Skip to content

Archive for

500+ for 50 – day 13: if you build it, they will come

When I was kid one of my favorite movies was Field of Dreams.  If you’re a sports fan of any kind, you’ve probably watched it yourself more than a handful of times.  The story follows Ray Kinsella, a farmer from Iowa on a remarkable, spiritual journey as he is guided by a voice from the sky to plow under his corn and build a baseball diamond on his property.  The direction offered from above is clear, “if you build it, they will come.”  The intended final destination of his journey however is a bit harder to decipher.  Ray follows with passion and faith a variety of cues that ultimately lead him to inspiring a game of baseball between a group of legends and lost souls from the game’s past.  And in the end, he reunites with his deceased father for a game of catch.  It’s a moving film meant to inspire the dreamer in all of us.  It reminds us that when we’re led by faith, miracles will always remain at our fingertips.

Whether we are willing to admit it or not, there is a little bit of Ray Kinsella in all of us.  Ray is representative of the innocent, childlike faith that we embody as children.  Such faith challenges conventional wisdom as it encourages us to follow our hearts and the guidance that we receive from above.  When we have faith like children we wholly trust that we will land at our appropriate destination so long as we simply believe and stay the course.  Unfortunately, as we grow older faith led action is found to be less and less acceptable by modern society’s standards.  The world forces us to become practical realists.  And our dreams often diminish and fade as a result.  Our lives become representative not of a divine plan, but rather of a worldly defined education.  It’s no wonder that we encounter the adversities that we do in life when so very few of us are willing to let go and trust in being led by something greater than ourselves.

I believe that society puts a ton of pressure on us as individuals to fit-in.  We are programmed to follow the crowd and are taught that there is an acceptable way for living our lives and getting ahead in the world.  We are encouraged to reach milestones at varying times in our lives, and if by chance we miss them, we are led to believe that we are falling behind the curve.  It’s all absolutely ridiculous.  Who was it that defined the present standards that we are expected to live by anyway?  And what on earth do those individuals know about us and how we were created?  Do they have any understanding of the purpose that God has defined for our lives?  Not a chance.  We are all unique and if we spent more time embracing that idea and remembering what a blessing it is NOT to fit in, perhaps like Ray Kinsella we’d be more receptive to following with faith the callings that we receive from the skies above.

When we make the decision to step outside of society’s comfort zone and embrace wholeheartedly the person that we’re meant to become, we’re going to be met with fears.  After all, we’ve likely spent the better part of our lives anxiously ensuring that we effectively meet the world’s standards for what it means to be attractive, smart, successful, etc.  So it’s natural that our efforts to let go will be met with resistance.  But it’s important that we remember one key thing.  There is only one voice of reason, and that voice does not come from the world, but rather from God.  And His power is limitless.  Those dreams that He’s shared with you, the visions He’s offered you, they may seem ridiculous to those around you.  They may appear completely unrealistic and unattainable.  But nothing is beyond the reach of our Creator.  God wants to inspire the child in all of us.  He wants us to dream and to trust in His ability to manifest all things.  When we do, miracles occur.

Many of us go through life wanting so badly to be liked that we never get to know who it is that we are.  We spend so much time trying to pass the test of others that we often miss out on our own opportunities for greatness.  And I believe that this is the result of deep rooted fears of loss and abandonment.  There is so much pressure on us to fit in in this world that often we conceal who it is that we really are and in doing so fail to release the greatness within us that has been inspired by God.  When our voice of reason calls from the sky, we turn deaf ears to the message sent because the responsibility to act accordingly feels too great for us to bear.  Better to be practical and stand still than to risk being led by faith and fly, right?  Wrong.

Take it from the late Nelson Mandela, “there is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”  We are led to do more than simply blend in to the background of society.  I am certain of that.  And we need not fear being left alone when we reach for something unconventional or live openly a life that society may consider flawed.  When you become the person that God has created you to be, you will attract the likes of countless others who will share your passion for growth and faith.  He will surround you richly with a network of fellow believers that will inspire you along your journey and aid you throughout your personal transformation. So worry not if you need to pull a few weeds when you begin living anew.  You’re just repurposing the soil for some healthy seedlings to take root.

Do not be afraid to dream.  Do not be afraid to act on faith.  And do not worry, Ray, “if you build it, they will come.” 

May God Bless!

Advertisements

500+ for 50 – day 12: all hands on deck

When I was a young adolescent, I began developing behaviors that would have been labeled as obsessive-compulsive.  I was in about 7th or 8th grade when it all started presenting itself.  I remember first engaging some very irrational thought patterns which then led to intense, overwhelming fears that quickly began to take control of my life.  From the onset of my disorder, I knew that I truly would never experience life the same way again.  My innocence was lost.  I became a servant to my fears and began suffering silently in the shame of my actions. 

I’ve shared a lot of very personal things over the last several years in an effort to restore my life and inspire others to take the initiative to do the same.  But one of the things that I never explored in much detail was my obsessive compulsive disorder.  And I guess the reason that I chose not to offer a whole lot was because I was fearful of judgment.  There are a lot of negative connotations associated with mental health related illnesses, many of which I’ve challenged passionately through my writing.  But I guess even I felt that perhaps I had my limits…that is, until today.

The fears that spur obsessive compulsive disorder are absolutely debilitating.  When a person’s irrational thinking grows to a level of obsession, their actions start being driven in ways that the individual can sometimes even recognize as illogical, yet still feel powerless to control.  I can isolate two main fears in my life that led to the development of my obsessive compulsive behavior when I was young teen.  The first was my fear of getting a woman pregnant.  I became literally paranoid that somehow without even a bad decision on my part I would transfer my DNA to a female and impregnate her.  The second fear was a generalized anxiety stemming from worry about my own personal health.  I wasn’t afraid of dirt, so it’s not that I was a clean freak or anything, but I was very concerned about contracting and spreading disease. And I would obsess about the way that my heart would beat until I could hear every single tick in my head.  I was a hypochondriac.

I guess most psychologists would conclude that there is often a traumatic experience behind the development of such paralyzing fear.  As it relates to my personal situation, I can recall quite clearly that there were a few distinct experiences that led me to my ultimate paranoia.  But those experiences weren’t traumatic whatsoever in their own right.  It was my irrational thinking that distorted them into devastating turning points in my life.  Perhaps I had already given birth to the anxiety within me and it was simply waiting to present itself once prompted.  As a teenager, you begin to experience life in a whole new way.  There are a lot of unknowns, and many assumptions are made about right and wrong.  Giving my mind the wheel and allowing it to be the ultimate decision making authority proved to have tragic consequences in my development as a young adult.

When I was a teen, my fears caused me to create some pretty unusual patterns of behavior.  I’m sure that you’ve all heard about OCD and obsessions with counting.  I engaged in that for a short period of my life, flicking the lights on and off, turning the door handle, etc.  And at certain points I became so obsessed with germs, etc that I would use tissues when opening or closing doors so that I didn’t need to touch the knobs themselves.  I would wash things repeatedly…things that weren’t meant to be washed.  Or I’d throw things out that I felt had become tainted.  I remember having a stack of VHS tapes in my room all with missing covers because I had decided that they were unclean.  My parents probably thought that I was a mess.

I made every effort to hide my behavior from everyone.  What I was dealing with was personal.  I shared it with no one because I was so incredibly ashamed of my actions.  On the surface, I was a smart, athletic kid with the wind at his back.  I had to maintain that image, or someone might find out what I was dealing with and then I’d be seen as a complete fool.  The pressure began to become a real burden for me.  I was confronting fears that no 13 or 14 year old kid should ever need to worry about.  I was the victim of a manipulative mind, and I was heading down a destructive path.  It’s no wonder that years later I became the privileged recipient of a severe panic disorder.  I had been sheltering my internal torment for years.  No one can possibly hide that forever.

But that never stopped me from trying.  Even to the present day, there are things that I’ve been ashamed of and have kept hidden from those around me.  While many of my obsessive behaviors faded during my teenage years, one that I’ve certainly not been able to forfeit entirely has been my obsession with hand washing.  I’ve got to tell you, it’s a tough nut to crack.  I’ve definitely gotten better at lessening its impact over the years, but I’d still consider my habit a bit irrational at times.  And today, my hands are the product of many, many years of antibacterial soap raids.  They carry a bit redder tint than those of the average individual, and for years that has made me very uncomfortable.  So for as long as I can remember, I’ve hidden them.  You’ll rarely see me standing in closed quarters with my hands out of my pockets or not tucked behind my back or under my arms. 

I remember one year during high school, we had just returned from summer break and my Spanish teacher looked at me during class and said “wow you’re all red…you must have really gotten a sunburn!”  That was a devastating moment for me.  It was as though I had been caught, literally red-handed.  I was so embarrassed that I began feeling flushed to the point of panic and my whole head lit up in matching attire.  From that day forward, I began keeping track of the color of my hands.  Were they having a good day or a bad one?  Certain lighting would allow me to get away with keeping them exposed, while others would be better suited for pockets.  I had to be prepared.

As a professional sales executive who meets with many prospective clients under the bright lights of the board room, my paranoia about the appearance of my hands has been a challenge over the years.  I’ve found that when the setting is not optimal, my mind can grow a bit preoccupied at times even during a focused presentation.  So I’ve had to develop ways to channel my fears and literally put all hands on deck without the fear of judgment.

And I guess that’s my mission here this evening.  To let you know that while on the surface I might look and act the part, there’s a very flawed man hiding out in the pockets of my business suit.  And I’m okay with who he is, and if you’re going to be a part of my life well, then I guess you’ll need to be, too.  No one should need to be ashamed of who they are.  My hands carry the burden of a lifelong battle in mental health, and I’m proud of what they’ve accomplished.  They might be a bit harder on the eyes than most, but they still have the ability to change lives…and my hope is that that’s exactly what they’re accomplishing in the development of this blog.

You can’t change the world with your hands in your pockets.  Let them shine.  There is nothing to be afraid of in this life.  Fear the judgment of no one.  And let your pain be your purpose.  Even red hands can touch lives.

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 11: the dragonfly

Back at the beginning of June, I decided to make a committed effort to getting my life back on track.  Although on the surface it may not have appeared that I had ventured too far off course, I knew inside of my heart that I was not a living representation of the person that I wanted to be.  I understood that many of my recent decisions had been based upon my fears and my own selfish needs rather than on what God had intended for my life.  And that left me feeling very conflicted inside.  I wanted to restore my closeness with Him.  I wanted to hear His calling again.  But I wasn’t sure quite where to begin.  So I started with something that has always served well when I’ve needed to clear my head.  I went for a run.

And on that run, I struggled at times to breathe as effectively as I had when I was better conditioned.  I could sense the toxic nature of my conflicted soul clouding my lungs as I reached deep for more air.  And as I turned around the bend on the second half of my course, I reached my hands up to the sky and begged for God to give me a second chance.  I pleaded with Him, committing to make every effort to get it right this time around.  And thanks to His intervention, I finished that day’s trek without stopping to rest.  My heart raced in my chest and my head swelled with anxiety as I attempted to recover, but in spite of my physical discomfort, I knew something special was about to begin in my life.  Day 1 of my journey back was now complete.

A couple of days later while on another run I encountered a dragonfly out on the trail ahead of me.  I remember feeling really inspired by its appearance.  I knew in my heart that it was the symbol of something meaningful for me.  I watched it dance around in the air before me as I strolled by and I smiled, knowing that God had blessed me with its presence for a very specific reason.  And as I sped off out ahead on the trail, I found that my legs suddenly felt lighter and my mind far more at ease.  Was it the dragonfly?  My heart raced with anticipation of the symbolism that I might find behind its presence.

Later that evening, I pulled out my phone and did a bit searching on Google in an effort to pinpoint the symbolic meaning of the dragonfly.  While different cultures around the globe have their own distinct views, the general accepted consensus is that the dragonfly is symbolic of transformation.  It symbolizes change, lightheartedness, and the invitation to explore the intricacies of one’s own being on the road to exposing illusions and developing authenticity.  Its presence is thought to call individuals to personal growth through joyful examination of their emotions and the expression of their true selves.  Is that why I felt such freedom in its presence?  Was the dragonfly symbolic of my own personal journey and transformation?

Whatever the meaning, I’ve probably encountered more dragonflies dancing in the sky around me during the last two months than I have in total over the course of my entire lifetime.  I see them very frequently on my runs along the trails in our community.  And this weekend while on a little staycation with my girlfriend, I had a dragonfly dart directly towards my head while I was in the pool at our hotel relaxing.  I had to duck under the water to avoid it.  Even today, as I contemplated writing this very blog, I saw a dragonfly dancing outside the window of our condo, and then later while on my way to take out the recycling, I encountered yet another.  Coincidence?  No, there are no coincidences in life.

So what is to be taken from the presence of this mystical little insect in my life?  The symbolic meanings attached to the dragonfly sure do serve to effectively describe the transformation that’s been taking place in me in over the course of the last two months.  And I’ve felt the hope and joy attached to their presence whenever they’ve appeared.  I don’t believe that anything shows up in our lives without having a reason for being there.  So my conclusion is that God placed them in my life as a reminder to me that something special is happening and that He is present in my restoration, every step of the way.  Perhaps they are His way of communicating to me that I am on the right path and that I should remain lighthearted about the process and trust in His plan.  One thing I am certain of is that I need his guidance, and He understands that very well.

Dragonflies come all in sorts of shapes and sizes.  Your dragonfly may not be a dragonfly at all.  It could be the presence of smiling children, or the gift of laughter.  Or maybe it’s the sun setting on the horizon?  God speaks to us all in different ways.  And we really need not seek a confirmation from Google with regards to the symbolism behind what inspires meaning in our lives.  I’m reminded of a quote by Albert Einstein that states “There are two ways to live, one is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as if everything is.”  Our perception determines the reality.  God is surrounding us with miracles every day.  We just need to be open to seeing them.  Imagine how many dragonflies I missed over the last 31 years of my life…it’s not that they weren’t there, it’s simply that I was too blind to see them. 

When you’re living an illusion, you miss out all the beauty that our Creator has to offer.  Like the dragonfly, from this day forward I hope to dance through life with joy in my heart and authenticity at the forefront of all that I do, because I want to be open to capturing God’s miracles that surround me…they are absolutely everywhere. 

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 10: the one I’ve found

Last year my girlfriend and I took a leap of faith and followed our hearts on a move from our well-established roots in Pennsylvania to the great state of North Carolina.  And throughout the time that we’ve spent here, we’ve both found a lot of peace and happiness in our transition.  One of the most meaningful connections that we’ve made has been with our church which just so happens to be located at the corner just across the block on which we live.  I believe that there is a purpose for everything that occurs in our lives.  I don’t believe in coincidences.  God brought us to our home in NC for a very specific reason.  And it’s not by chance that we arrived in such an amazing community with a beautiful, welcoming church at its forefront.

Faith has become an absolutely integral part of our relationship with each other.  It’s the glue that bonds us when adversity threatens to get the best of us.  Thankfully, no matter our circumstances, we know that we have a shared commitment to our faith and that every Sunday at 7 PM, be it challenging conditions or the best of times, we’ll be there worshipping together.  We come as we are in fear of no judgment or condemnation, and God offers us his love, forgiveness, and guidance.  And in rhythm with the amazing people that make up the congregation surrounding us, we are set free from our burdens and united in peace and gratitude.  It’s a moving experience every single week.

Growing up I can’t say that I ever had a very intimate connection with my faith or my church.  It was not until I was reborn a few years ago that my relationship with God became the cornerstone of my life.  And it was not until we attended our first evening service here in North Carolina that I felt any type of spiritual bond to a church.  Our first night at Christ Church was an experience that I’ll never forget.  Tears ran down my face uncontrollably as I took in the music and prayer.  I never felt so welcomed and moved emotionally by a community of believers.  And I knew that night that God was there.  I could feel His presence.  It was beautiful.

Every week when we attend our service, I know that I could very well be blessed with the receipt of some type of new, profound message or direction from God.  So worship has become a very exciting experience for me.  I’m always anticipating the discovery of a unique perspective on life or faith.  And last week I was introduced to an idea that really struck a chord with me.  We were singing the hymn “Your Love is Strong” and the lyrics appeared on the screen “would you sell yourself to buy the one you’ve found?”  I recognized immediately that the question posed was one that God wanted me to explore in more depth, because it nearly sparkled as it caught my eye on the screen.  So I quickly grabbed a pen from the pew and wrote down the message so that I could spend some time thinking about its meaning throughout the week ahead. 

A little more than three years ago, I found my relationship with God.  And when I finally decided to let him into my heart, I was given a whole new perspective on life.  I had surrendered the failures of my past to Him in a desperate plea for forgiveness and restoration.  My life had reached its breaking point.  I had hit bottom, and I did not have the strength to continue fighting my battle alone.  So I reached out to God and told Him that I was ready to take responsibility for the circumstances of my life and I asked Him to do with me what He wished.  At that very moment, my transformation began.

I remember vividly the amazing feeling of a weight being lifted off of my shoulders that day as I stood in surrender to Christ.  On the brink of a total mental and physical collapse just moments earlier, I could not help but smile with joy the moment that God came to my rescue.  All of my fear and desperation turned to feelings of hope and renewal.  And I grew excited about life and about getting started with my transformation because I recognized that there was indeed a way out of the darkness and that I could and would return to the light if I simply followed His plan.  I was completely committed to the idea of selling myself to buy the one that I had found.

For the next year or so, I remained in close quarters with God.  And He spoke to me on a regular basis as I pursued His mission for my life.  It was beautiful.  I felt so blessed.  I took such pride in knowing that my Savior was directly involved and interested in leading me to the fulfilment of my life’s purpose.  It was difficult for me to truly fear or anticipate the worst in any situation, because I knew He was always walking beside me.  And with that knowledge, I could do anything without the fear of failure.  God does not fail.  He wins every battle, and He completes every mission with love and grace.  So I rejected the notions of the world that were not on track with my calling and ran with the guidance of my Lord.  He understood what was best for my life and my only mission was to do His will.

Unfortunately, over time the world infiltrated my course of action and my fears began limiting God’s work in my life.  I ventured off course to create my own pathways to success which more closely corresponded with what society considered acceptable.  And although I may not have regressed completely, I grew very motivated by money and the accumulation of things.  I became obsessed with the idea of living comfortable, not through God, but rather through financial security.  And I began making desperate attempts to achieve the comforts that I so badly desired, only to fall flat on my face time and time again. 

I was not going to be successful on my own.  I needed God, and I knew it.  Yet I somehow avoided that conservation with Him in my prayers throughout my day.  I’d ask Him to bless certain ventures or undertakings knowing full well that they ran contradictory to His plan for my life, and somehow I retained some peace in my mind believing that I still maintained my closeness with Him.  But that wasn’t the case at all.  I was hurting Him by turning away and taking the wheel, no longer allowing Him to direct the course of my life.  I knew in my heart that I was betraying Him.  And recognizing what He had done for me, the mercy He had on my life and the forgiveness He offered me…after all the sacrifices He made, I could not have been more off track with my actions.

God, if you are listening, I want you to know now that I am back.  And I’m sorry for drifting away and letting the world and my fears and insecurities get the best of me.  I’d give anything to start over with on our mission together.  I’m doing everything in my power to become the most healthy-minded individual that I can so that I can be the warrior that you will need for this journey with you.  You’re my everything.  Thank you for reaching out to me last week at church.  I’m ready again to sell myself for the one I’ve found.  I give it all to you.  Do with me what you will.  And please bless me with the strength to carry out your plan for the rest of my days on this earth.  Thank you for your mercy.   In Jesus’ name, Amen.

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 9: be kind always

“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.” (Plato)

This quite famous and well published quote serves as the basis for one of the most powerful lessons that we can teach the youth of today.  Kindness should be offered at all times, to all humans and animals alike regardless of their assumed positions in society and the flaws that we might choose to perceive in them.  Compassion is not something that we offer simply to those who gain our approval, it’s meant to be given to everyone, freely.  Everyone has the right to be treated with respect and fairness.  We are all part of God’s perfect creation, and no one individual has the right to judge the life that another has chosen to live.  We are not in that person’s shoes, and we do not know what kind of battle they may be fighting.  What’s seen on the surface rarely reveals what’s going on inside or behind the scenes.  I know this because I’ve lived it.

A few years ago when I was in the grips of the most devastating anxiety that I had ever known, I became agoraphobic.  Life grew to be about nothing other than survival for me.  Everything was a battle.  Fear began limiting my life in such powerful ways that I began to feel incapable of completing even the most basic tasks necessary for my existence.  My comfort zone was small and rigid.  Really the only place that I felt capable of existing was within the walls of my 1,100 square foot apartment.  And even there, things were not by any means pleasant.  But I had sustained myself there, and I knew that I could somehow manage to make it to the next day if I remained at home.  So that’s what I did.  Venturing outside to do anything was an absolutely terrifying experience for me.  There were days that I couldn’t venture to the ATM a half mile up the road.  And there were even times when I didn’t feel comfortable walking the trash down to the end of the hallway or checking my mail in another part of the building.  It’s amazing what the mind will do when it’s ravaged by fear.

One the most difficult tasks for me during that period of my life was going grocery shopping.  I absolutely despised the idea of spending any amount of time there.  So it became an emergency only type of trip for me.  I felt horribly claustrophobic when entering the grocery store. My throat would close up, my heart would begin to race, my hands would get clammy, then moments later I’d find myself feeling lightheaded and I’d run out of the store.  And I didn’t feel strong enough mentally at that point to really challenge my fears, so I avoided the supermarket altogether and sought out an alternative means for restocking my pantry with the basics necessary for my survival.

Just up the road from my apartment was a Rite Aid store.  Certainly not an ideal place to do grocery shopping, but they did carry several of the necessities on my list.  And I knew that the store was free of crowds, and most importantly, that I could be in and out quickly.  But even with those perceived benefits in mind, Rite Aid would have appeared just as intimidating as any other store to me if it hadn’t been for the one incredibly kind-hearted employee that I met while shopping there.  I will never forget her, because she made my life sustainable.

I could not even tell you her name today, but I can remember vividly the smile that she offered me every time that I arrived in the store.  She was an older woman and she addressed me as she would have done one of her own grandkids.  She always called me “sweetheart” and engaged me in a short little conversation at the check-out register.  Little did she know that those seemingly simple interactions were likely to be the only face to face conversations that I would have with anyone during the course of the entire week.  And they were so very meaningful to me.  Because in those moments when we connected I felt like a normal, well-functioning member of society again.  She reminded me that not all was lost at a time when I found myself sincerely doubting my ability to ever again restore my life.  She gave me hope and she sustained me with her kindness.  And she never had any idea what type of incredibly difficult battle I was fighting, she simply led with her heart and in many ways, she saved my life.

Rite Aid became a bit of a comfort zone for me during the time that I dealt with agoraphobia.  Ultimately, it was clear that I would need to break away from feeling confined to a pharmacy for all of my shopping needs, but for the emergency survival situation that I found myself in during that period of my life, God sent me an angel.  He made a way where there wasn’t one.  And she made me feel comfortable and confident again.  I was able to restock my pantry and find the strength to begin challenging my fears.  And I’ll be forever indebted to her for her kindness.  I am certain that she has no idea the impact that she had on my life.

Hebrews 13:2 reads, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”  Be kind always.  You may never know how profound an impact your simple act of compassion may have on someone’s life.  And like me, you may find yourself entertaining an angel without even knowing it. 

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 8: risk going too far

Last night my girlfriend and I scrolled through the DVR and hit play on a recording of one of our favorite shows of the summer, Extreme Weight Loss.  If you haven’t seen it, I encourage you to tune in sometime soon.  I’m moved to tears nearly every week.  It’s an incredibly motivating and inspiring program.  This week’s episode featured a pastor’s wife and stay at home mother of two.  Since the age of 22, she has given her heart and soul to her family.  But in an effort to be a flawless mother and spouse, she neglected to take care of her own needs.  And her well-being was placed in jeopardy as a result.  Over the years as pressure mounted in her quest for perfection, she turned to eating to escape her pain.  And her weight ballooned to 315 pounds.  At 44 years old, with an empty nest at home, she began her one year journey to begin her life anew.  And her transformation was remarkable.

Trainer Chris Powell and his wife Heidi lead the chosen few at Extreme Weight Loss on their yearlong quests to drop 50% or more of their original body weight.  The first 90 days of the program are spent at a training facility in Colorado.  Chris and Heidi teach the individuals how to manage their meals effectively and they lead them through a rigorous workout schedule that pushes each participant to his or her breaking point.  Then they build them back up, and keep moving forward.  And at the end of 90 days, many of the focuses throughout the season have lost nearly one whole pound per day.  In the case of the pastor’s wife this week, with relentless effort and grit, she dropped a total of 94 pounds in just 3 short months…amazing.

Are these results typical?  On this program, yes.  In “real life”, perhaps not.  The transformations documented are accurately depicted by the show’s title as “extreme”.  But that does not mean that exceptional results are out of the reach of anyone.  Your goal may be weight loss, or it may be something completely different.  Perhaps for you it’s the launching and successful operation of a new business venture?  Or maybe you want to write a book?  Or run a marathon?  It doesn’t really matter what your dream may be.  In order to attain noteworthy success, you will need to push for extreme results in all that you do on the quest towards achieving your goals.  I’m reminded of one of my favorite quotes from T.S. Eliot, “only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.”

When you commit to making an “extreme” transformation in your life, you will undoubtedly be met by a bit of resistance from some the people around you.  There will always be critics.  Many people enjoy watching others fail simply because it makes them feel more secure in their own skin.  You have to be willing to ignore them.  Engage the people who share your vision and who encourage your journey.  Don’t get caught up in the opinions of average thinkers when you’re after something extreme.  Your support network is critical.  The stay at home mother from last night’s episode excelled during her transformation because of her determined effort and commitment, but she was also helped tremendously by the efforts of her spouse who decided to embark on the weight loss journey with her, shedding 51 pounds of his own by year’s end.

There are no limits to this life.  I said it before and I will say it again, you are no different than anyone else who has chosen to commit to a revolutionary personal transformation.  Extreme results CAN be typical with extreme effort and determination.  You just have to have the “why” behind you that will drive you to see it through.  It’s okay to be a little extreme.  Nothing great was ever accomplished by those who settled for ordinary. 

Take it from our friend the pastor’s wife who lost 165 pounds in just 365 days.  Great results await those willing to risk going too far in order to achieve all that they desire.

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 7: the two c’s to suCCess

I think that most people would agree that anytime we are in pursuit of a goal or a dream, there are two distinct hurdles that we must clear in order to achieve the success that we desire.  The first of these obstacles is the willingness to try.  And the second is the tenacity to stick to our chosen path until we reach our final destination.  Sounds pretty basic, right?  It is.  But the truth of the matter is that that these two mental obstacles handcuff most people for their entire lives.  Who knows what greatness might be achieved if we all took the initiative to get going and not resign until we reach our peaks.

In our country, it’s become far too easy for the average individual to sink back into his chair and view the world from the sidelines.  We are all engaged by the people that we admire.  Athletes, entrepreneurs, artists, scholars, servicemen…the list can go on and on.  We love playing the role of the fan.  And although we may feel that we live and die by the actions and words of our heroes, our risk is non-existent.  It’s the individuals doing the work, making the sacrifices, and chasing their dreams that are truly the risk takers.  They’ve made the investment in personal growth.  Too many of us are simply living our dreams vicariously through our idols.  After all, it’s far more comfortable to exist in a world where there is no threat of personal failure.  So “let someone else do it” we say…”I’m not good enough anyway”.

That little negative self-directed statement is enough to keep the average person living a life completely off course with their vision and purpose for the majority of their time on this earth.  That’s a sad truth.  Fears of risk, failure, and judgment…these anxieties are dream killers.  They do nothing but limit a person’s ability to live a fulfilling life that will serve to enrich the lives of those around them.  There is no validity to the negative self-talk that we speak.  We are the product of a perfect God.  Where we see flaws, the Good Lord sees our greatest strengths.  Those people that you admire on TV or in the news, they are no different than you.  They’ve just committed their lives to success.  And I can assure you that each and every one of them embodies two very special qualities: courage and consistency.

You cannot go anywhere without courage.  Courage is the ability to step forward in spite of the fears and threats of pain that will inevitably arise when we decide to chase our dreams.  It takes guts to get started.  I heard one of my favorite speakers declare once that “if your dream doesn’t scare you, it isn’t big enough.”  No one is immune to fear.  But we all have the ability to choose how it is that we will react to it when it presents itself.  When you decide to blaze a new trail in your life, you will face anxieties that you never even knew existed.  It’s our body’s natural reaction to send us into protective mode when we encounter something new because it is has perceived that a threat has been made that will set us off balance.  You’ve got to roll with it and push forward.  Your goals and dreams need to reach a level of importance to you that you will not retreat.  You have to be invested in the idea that you’re ready to lace them up and take the field.  Your days of being a fan are now over.

Once you’re moving in the right direction, there is no doubt that your adrenaline and momentum will provide you with a euphoric high for days or even weeks that you will not want to lose.  But life is not going to always provide you with sunny skies and a clear road ahead on the pathway to success.  You are going to encounter adversity.  Not once, but time and time again.  And this is where the second “C” comes into play.  Consistency.  It’s got to be the most difficult thing for dream chasers to master.  Every New Year you see people willing to get started on a new weight loss goal.  But how many treadmills are turned into clothes racks just a few months later?  That’s because the individual’s desire for success was not strong enough to motivate him to master the consistency needed to hit his targets.  There are going to be bad days.  Consistency is anticipating difficulty and sticking to the program anyway.  It means running when your legs ache, it means studying when you’d rather watch a movie, it means sacrificing financially when you’d love to treat yourself to some worldly comforts, it means getting up early when you’d rather sleep in…you get it…it means not changing your course of action for ANYTHING.  The people who are truly successful at achieving all that they desire do not miss a step.  They form habits that guarantee success by maintaining a consistent effort at all times.

We’ve all got a unique star gazing child inside of us that’s just begging for chance to play ball.  And our greatest contributions reside within that dreamer’s eyes.  So take him or her out back and toss it around a few times.  You might be offered the courage to build something spectacular.  And with consistent, determined action, your finished product will be sure to shine.

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 6: find your fire

In 1988, Yellowstone National Park faced it’s most devastating summer on record.  A hot and dry climate left the grasses remaining from the moist spring set to burn like tinder at the first strike of lightning.  And that’s exactly what happened as the inevitable summer storms rolled in.  More than 50 wildfires (some of which were also started by humans) set the park ablaze.  When it was all said and done, 793,000 of the park’s more than 2.2 million acres had been ravaged by fire.  Amazingly now 26 years later, Yellowstone has made a tremendous comeback.  The forest has regenerated at a rapid rate, surprising even the most optimistic scientists.  The wildfires of 1988 had simply served as a reset to the forest’s lifecycle.  And over the last quarter century, the forest has resiliently reclaimed the land that it’s called home since the dawn of creation.

In July of 2011 when I was born again in Christ I faced a similar phenomenon in my life.  I had spent the first 28 years of my time on this earth giving root to a slew of unhealthy growth.  And my forest was overrun with weeds and thick-rooted, lifeless sun grabbers.  Its canopy had been long established by a stubborn foundation that had laid claim to the land many years earlier.  There was no room on the forest floor for the introduction of new, healthy saplings.  And even if there had been the new growth would have never seen the sun under the light sealed canopy above.  My forest was weathered and it was slowly dying.  It was time to reset the lifecycle so that new growth could be introduced. 

Thankfully, as I surrendered my life to The Lord he reclaimed what was rightfully His and began transforming my forest immediately.  When I was introduced to the truth, I began to recognize the weeds and the dusty old growth that had been choking the life out of the forest floor and forcing everything worthwhile to strain to exist under a canopy of darkness.  Prior to that time, everything had appeared the same to me.  I didn’t recognize a sapling as being good or bad, I just planted whatever I wished, never worrying about what it might do to the overall health of the forest.  But with the assistance of God, I had a new vision for my ecosystem.  I understood the gift of life, and I promised to take care of my forest and see to it that it did not simply survive, but that it thrived.

So I set fire to the weeds and dried up trunks that were creating an uninhabitable environment for healthy saplings to take root.  And I let it burn.  I said goodbye to destructive relationships, to vices that led me astray, to insecurities that kept me shut in, and to fears that held me hostage.  I gave up my need to fit in and placed my focus on fulfilling my life’s purpose through Christ.  I offered forgiveness to those who had hurt me in my past, and I pleaded for mercy for all of the wrongs that I had done to myself and to others over the years.  And my forest burned as though it had been drenched in gasoline.  A thick, heavy smoke filled the area around surrounding me as a reminder of my polluted past.  But it wasn’t long until the flames diminished and the light reappeared in the sky above.  And finally, I could breathe again, a new man with a blank canvas.

I can recall very vividly the incredible feeling that I had when I began planting seeds in my new forest.  For the first time in my life, I truly felt alive.  All of my burdens were gone.  I had put everything that had hindered me into God’s hands, and He had thrown it all into the fire.  And now, even with a seemingly devastated landscape surrounding me, I saw nothing but opportunity.  I had no idea how to even begin to start restructuring my land, but The Lord provided me with the direction and the rich soil and seedlings to get going.  And before I knew it, new roots were being established, and life was beginning again.

I wish that I could end my story here, but the honest truth is that recently I had to take the time to pull some weeds in my forest again.  Thankfully, I don’t believe that this reclamation will require a full burn to restore order.  The soil is still rich, however there was some unhealthy growth introduced, and so today I am clearing the land for some new saplings to thrive.  Perhaps in another 25 years, with the proper care and attention I’ll look like the new Yellowstone.

If you haven’t had your fire, I encourage you to seek it.  You may feel as though you’d be sacrificing a lot to the flames, but trust me you’ll be getting FAR more in return.  And I think you’ll find great peace in what remains.  It’s really all that you need.

May God Bless!

 

500+ for 50 – day 5: YOU have been hired full time

A few years ago when I first began writing in my blog, I decided to share my work with my professional network on LinkedIn.  At that time I had already established a bit of a following on Facebook with over 2,000 Likes on the website dedicated page that I had established to house my writing and offer quotes and items to inspire and motivate others.  Initially I was a little bit hesitant to offer my personal life story up to my colleagues and industry connections and friends.  But I truly believed that God was calling me to share with anyone who might have an interest in listening.  I believed wholeheartedly that if my story could help just one person through a difficult time in their life, then it would all be worth it.

So each time that I contributed to my blog, I began copying the links to my posts in the news feed on LinkedIn.  I also established a link to my website (www.setback2comeback.com) in my profile for anyone in my network who wanted access to it.  A few weeks into things, I received a call from the HR manager handling my employment at that time.  Though hesitant with her approach, she instructed me that it was in my boss’s interest that I remove my blog from my LinkedIn page and refrain from any further submissions.  The news stung.  I called my manager directly to discuss the issue with him, and he insisted that business and personal were intended to remain separate and that there was no room for negotiation.  He grew very aggressive with me about the situation and turned into someone that quite honestly I had trouble recognizing.  Forced to comply with his demands, I felt completely alienated by my company.

I asked myself repeatedly, how could this be enforceable in the first place?  My employer didn’t have any ownership stake in my LinkedIn profile.  The company wasn’t paying for any type of premium service for me to utilize for business.  And my profile had existed long before I even began working for them.  Why was it their business to get involved in my writing?  And why did they feel threatened by it?  After all, what I was sharing was meant to be inspirational, faith based, and motivating.  Why would anyone be ashamed of that?  I certainly was not ashamed.  I was proud of my story and the unique perspective that I had to offer others. 

In the time that has passed since that incident, I’ve learned a lot about how people tend to react to others in a professional setting.  Most seem to feel very intimidated by a completely honest approach towards life.  Perhaps it makes them feel less secure in their own skin?  Regardless of the reason, it’s really sad that employees feel the pressure to hide who they are in their personal lives behind the suit that they wear in their professional careers.  None of us were born without flaws.  Our imperfections are often the things that make us most unique.  God does not make mistakes.  We were all created with a distinct purpose in mind.  And if we aren’t able to utilize our whole being in our working lives, then I think we perhaps need to question what (and who) exactly it is that we are working for anyway.  If it’s just about a paycheck, it shouldn’t be.  Life is meant to carry far more meaning than that.

We spend over 30% of our working lives week in and week out heading to the careers of our choosing.  That figure is of course based upon a 40 hour, full-time work week.  So that leaves less than 70% of our days available for the development and advancement of our personal lives (keep in mind that we spend 30% of that sleeping!).  The point that I’m trying to make is that if you’re compromising who you are for your career, you’re only functioning effectively in the skin that you were given on a part-time basis.  And if you’re neglecting the skills and talents that make you, YOU at work, then there is a strong likelihood that you’ve grown comfortable in doing it at home, too.  And that’s a shame, because God has a plan for all that He’s instilled in you.  But you can’t mine diamonds part-time; it’s a full-time commitment.

I want to challenge you today to give 100% of YOU to that 30% of your life that might have been neglected up until now.  Your career is meant to do more than serve to pay the bills.  You’ll be amazed by all of the wonderful people that you’ll attract to your life when you’re living free full-time.  I promise you, your success will not be hindered.  People will admire your approach and your honest living will inspire others to break free of the chains that bind them….and there is no greater work than that!

May God Bless!

500+ for 50 – day 4: calm the mind

Sales is not a career for the faint of heart.  Throughout the course of my time selling I’ve found myself in more anxious and stressful situations than I can even begin to count.  That’s a big part of the reason for the high turnover rate in sales related positions.  Most newcomers fall in love with the uncapped earning potential associated with a successful track record in the business.  But they tend to overlook the obstacles that they will undoubtedly encounter on the road to prosperity.  Then at the moment adversity hits, their fight or flight response kicks in and they go running back to their desk job, pleading for comfort.  We’ll never know what they had been able to accomplish if they had just learned to take control of their emotions and calm their minds.

Whether or not we want to admit to it, we all have fears.  According to several different studies, people rank public speaking as their number one fear.  Number one!  That’s pretty hard to believe, but true.  And as salespeople, we do a lot of public speaking.  That’s probably one of the most challenging aspects of the job.  Facing the stress and pressure to convert a deal we sit down in front of a team of scrutinizing decision makers and try to win their trust and confidence and earn a shot at their business.  It can be very intimidating, especially when our next paycheck is on the line.

Many of you who know me also know a bit about my background and story beyond my life in sales.  If you’ve followed my blog over the course of the last several years, you know that I’ve suffered with some pretty debilitating anxiety at different times in my life.  At one point just over three years ago, I was nearly agoraphobic.  My walls were closing in quickly.  Life became about nothing more than survival to me.  I was a prisoner of my mind.  Thankfully, God intervened.  And as I grew in my faith, I began taking baby steps beyond the walls that had confined me.  And with nothing more than sheer determination and divine inspiration and guidance, I was able to escape and begin living a more fulfilling life again.

During that period of time in my life when I first began confronting the demons that had been haunting me, I used several techniques that I had developed to calm my mind in moments of panic.  I began leading everything that I did with faith…even simple tasks like taking out the trash.  I put my trust in God to return me home safely and I slowly began letting go of my need to control the outcomes.  I also utilized a lot of positive self-talk.  I had a statement “Let Go-Trust-Believe-Faith” that I would recite quietly to myself during all trips beyond my comfort zone.  I’d allow the words to follow the steps of my feet as I walked with uncertain, trembling legs to my destination.  I also practiced visualization and breathing skills to restore my calm.  I would envision that I was lying on a beach and that the anxiety approaching was simply a wave that would wash over me and pass.  I stopped running from the fear, and instead began allowing it to pass over me quietly as I closed my eyes and exhaled long, deep, deliberate breaths that slowed my heart rate and brought me peace.

Now you’re probably wondering, why on earth would an individual with a history of severe anxiety want to work in a profession like sales?  And that answer is pretty simple.  I choose to work in sales because it pushes me.  It forces me out of my comfort zone and it creates anxieties and stressors in my working life that I am forced to confront and manage effectively.  And that’s how I remain healthy.  If I am not challenging my fears, then in all likelihood, I am succumbing to them. 

My sales career has given me the opportunity to put to good use many of the arousal control skills that I developed during earlier periods of my personal life.  The key to successful emotional and physiological management is one’s ability to calm the mind.  What I found with anxiety was that when I participated in the aggravation of my symptoms, things would only spin further out of control.  I think that we can all relate to this in one way or another.  If we engage our fears while on a call with a prospective client, those negative emotions will only cause us to lose further control of our presentation, and we will wind up walking away from our meeting feeling like we blew it.  But if we practice strategies to remain balanced: faith, self-talk, visualization, breathing, etc we can calm the mind, focus on our objectives, and start winning new business.

A couple of months ago I watched the film Lone Survivor which documents the heroic, gritty efforts of Navy SEAL, Marcus Luttrell.  I was so amazed by the mental toughness of the Navy SEAL team in the film that I began researching the SEALs methods of training and preparation.  And over the course of the past few months, I’ve uncovered some excellent documentaries and interviews that have offered a peak into the lives of the most amazing military personnel on the planet.  I found that the SEALs spend a great deal of time training their men on mental toughness.  Within that training they focus on four primary objectives: goal setting, mental rehearsal, self-talk, and arousal control.  I was shocked by how similar their objectives were to mine during times of crisis.  It’s really not that complicated, but even our nation’s most elite warriors must practice these techniques tirelessly in order to perfect them.

I encourage you to begin developing these skills within yourself immediately.  If you learn to calm your mind, you will overcome every fear and obstacle that you encounter in life.  Learn to sell like a SEAL.  Win the battle in your mind before you enter the board room, and opportunities will always await you on the other side of the door. 

May God Bless!