. (Note: If you’ve never been to Southeast Asia, the fruit is something else compared to it’s North American counterparts). When the bowl arrives it is covered in a pinky/orangy sauce.

I think to myself “Hmm… fruit and a sugar sauce might not be the best thing before an all night hike…”

Oh well. I pop a heaping spoonful into my mouth.

I gag.

“What the fuck is this!?” I say to Kaleb and Dayna in between choking.

Kaleb takes a bite and swallows.

“Uhh… I think it’s Thousand Islands dressing.”

Kaleb ended up eating the rest of the bowl. If you take only one lesson away from this post, let it be to never slather fresh fruit with Thousand Islands dressing. Afterwards we quickly head back to the room and change. I’m wearing socks, pants, and a t-shirt over top of an Under Armour base layer. We return to the lobby. At 10 pm our van arrives. It’s go time.

We drive along a tightly winding road. My body had gotten use to the zig-zag driving early in the trip as this is how most of the roads are. I listen to Glen Hansard, The Thelonious Monk Quartet, and Punchline while we drive. I drift off in and out of sleep. We arrive at a small house around 11:40 pm, about twenty minutes ahead of schedule. Inside the walls were pink and decorated with a variety of masks and animals. Our breath was visible when we exited the van and entered the house. There was no heat being generated inside. We would spend the next hour sitting in uncomfortable chairs and trying to keep warm.

From where we sat we could hear 90’s boy band music videos playing from the television in the the other room (Note: if you think there are no more boy bands to add to your music collection, travel to Asia, you’ll be amazed!). The television was visible in the reflection of a nearby aquarium.

“Backstreet Boys. I Want It That Way.” I pipe up before the music starts playing. I knew the song from the start of the music video. My old baby-sitter would be proud. Kaleb and Dayna compliment me on my intelligence by laughing at and making fun of me. We keep waiting. At 12:55 am the 20 something of us that were there gathered outside. It’s go time… Again.

The climb is difficult. From the onset we are faced with steep hills. It is rare that the angle of the slope became less than 45 degrees. An hour in we had to put on surgical masks to prevent volcanic ash from getting into our lungs. This made breathing much more difficult for me (Note: I’m asthmatic). I carried on. We stayed near the front of the pack and would break every 20 minutes or so for the others to catch up. Some would decide they couldn’t complete the hike and were guided back.

Around 2:30 am, more than half way up the volcano, I witnessed one of the nicest views possible while taking a pee. The village below appeared like it was in a dome. The sky was majestic. I couldn’t count the number of shooting stars I saw.

As we got higher, the path we were walking on began to narrow to a few feet wide. It was was a combination of grass and dirt but if you were to slip on the edge it is a steep fall into trees and brush. I’m not sure how they’d recover you. As we are walking I hear some of the ground crumbling behind us. I look back to see Dayna half off the side with another hiker’s arm holding onto her. He pulls her back up. Close call.

We take a 20 minute break just after 3:30 am before the final leg of our ascent. We don’t want to reach the peak too early. The moon was amazing. It was a quarter moon that night but since we were in the southern hemisphere the bottom of the it was visible instead of the side. The guides started a bonfire (it took a few attempts). I started getting cold again. For the remainder of our break we huddled around the fire trying to keep warm.

Shortly after we began climbing again we were above the clouds. The landscape was lunar. I actually felt like I was walking on the moon. The final push to the peak of the volcano proved most difficult. It was steep and covered in shale. The large, solid-looking rock sometimes crumble at the touch. When to my estimation we were nearing the top of the mountain I made a crucial mistake. I looked down.

I’ve never had a problem with heights but in that moment I was petrified, entirely consumed by fear.

“What if the rock I’m standing on gives way? Or the next one does?” We were all a single misfortune or mistake away from serious injury or death. How long would my family going on thinking I was alive if I die? Would they be able to cope? Would they carry my corpse down or just drag and roll me? My mind was panicking. I couldn’t look at Kaleb or Dayna because I just imagined them falling too. I imagined how terrified I would be to have my family climbing with me knowing they would be in the same perilous situation. I still don’t know in the moment how I overcame this fear. I just know eventually I locked my eyes in front of me, and one rock at a time, I forced myself onward. I instinctively began ignoring everything around me except the next rock that I would grab until finally, I had reached the peak.

When I stood up I felt the fear wash out of me and be replaced by ecstasy. It’s a sensation I had never quite felt felt before or since. Even with the most vivid description words can’t accurately describe it. It has to be experienced. We watched the sun rise above the clouds. It was beautiful. Breathtaking. We celebrated, walked around, looked into the volcano, and took a few pictures. Ok, maybe a lot of pictures. Of the 20 or so of us that began, more than half had turned back sometime along the way. We didn’t. Above the clouds, at an elevation of nearly 3000 m, we were on top of the world.

The climb down was almost as difficult. I lost track of how many times I fell on my ass. I was covered in dirt and ash, exhausted, and my whole body ached. We got back to the homestead shortly after 8 am. Our total hike duration was just under 7 1/2 hours.

We did it. The three of us climbed an active volcano. It was one of the most physically and mentally punishing experiences of my life. It was also one of the most rewarding. I had overcame paralyzing fear.

Don’t let fear cripple you. Not facing it only allows it to further manifest itself within you. Push against it and keep pushing. Our worst fears are rarely realized, and when they are, it often isn’t as bad as we thought it would be. Overcoming fear is a rush like no other. For me it was a feeling of calmness and absolute joy that gave me confidence to conquer more. You are the one who feeds your fear. You empower it and give it meaning. Stop. Come up with a plan or make one up as you go. Use your energy to fight it, not feed it.

What volcano are you climbing today? What’s crippling you from getting what you want from life? Keep moving forward. The sweat, the tears, and anxiety will all be worth it. You too can reach the peek.

One rock at a time.

Becoming A Lighthouse

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On January 12, 1804 the HMS York, a warship, struck Bell Rock and sank. It’s crew of 491 men and boys all perished.

Bell Rock (or “The Inchcape Rock”) is found about 18 km off the east coast of Scotland. The rock was the scene of many shipwrecks throughout history. At the time it was estimated to have destroyed six ships every year. In 1799, a Scottish engineer named Robert Stevenson proposed the construction of a lighthouse on the rock. Parliament dismissed the idea because of cost concerns and the radical nature of the proposal. After the tragedy of the HMS York, parliament had a change of heart and passed legislation allowing construction to begin.

From 1807 to 1810, Stevenson and his team overcame innumerable challenges throughout the construction of the lighthouse that would eventually be described as one of the Seven Wonders of the Industrial World. Since it’s completion there have only been two recorded shipwrecks, none resulting in fatalities.

Strive to be a lighthouse. If there is a storm in someones life seek to guide them through it. Give them hope and keep them away from danger.

A few key lessons I’ve learned from the history of the Bell Rock Lighthouse:

  1. Don’t wait for a disaster. Start now. Even 200 years ago it still took a catastrophe for people to take action. By acting now, you may mitigate a disaster. Even if you don’t, you’ll be more equipped to deal with it.
  2. It isn’t easy. Stevenson and his men’s initial phase of construction had them working 7 days per week, and away from home for 2 months. They had to live on a ship 2 km from the rock for 20 hours per day because the rock was only exposed for four hours each day. Before they even started building the lighthouse, they built a beacon to live in on the rock so they wouldn’t have to travel to and from it each day. A man was knocked unconscious and drowned, another needed his finger amputated after an accident, another died when a crane collapsed on him. In 1810, Stevenson’s twins and daughter all died of whooping cough. The crew carried on. There will always be excuses to stop but you have to persevere.
  3. Find an inspiration and act as you think they would. Stevenson’s design was based on a lighthouse which he had inspected nearly a decade ago. When times inevitably get tough and obstacles seem too daunting, put yourself in the shoes of someone who inspires you and try to emulate what you think their actions would be. When I find myself stuck, feeling down, or beating myself up I’ll ask myself “If Hayley was in this situation how would she handle it?” It’ll often reveal a better action than the one I’m taking (I’m often not doing anything at all). It’ll put me into a more positive state of mind which is often all I need to begin taking action. You could prevent someones ship from sinking, try not to keep your light off too long.
  4. Don’t let other people hinder you. When Stevenson found a visit from John Rennie (basically Stevenson’s boss) to be detrimental to his work he got creative. During the remainder of the construction Stevenson wrote Rennie a total of 82 letters asking detailed questions about a variety of, often trivial, construction issues. He would reply in great detail to every letter but Stevenson would mostly ignore them. Rennie’s interference was minimized. Believe in yourself. By building a better you, you will help the others around you. If something is slowing your growth, find a way to remove it.
  5. Overcome loneliness. The Bell Rock Lighthouse stands alone. This is challenging. Not everyone will come to your shore. You won’t always know if you are helping anyone at all. You have to stay patient. Trust that you are doing good. Love yourself.  The brighter your light shines the more people will notice it. Keep it on, and people will eventually gather to you.

Don’t let the rockiness of your shores detour you, begin building your lighthouse now. There is no obstacle you can’t overcome. Illuminate the path for others sailing in your life. Give them reprieve when their seas are rough and stand proudly for them when they are calm. Eventually they will try to navigate through the rocks and other hazards guarding your shore. Accidents may happen but there won’t have to be casualties. Some will make it though. If you’re lucky, one might stay.

All You Have To Do Is Ask

“It isn’t a big deal, it isn’t a big deal.” I repeat to myself over and over again as I drive to Starbucks. It’s 7:30 pm and I’m not going to my regular location. If I didn’t want to go there again after this, I wouldn’t have to.

I was about to attempt The Coffee Challenge. The challenge itself is simple, ask for a 10% discount the next time you purchase a cup of coffee.

To minimize embarrassment I had a script in my head that I intended to follow:

Me: “Hello”
Them: “What would you like?”
Me: “I’ll get a grande medium roast.”
Them: “That’ll be $2.57.”
Me: “Can I get 10% off?”
Them: “Uh. Why?”
Me: “Oh. It’s just a silly assignment for a business course.”

I’m feeling good as I walk into the Starbucks. The barista standing at the till is a young Asian woman.

The what-if’s begin to cycle through my head as I approach the counter. “What if this is her first day? What if I embarrass her?” Just stick to the script I tell myself.

“Hello,” I try to sound as cheery as possible.

“What can I get for you?” she said.

“I’ll get a grande medium roast coffee please.”

She casually replies “Umm. We don’t have any right now… I can drip one for you?”

Oh crap. This isn’t how it’s supposed to go…

“What do you have ready right now?” I ask, trying to maintain my composure.

“Just the dark roast,” she said.

“Ok, I’ll get that then.”

“Do you want room for cream?”

“No thanks.”

“Ok. That’s $2.57”

“Could I get 10% off?”

Silence. She’s dumbfounded.

“Uh… Why?” she asks sounds puzzled.

“I’d just like 10% off.”

“Because we don’t have medium roast?”

Whoah! Yes! That’s a great reason I think to myself but before I can say it my mouth has already blurted out “It’s ok, I’m just doing this for a business assignment.”

What? No! That isn’t what I wanted to say at all! I feel like Ralphie in A Christmas Story when he agrees with the department store Santa Clause that he’d like a football for Christmas.

She’s giggling now, “well maybe if I had a reason.”

Dammit. I might have been able to pull this off. Instead of taking it any further I told her not to worry about it.

After paying I walk to the other side to the other counter to get my coffee and she brings it to the till. I begin to walk to the till. She begins walking to the counter. She comes back to the counter and hands me my coffee. “Thanks so much, have a nice evening” I tell her and head back to my car.

Despite the outcome I felt euphoric as I walked back to my car. I ventured outside my comfort zone and I felt alive as a result of it. My anxieties had melted away. I threw out the coffee when I got home, I didn’t need it.

The world is full of exciting and new opportunities. All you have to do is ask.

Origin Story

It was a disaster.

My friend stood in the centre of the agility course calling her dog’s name but it wouldn’t obey. It had been exceptionally well behaved before it’s leash was removed. I thought the trial would go well. Instead, my friend’s countless hours of training and practice had accumulated into three minutes of heartbreak. It hurt to see her so upset. However in that moment something unexpected happened. I was overcome by feelings of pride and inspiration. A belief that everyone there was witnessing something special.

From superheroes to entrepreneurs, everyone has an origin story. Spider-Man would have never became a member of The Avengers had he quit after failing to stop the murder of his Uncle Ben. Henry Ford would have never found Ford Motor Co. had he quit after the failure of Detroit Automobile Company and the Henry Ford Company. My Mickey Mouse mug from which I’m drinking wouldn’t exist had Walt Disney quit after being told by a newspaper editor that “he lacked imagination and had no good ideas” or when MGM told him a giant mouse wouldn’t work because it would terrify women. Perseverance is key to success.

We live in a society that puts a focus on outcomes, not what leads to them. After the agility trial most people focused on the good and the bad of the run and how to improve. While this important, no one acknowledged the accomplishment and courage it took to get there. Signing up for classes, finding the farm, paying the fees, signing up for the trial, attending it knowing she had limited practice. There were countless opportunities to back out but she saw it through. Now she has a baseline to build off of and improve upon. The significance of this should not go unnoticed.

For years the fear of initial failure has crippled me. I’ve attempted to write many times in the past but always fell short of publishing my work because I didn’t think it was good enough. I thought people would reject me. That my writing was so bad that no one would ever want to read anything from me again. The list of excuses keeping me from clicking publish is endless, and more importantly, irrational.

As my friend stood heartbroken it dawned on me that she is going to survive this experience. She is going to have an opportunity to practice, improve, and will succeed if she preservers. I can too.

I am grateful for witnessing their first run.

This post is my origin story. Soon I will be a superhero.