Birthday Reflection, Version 42.0

I offer this annual birthday reflection, a day early, from a hotel room in Denver. I’ve spent a lot of time in hotel rooms lately, and more time yet remains on the calendar over the next few months. Writing from “somewhere else” often sharpens insight.
I’ve experienced a fair amount of change over the last 12 months. Some good, some challenging. The biggest lesson I’ve taken away is that resilience protects against the pain and uncertainty of change, but the forum of that change (internal vs. external) is not without consequence.
Lots of leadership-advice books natter on about resilience. You know the drill: Cultivate this virtue to accept the things you cannot change. Resilient people follow leaders without complaint because they adapt to having their cheese moved. Grow a shell of resilience to avoid taking workplace slights personally. Et cetera.
I think the truth is different and a bit less opportunistic. I’ve written before about how I’m understanding more deeply the toxic effects of comfort. Yet being aware of the problem and actively addressing it — well, a large gulf of intent divides the two, and most people aren’t ready to bridge the gulf. Resilience is, in a sense, a person’s willingness to build that bridge.
The events of the last year forced my personal gulf to dry to Lake Mead-like levels. Not only did I have to face disruptions to my comfortable routine, but I had no choice but to address them. The stressors — changes in jobs, responsibilities, etc. — were external. Resistance and denial would prove futile. So address them, I did. And I’m largely satisfied with how things have played out so far.
Yet internal stressors beckon, as well. And that’s the real lesson of resilience. What happens when you see a gulf but aren’t forced by outside forces to bridge it?
I recently enjoyed a lovely conversation with a younger friend who’s struggling with her life and career trajectory. I offered advice, of course, but the chat reminded me of a time, back in my late 20s and early 30s, where I kinda-sorta built a life mostly by putting one foot in front of the other and seeing where I ended up. Sure, I might have had goals, but I didn’t meaningfully work on them. I just muddled through, hoping for something better yet preparing for nothing at all.
Eventually, I had to face a sad fact: The life I lived, and the life I aspired to live, stood in stark opposition. What to do?
Some people do nothing. They continue putting one foot in front of the other. They convince themselves, for the most part, that they’re happy. But they’re not really fully actualized in Maslow’s sense of the term. They followed the path of least resistance for them and make do with the consequences.
Others become bitter. You see it in failed careers, failed marriages and shattered families. In chronic disease. In addictions. In isolation and radicalization and a gradual separation from the finer points of reality.
I chose a different path: I elected to pivot. It’s not a fast thing, and it’s not flawless, but over the years — drop by drop — I’ve prioritized different things in different ways. I’ve tried to encourage new habits and to drop counterproductive old ones. I’ve tried to spend my time on what matters instead of what’s urgent.
I started that journey a decade ago. I’m still on it; playing the long game is essential. I’m closer to the finish line than the starting line, but a few laps remain. And I’m happy with that. This pivot required resilience, and that resilience helped me get through parts of 2018 that haven’t been exactly enjoyable.
So I journey into Year 42 with a cheerful spirit. Lots has been done, much remains to do, and I take joy in every turn of the shovel.

Birthday Retrospective, Part XLI

Here I sit, on the 17th floor of a hotel overlooking (the admittedly interesting) downtown Cincinnati, having just returned from a traveler’s solo dinner —for the record, a tasty gin cocktail and a Cajun shrimp platter—which solitude afforded me some welcome opportunity to reflect on what I’d write here, in this decade-long tradition of writing about me on my birthday.

Lawd a-mercy, it’s been a day. I got up at 7 a.m., aided in large part by Fiona d’Cat deciding that my bladder made for a great trampoline. So I got up, took a shower, grabbed a bit of breakfast, then hit the road for pre-trip errands. First, to drop off consignment copies of Jot That Down: Encouraging Essays for New Writers (edited by A.L. Rogers, published by Caffeinated Press) to Baker Book House. The book launches tonight at the 10th anniversary Jot Writers Conference. So, yay for that! Then I went to the Secretary of State’s office to renew both my plates and my driver’s license. Which was good, because my DL photo still had me with long hair and TSA is really not amused by ID pictures that don’t look like the person bearing the credential. Then I went to Meijer to buy assorted things. Then I went home to pack and make the house cat-friendly while I’m away. Then I went to the Caffeinated Press office to drop off the rest of the Jot That Down order I didn’t consign to Baker. Then I went to the airport—and holy cow, the new unified security screening at GRR is actually quite impressive—then off I went upon the wings of American Eagle. The flights were fine (better than fine; both legs were on an Embraer 145 with a 1×2 configuration and for both I sat on the “1” side of the aircraft). We connected through O’Hare, so of course my journey to CVG was delayed an hour. Then I Uber’d it to the hotel—great driver, so I tipped him, which is a thing with Uber now. Unpacked. Ironed my clothes; sent my navy suit and black jacket to the dry cleaners. Grabbed dinner. Now I’m blogging. I’ll probably re-read my NAHQ board book before I go to bed, for I do NOT want to disappoint my colleague Andrew tomorrow.

It’s been a week. In the last seven days, I’ve released the advance review copy of Isle Royale from the A.I.R. (edited by Phillip Sterling, forthcoming next month from Caffeinated Press) to Phillip. I joined a mini board meeting with my colleagues at the Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters to discuss administrative stuff plus, significantly, marketing and rebranding. Cool things are coming on that front. And I retrieved our print run of Jot That Down from Color House Graphics. I’m pleased with CHG’s speed, quality and cost. Oh, and I released another of my pseudonymous erotica novellas to Amazon. Plus pushed the most current episode of The Vice Lounge Online which—holy hell—is now at episode No. 333. Icing on the cake: I received notification that I’ve been admitted to WMU’s Graduate College on a non-degree track; I think I want to start a grad certificate in applied stats and then transmogrify that into either something related to healthcare administration or the interdisciplinary PhD in evaluation.

It’s been a month. Finished the re-architecting of my home office thanks to an equipment swap with my mom: She took the recumbent bike, I took the recliner and its plush rug. We’ve gotten a ton of major work efforts tidied up at Priority Health, in anticipation of the long slog of budgeting-and-pricing season, which officially begins today. I gave a second-to-last pass on edits to Conversion Therapy, a novelette I wrote in August at the MiFiWriters retreat. I completed the advance review copy of Ladri (a dark urban fantasy novel written by Andrea Albright and forthcoming next month from Caffeinated Press). I got the GLCL membership database synced up. And, I got to see my cousin and her husband and two children, including newborn baby Athena!

It’s been a year. We moved to a different office space at Caffeinated Press; I re-did much of my home’s interior layout because of this consolidation, including bringing my big U-shaped desk home. I’ve gotten my own personal writing slush pile increasingly honed and ready (almost!) for more vigorous shopping. My team at PH has, in many ways, set the gold standard for my division’s new operational focus—I’m immensely proud of them. I’ve survived two leadership transitions at the day job and picked up a side consulting gig for my old mentor, the infamous RL. My two indoor feline overlords have been joined by two outdoor feline fellow travelers in the form of Ziggy and Tiger. I launched the Grand River Writing Tribe, which is hummin’ along great. I spoke, this spring, at the Illinois Association for Healthcare Quality conference as well as the inaugural UntitledTown authors’ conference in Green Bay, Wisconsin. I joined the board of directors of the GLCL—and saw it lose its gorgeous building. I’ve gone hiking and kayaking. Last fall, I went to Las Vegas for VIMFP and to Orlando for NAHQ.

It’s been a decade. My early 30s weren’t all that hot. But it got better. Inasmuch as I had dreaded (perhaps too melodramatically) the arrival of The Big Four Oh, I find that there’s a certain charm in things like having a positive net worth, a reliable and modern vehicle, insurance and the means to do stuff like hire movers instead of begging family to bring trucks over. I joke with Brittany that #AdultingIsHard, but after you crack the code, it’s surprisingly charming.

It’s been a life. My mother visited me on Wednesday to give my my birthday card. During the course of conversation, she inquired—in a roundabout way—whether I’m happy, in a big-picture kind of way.

My TL;DR answer? Yes.

How could I not? This post has taken twice as long to write than it needed to, because every minute or two my phone dings with a text message, Facebook post, LinkedIn message or tweet wishing me a happy birthday. Dozens of people think kindly enough of me to take a moment to send a brief message of support.

Perhaps that’s the biggest accomplishment of all.

Birthday Retrospective, Part XXXVIII

On Monday I transitioned from a defensible “mid thirties” to unambiguously “late thirties.” I’m more sanguine about the prospect than I might have been a few years ago. Let’s explore why.
First, the last year has been ridiculously busy. I can’t ever recall being this consistently overwhelmed with stuff to do. It started late last October, continued through National Novel Writing Month, persisted through the December holidays and never slowed down. I don’t get days off or weekends off anymore. Yet the stress from doing all that extra stuff is counterbalanced by a sense of mission and progress that’s refreshing. It’s a good kind of busy, for the most part. There’s a method to the madness.
Second, I’m in better physical shape today than I was a decade ago. When I turned 28, I was morbidly obese and on track for a cornucopia of early-onset chronic diseases. Although my calendar’s insanity lately has meant that my waistline has increased a wee bit, I’m healthier today than a decade ago. And that’s a good thing.
Third, my attitude on life has significantly changed. The “been there, done that” sense of serenity about life’s little problems means that the level of daily drama I allow myself to endure has plummeted. The long view makes more sense now than it did several years ago, and the existential stress about aging has given way to recognizing that in the long corridor of life, some doors open, some close — and some open or closed based on the lock status of yet other doors. The path to joy reveals itself in the knowledge that it’s OK if Circumstance bolts some doors, provided you tread boldly across the threshold of newly unbolted doors.
Every year over the eight or so years I’ve run this blog, I’ve written a birthday retrospective. As I look back at prior stories, I’m struck by how adolescent some of them are. When you have the privilege of free time to luxuriate in faux-sophisticated existential angst, I suppose it’s no surprise that faux-sophisticated existential angst should appear on blog posts. When you get to the point when you’re working 14-hour days doing Grown Up work and concede you can’t keep up with everything, then those little luxuries vanish. And when they vanish, so also does the mindset that underlay them.
My 37th year was marked by progress that prompts stretch goals for even more progress:

  • I accepted a promotion at work, leaving me with a nice raise and six FTE — as well as a lot of opportunity to grow our team’s portfolio. The next challenge is to make ourselves indispensable to senior leadership.
  • I wrote a novel. The next challenge is to finish the editing and shop it for publication.
  • I bought my dive gear and got back in the water. The next challenge is to earn master diver certification.
  • I started, with a group of friends, a publishing house. The next challenge is to bring it to profitability.
  • I attended the Michigan Republican county and state conventions as a delegate. The next challenge is to continue to grow with local political leaders.
  • I became president-elect of the Michigan Association for Healthcare Quality, with responsibility for executing next week’s 1.5-day state educational conference in Traverse City. The next challenge is to pull off a more significant conference next October in Grand Rapids.
  • I attended various Las Vegas events with other podcasters. The next challenge is to keep those relationships healthy and enduring.

The world is awash in oysters ready to be cracked, but the full flowering of success comes when people realize that the possibilities that seemed so important in their youth aren’t the things that are important later in life.

Another Year Older …

Every year, upon the sad occasion of the commemoration of my birth in the far-away and ever-receding year of 1976, I offer a reflection on the year gone by, tempered with aspirations for the year ahead.
So, in terms of Year No. 36:

  • Overall, good.
  • My health has been stable. I’m in exactly the same physical condition today as I was turning 35 and 36. I’m not nearly as healthy as I was at 30, but I’m considerably more healthy than I was at 27.
  • The “day job” has engendered much turmoil and gnashing of teeth. I went from leading a team of nine analysts in the hospital’s revenue cycle space, to being the odd man out in a report-writing department in I.T., to moving to the Quality Improvement team of the health insurance company. The flip to Q.I. required an application and an entity transfer, but I’m glad I did it. In fiscal 2013, I had six — six! — formal uplines in the payroll system. Started with Mary, then Tracey, then Big Jason, then Hollie, then Meghan, then Bob. You learn flexibility in a hurry in that kind of environment.
  • The podcast has exploded in popularity. The last year has really seen a lot of cool engagement, thanks in part to the support of our friends at 360 Vegas, Denton Dallas & Beyond and Access Vegas. My unofficial estimate is that, conservatively, we probably have between 3,000 and 5,000 listeners per show. We don’t have any insight into the volumes through the biggest distribution channels (iTunes, Stitcher) but looking at a mix of RSS feed analytics and file-access stats on the server, and using a little trick I call “math,” I’m confident that we’ve more than doubled our audience in the last year.
  • Engagement with my writers’ group has proceeded well. I was much more successful (although not a “50k winner”) for last year’s National Novel Writing Month. Over the first half of 2013, I wrote several short stories set in my writers’ group fictional city of Mechlanberg. I also made good contacts with national trade magazines for future freelance work while making contact (thanks, James!) with a non-fiction book editor who’s interested in some of my pitches. Add me being a finalist for a copy editor role for a prestigious national journal … and yes. Progress.
  • ‘Twas a good year for travel. I managed a few small trips (e.g., to Horseshoe Hammond for the Midwest Smoke Out) as well as some bigger ones, like Las Vegas in the late winter — for the 360 Vegas Vacation — and Isle Royale National Park in the late spring.
  • Nearly four years ago, I totaled my vehicle in an at-fault accident. In the last year, the long-awaited lawsuits wound their way through the legal system. The upside is that I really have a much deeper understanding of my current financial position and expect to be 100 percent debt-free and ahead of the curve for retirement savings over the next few years.
  • Oh, and I have kitties now. They are sweet, even if one of them thinks his solemn duty is to serve as my alarm clock irrespective of my intended wake-up time. Nothing says “good morning, sunshine” like a cat’s head mere inches from yours, meowing loudly, and for which a few pats on the head serve only as a three-minute snooze button.
  • Much to my mother’s chagrin, I’ve let my hair grow longer. It’s now below the shoulders. I have some ideas for what I want to do with it, eventually, but I need even more length for it. Maybe after the new year.

And for Year No. 37:

  • Goal No. 1 is to get back into fighting form again. The biggest contributor to my own weight gain is stress, and over the last year I’ve methodically eliminated the biggest stressors (the job, the lawsuit). I’ve signed up for the mailing list for a marathon next summer — it’s a trail run in Newaygo County — and set up the stuff I need in the bedroom to use the exercise bike again. I find it much easier to exercise in the fall/winter than in the summer.
  • I continue with writing. I’ve been getting the novel bug in ways that my friend Duane has mentioned, and I may have an in with a non-fiction book agent. I want to “win” NaNo this year, but in the sense of writing something that is worth publishing. The non-fic lead may actually grease the wheels a bit.
  • I’m already slotted for some travel — in October, a business conference in Louisville and then the Vegas Internet Mafia Family Picnic in Las Vegas — and would love to return to Isle Royale next spring. Some folks have already expressed an interest in going with me to IRNP. I’d welcome something more remote, too. Maybe Denali, or out of the country. I can also envision a road trip to Las Vegas that includes some camping at Red Rock Canyon and a swing back through Texas.
  • I’ve penciled in more scuba classes and General-class radio licensure.
  • Biggest plan is to hunker down this fall and winter. I have a rough idea of what I want to do, and on what schedule, between now and Dec. 31. It’ll help, too, that I plan to take a full two weeks off at the holidays, so I can jump into 2014 with a leg up.
  • I’ve started conversations about continuing my higher education. I actually went to Kalamazoo last week for an aborted meeting about the interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Evaluation from WMU. Still looking at that program, as well as the M.S. biostats program at GVSU.

I know I mentioned it last year, but I think it bears repeating: My earlier revulsion to aging has been replaced by a twofold new perspective. On one hand, I’m more determined to live a life worth a robust obit, so I’ve been a bit more intense about the things that matter from a 50,000-foot view. On the other hand, much of the ignorant passion of youth has yielded to a “been there, done that, life continues” mindset that no longer sweats the small stuff. Many of the stumbles that seem so serious in your 20s … really aren’t. And it takes the benefit of experience to cut through the crap.
Right now, I’m stable and reasonably happy and I have a plan. My 36th year was good, and I intend to use it as a platform for an even better 37th year.