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It’s People Stupid.

Hello.

You ever feel like your on a merry-go-around and you keep passing a particular face in the crowd over and over?

And the person you keep passing is yourself?

Maybe your best self? The self that you imagine you can  be? I’m hoping on every revolution that I’m getting closer and closer to him.

But, sometimes I’m not certain.

Anyway, what’s the post about?

Just came out of my shell to write another reminder to myself to  make sure that I’m focusing on the right things. I’m struggling to come up for air from another work bender due to some issues with the car that make me think that it’s on its last legs.

As a result, I flew into a tizzy ..working all the hours available this side of the mason-Dixon.

Somewhere right in the midst of reaching my savings goal (so I wouldn’t have to take out a car loan)-  I started to sense that I was off track.

That somehow, someway, I had missed the mark once again.

One day, while toiling away, making steady progress toward my GOAL, I had a thought float to the surface of my brain. “What happens when you reach this goal Okenna?”

I paused. Thought on my feet and answered quickly, “well, duh, I’ll have reached the goal! Then I’ll be …happier, less stressed, more peaceful..right?”

I looked behind me at all the conquered goals and achievements and  milestones and realized that my life has been a hamster wheel of achievement and centered around the pursuit of “excellence”. And that more success had not exactly led to contentment. More money has not always led to a sense of security.

My next question was directed at God. “Ok, God, I get it. If this next purchase/achievement isn’t going to lead to eternal happiness, what should I be putting my energy toward?”

The answer was simple and somewhat surprising.

It’s people, stupid.”

Ok, to be clear, God didn’t call me an idiot. Although, if He did, He wouldn’t have been wrong. Upon reflection, it was very interesting to me that I could have missed the plot for soo long.

I’ve ruminated before how our society makes it easy for us to focus on the trappings  of success and the process of hard work as our “raison d’etre”. Our society rewards a  puritan work ethic and claps for the people who accumulate wealth, no matter what the sacrifices that they’ve had to make. For the first 3 decades of my life, and actually even right this second, work ethic has been a constant that has helped me to overcome tough (immigrant) beginnings, bad decisions (Oh lord, my 20’s), and helped me to build a life that I can be proud of.

More and more I’m realizing that the template set up for me to follow will not lead to long-term happiness. What’s difficult is formulating a template that will work for me.. It’s always more difficult creating something vs. copying, but usually more rewarding.

Fly or Fall.

OFO

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Ladder’s on the Right Wall

This month has been a very interesting one. One filled with a message that I seem hell-bent on ignoring. I’ve written before about my tendency to use money as a yardstick. This leads to a temptation to bury myself in my work due to it’s easy availability of meaning.

  • Work = Value created for somebody.
  • Work = helping other people
  • Work = More money
  • More money = More Freedom

Work is a win-win-WIN. Until it’s not.

One of my correlated interests due to my obsession with financial freedom is perusing personal finance website and poring over other people’s thoughts on finances, investing, and smart ways to tackle financial planning. As a result I follow a couple people in the blogosphere who pontificate on making smart financial decisions and ways to structure back-door Roth’s or use HSA’s as no-tax retirement accounts.

One of the people I follow was  a young doctor who was in her residency but had managed, through levels of hard work I can’t even begin to imagine, managed to graduate medical school with no debt, purchase a home, and fully fund her retirement while also raising a child. To say I was impressed by her achievements were a understatement. All this was accomplished before her 32nd birthday.

Recently, I learned that she had passed. Possibly (unconfirmed), due to suicide.

For some reason, this death, although I did not know her personally, shook me.

I think, because, she was so far ahead of me in soo many ways. Although, she was younger, I looked up to her. Her work ethic and accomplishments were in many ways- a blueprint for the life I wanted.

So her death (and it’s rumored cause), naturally, threw a monkey wrench into my mental model. The biggest question to be born from it all is, am I living my best life today? If my life was to end today, would I be happy with the way I’ve been spending my days?

I think this has even been on my mind even more due to a couple conversation’s with some people who have known me for  a little while.

  • One conversation with a former roommate. He asked me if I still made music, because he knew how happy it used to make me as a student. I used to get noise complaints weekly (yep – I was that neighbor) because I would spend hours crafting music simply for the joy of creating. My answer to him: No.
  • A friend of mine about a month ago not believing that I made music. Then daring me to create some right that second. I started and lost myself in the process. I looked up an hour earlier. Happier, although I didn’t earn any money, move forward on any goals, or create value for anyone but me.

It’s really also made me stop and look at the why of why I’m doing the things I’m doing. The last couple of months I’ve been working extra because my car was acting up in late December. I threw myself into work in order to be able to buy my next car with cash. However, the closer I got to my goal, the more tempting it was to move the goal post just a bit further so I could afford a car that was just a bit nicer, had just a bit more horsepower or just a bit nicer rims.

After this event, I started to wonder about the wisdom of working harder to afford a more expensive car, that would mainly serve to shuttle me to work. I was about to willingly  enter into a bit of a nonsensical vicious circle-jerk.

This death, as unfortunate as it was, has helped to pause my automatic decision making. It’s helping me (And I really do struggle) with pausing my knee-jerk reaction to solve problems with more effort, more hours pounding away at a problem, and to take a moment to consider surrendering control to God.

To ponder relaxing and happiness as goals worthy of achievement unto themselves.

To try to re-frame my relationship with money and  work.

“To work to serve. To work to learn. That money is a tool” – DWM

Fly or Fall.

OFO

 

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The Same Answer

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So this is going to be more a brain dump than a legitimate blog post.

I’ve been spinning in circles for the last couple weeks. In true overthinker fashion, I’ve been struggling with the question of working hard and balance. I was kicking this idea around with my accountability partner/good friend over a 5am phone call and we had a watershed moment.

Midway through the conversation we stumbled across a couple thoughts that (for good  or for bad) will be guiding light when this question comes up again in the future. Which, knowing myself, will likely happen.

The last couple weeks, as I’ve noted, I’ve been working like I was trying to pay off all my student loans in a month. This has meant 17-18 hour days. 5am calls with accountability partners. Working 3 weekends out of the month. (#Humblebragging) Basically being at work every time I opened my eyes. I thought I was being disciplined. I wanted certain things at a certain time and, by golly, I was going to make sure that I did everything I could to make sure that these goals got accomplished.

I would struggle with myself whenever I would feel tired or want to sleep in. Reminding myself that Hard Work is what successful people did. That applying myself now would lead to greater rewards in the future. I would wake up bleary-eyed. My eyes would sometimes lose focus and I would find myself making mistakes that I wouldn’t normally. I was burning the candle from both ends.

Using up all the midnight oil. Buckling down. Busy as a cat on a hot tin roof.

Going the extra mile….(ok, I think I’m done)

During this conversation, I finally asked myself “why”?

“Why was I working so hard? Assuming certain things to be true about my faith:

  • God cares about me.
  • God can & will provide
  • God has & will be with me throughout my life

Why was I working my fingers to the bone (found another metaphor for hard work!) when God hadn’t needed my help to accomplish the things that I am most proud of?

The truth was I didn’t trust God.

I didn’t trust God to provide what I thought I needed (when I thought I would need it)

I didn’t trust God.

Isn’t that something? After all this time. All the moments where I knew, beyond a shadow of a doubt that God had my back, that He had come through in the clutch..and I didn’t trust Him for a couple small things that weren’t happening on my timeline.

In the words of Kanye West, “Man, people are funny”…Ok, I don’t think it was Kanye West who came up with that.

Couple verses that came to my attention today, courtesy of a accompanying series that Rick Warren is doing about creating a life of margin.

“It is vain for you to rise up early, tor retire late. To eat the bread of painful labors; for He gives to His beloved even in his sleep.” – Proverbs 127:2

“Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.” – Proverbs 15:16

..

You know why I struggle with this balance?

Because for me this is really a battle between my need for control and admitting that I have none. The answer “Trust God” is very unsatisfying to my analytical, Type-A, Google-calendar checking personality.

And yet..it’s oddly comforting and Free-ing.

God has told me at certain times in my life that I need to “turn up” professionally. Work 2 jobs, wake up early, and go to bed late. And He’s always provided the strength for those times. As well as the job’s or business opportunities.

I guess I just need to let go of my need to control and KNOW and just trust Him to direct me when the time is right.

..Here’s to letting go of control (and trying to let it stay let go of)

Fly or Fall.

OFO

 

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The Same Question

So.

A couple of weeks ago, I was talking to a cousin of mine who read a blog post. She noted that she had read a recent post, then scrolled to a random post a couple years back and noticed that the content had been pretty similar.

I was struggling with the same thing I had been struggling with.

I had come to the same conclusions that I had realized back then.

And finally,

had written a blog post that summarized my learning and memorialized my wisdom from the whole experience.

Unfortunately. I must have forgotten it. (smh), because years later, here I was – re-learning, re-conquering, and re-writing about it.

I wonder if anyone else has similar struggles? Anyway, I was reading my new favorite blog post (and perhaps blogger) of now-time: (http://www.joshuakennon.com/one-of-the-most-important-lessons-about-life-and-making-money-you-can-ever-learn/)  and re-realized a lesson that I often forget.

Money is a tool. A mile-marker. An accessory to helping you live a good life. Trading your life for money is nonsensical.

So why do I forget this? How do I forget this? How can I make sure that I remember it?

First..How do I forget it?

Tunnel Vision. This year I read an amazing book by Gary Keller called “The One Thing”. This book’s main premise was that we needed to think deeply about the myriad goals we have in life, business, and personally. We should take stock of all the different goals we have and think very carefully before focusing on one priority.

It’s a great book. A great idea.

Couple that thought with my newfound infatuation with the teaching’s of one Gary Vaynerchuk. He is a disciple of the work-hard philosophy. It’s one that I am also an apostle of; but recently he made me ask myself, if I could work harder?

And the question that has haunted me for the last couple of weeks has been: What would your life look like if you had decided to work hard earlier  in my life?

“What if instead of goofing off in the 9th grade I would have worked hard? Would I have went to Harvard? What if in College I had really applied myself? What if I had conquered my fears and bought a investment property to live in during school in Macon? If I had worked harder academically would I have gotten into medical school? Would I be an anesthesiologist now? What if I had double majored in college or pharmacy school and gotten an MBA? What if I discovered my love of business earlier? What if I explored the limits of my capacity earlier? What if I started blogging earlier?”

Do you see how this question can lead to a rabbit hole of regret?

How it can lead you almost unbidden to a (possibly mistaken) belief that if I just work  a LITTLE harder right now, I can be in a better place later on?

On the other side of that temptation to work nauseatingly hard is the thought that I should enjoy the moment. That I could die at any moment. That 20 years down the road isn’t promised to me. That the only guarantee that I have is the present moment.

I think I just have to remind myself that (1) God is good (2) I’m ok. Just as I am. with just the amount of work that I decided to put in.

Work hard. Enjoy Today.

For me, this is often easier said than done.

Fly or fall.

OFO

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Leaves

My regular lawn guy left me high and dry.

One day I went outside and noticed that the lawn was getting taller than usual and that I hadn’t seen my regular lawn guy recently. So I shot him a text. “Just checking in on everything!”

Later that afternoon I got a text informing me that he would no longer be able to service my lawn. I’ll admit, I felt a bit rejected. I quickly recovered and texted my back-up lawn guy (good to have options) and within a couple of weeks my lawn was back in its C+ condition (i need some landscaping done). In the interim, the shrubs had grown considerably so there were a ton of trimmings that had to be left in paper bags by the trash can.

These trimmings, limbs, and general yard waste didn’t bother me the first week they were out on the curb awaiting pick up from the garbage guys. Or the second. But by the third week, I was irritated by the sight of these three bags that were apparently invisible to the weekly garbage truck.

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But, God wanted to give me a chance at redemption. It just happens that around week three, the electric company decided to do the yearly tree trimming for the power lines. They left a ton of limbs on my front yard on the first day of trimming. I was hopeful, but dubious. The new trimmings had bright green leaves, and looked as if they were still alive. It looked like they could just be sewn back onto the tree and they’d be back to exchanging carbon dioxide for oxygen like they never stopped.

My bags of trimmings were old. Yellow and haggard, they wouldn’t fool the electric company’s tree disposal guys. They’d take one look at my trimmings and leave the three mounds of sticks and leaves right where they found them, i thought to myself. So I waited. By the middle of day one, the new electric company limbs were looking weathered. I left for work and returned. The next day I awoke early to take a glance at the front yard.

I was surprised by what I saw.

Just a couple of hours separated from the tree and the limbs were looking more like my old trimmings than they looked like the new trimmings that they were. I had to run to work so I didn’t have a chance to dump my trimmings onto the electric company’s. I decided I would do it once I returned. I was encouraged that upon my return, the electric company’s trimmings were just about indistinguishable from my almost month-old trimmings. I decided to do one more errand before I got down to the hot work of opening up my yard waste bags and dumping them on top of the electric companies.

Much to my chagrin, the sneaky electric company snuck in and got rid of them while I was celebrating the success of my master plan before its completion. smh.

However, as I was lamenting the failure of my leaf disposal plan and even more so my inability to act on the plan, something hit me. I realized that the lesson, wasn’t a lesson about acting fast. It wasn’t even a lesson about keeping other people accountable. The lesson was about connection.

In the last couple of weeks I’ve been disconnected. Anyone who has known me for any amount of time could probably tell you that work is my drug. Self-improvement is my crack-cocaine. The quest for perfection is my idol & money is one of my favorite mile markers.

I’m in a constant battle with myself to pull back on my natural tendency towards being a workaholic and making sure that I’m investing in my relationships.

And I’ve been on a work-binge the last couple of weeks. A 60-hour-a-week bender.

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I was working 10-12 hours every day until my body started to protest and came down with a sinus infection. I realized that I had, on-accidentally-purpose, edged God and other people out of my life. Unfortunately in America, edging people out is easy. American culture is founded upon the idea that work is good, and Hard Work is Holy. The hustle is our nation’s real pledge of allegiance. I found it easy to hand out the excuse that “I’m working, sorry, can’t talk now” or “Busy at work, I probably won’t be able to make the baptism”.

People don’t really push back against that.

But the truth is over-work is just as harmful as other drugs. It’s symptoms are less clear because it’s benefits are so apparent. Bigger bank accounts seem to outweigh empty relationships in the short-term. And fancy titles and promotions seem so much more tangible than time spent with people you care about. For these reasons,  over-work can be insidious.

The episode with the yard trimmings made me realize that the same way limbs died when they were cut off from the roots that fed them, I was letting certain parts of myself and certain relationships die by scheduling myself into the ground.

Soon afterward, I made the decision to reconnect with the source that feeds me (God) and make sure that I was investing in other people and the relationships that feed me.

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Life is short. Work can’t be priority #1.

Here’s to better balance.

Fly or Fall

OFO

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Ah-Muh’Rica

 

What does America dream of?

What does it mean to be American?

As a nation, where are we going? How do we plan to get there?

As a matter of habit, I try to stay away from addressing controversial topics via online social media because, let’s face it,social media is a terrible forum for any substantive conversationThe anonymity of the internet, coupled with the lack of nonverbal communication allows for ample opportunity for miscommunication and downright nastiness to emerge. The times I did try to engage in political/racial/intellectual conversations online usually ended after a couple hours with my blood pressure in the red zone, having written 20 pages worth of comments to someone who is typing in ALL CAPS, and my evening and possibly (depending on how many clever things I should have said come to me afterwards) next morning ruined. My time is usually much better spent watching re-runs of The Love Boat. 

I’ve tried to find ways to think about the problem of race in America. And being honest, it’s a thorny issue. Emotionally charged. Confusing. Exhausting. Manifestation and consequences of race in America permeate everything from our television to political  gerrymandering.  Books have been written by better thinkers, writers, and human beings than I. Even so, I still wrestle with it, in order to try to figure out why, in 2016, being non-white, often feels like 2nd class citizenship.

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During the events of the previous week, someone on social media asked the question why?

Why were these things happening? What caused the sniper in Dallas? What is the root cause of the protests? How did we get here?

I don’t know if I have the same questions. I feel like I have a grasp on the why’s and what’s. (Feelings, of course, can be deceiving). I think anyone who has looked (critically) at the history of America should have a loose idea of the issues that haven’t been addressed and why that might cause some frustration.

But.. There is something that I am having a hard time wrapping my head around. Something I’m still struggling to figure out. And it’s not the problem of racism in America. As I conceptualize the “race in America” problem. I don’t think it’s an insurmountable one. Or even a problem that would take superhuman levels to start to address.

I actually see, in America’s reaction to the problem, a bigger issue.

What I am frustrated with our Nation’s complacency in the face of real issues. And to be fair with America, it’s not an isolated issue. America finds itself unable to move on a variety of issues – for the same reason that it finds itself unable to address systemic racism. [Although, I think  Andy Stanley  did a masterful job of starting the conversation]

In areas of social justice, and other policy issues America seems to be addicted to comfort.

This “addiction to comfort”is a evidenced in the reaction of Americans to the tough issues of our time. I see this addiction in our half-hearted condolences in the families of gun violence, in our unwillingness to come up with substantive plans to tackle global warming (Candidates positions on Global Warming), dragging our feet on addressing social net programs, being willing to be distracted from real issues in order to feed our outrage addiction..because anger makes us feel like we’re doing something, although the world changes not one whit because of how we feel.

It seems as if we’ve (collectively) lost the ability to look past the present, see a distant/future good, and sacrifice in the moment in order to attain these things.

How does this crack-comfort manifest itself?

You see this evidenced in the decline of the American personal savings rate. In the intractability of Congress, our willingness to be distracted by news about transgender bathrooms as we try to bomb our way out of a leadership vacuum in the middle east.

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A personal anecdote: During the hubbub around the police-related shootings and the dallas sniper I got the opportunity to talk to a older caucasian lady at my local drug store. Somehow, as it happens when two people meet and know they will see each other again, we stumbled into  the topic of all that was happening in the country. We both bemoaned the negative incidents we were seeing in the country, and then before we could really start talking about specific problems and perhaps what was behind the outpouring of anger from the African-American community, this lady mentioned that she just couldn’t wait for “Jesus to come back and take us all away”.

I didn’t know how to respond, other than with an affirmative nod and forlorn shrug.

Now, I hesitate to assign my interpretation to this woman’s comments but I felt like she was missing the boat. Not just because I don’t think Jesus is going to return in order (and in time) to save us from all of our messes, but because I think this hands off approach seems to be a spiritual version of the esprit of the times.

I think, Jesus being an example we all strive for, that instead of waiting for someone to come along with the answers (ala Donald Trump) we must instead become our own answers. Seek to understand the problems we’re facing, and strive to come up with solutions that might work. Some of them may fail. But, when we adopt an attitude that refuses to even glance in the direction of the problem and hoping that something will come along and distract us from the issues that we are facing is a recipe for disaster.

This attitude, in my mind, is what frustrates many about the discourse around hard topics. 100 people killed by a nut with an assault weapon? “Oh gosh. That’s unfortunate,  I hate that (shrug).” Black people being killed?  “Man that’s rough, try to be nice to be the police”.  The education system failing? “Wish we could do something about it”. Global warming might wreck the environment for our children. “Is Global warming even a thing?”

This general, uneasy, shuffling of feet that doesn’t lead to solutions frustrates me to no end. There are solutions. As human beings finding these tough solutions is what has allowed us to make it past the caves of Africa to 2016.

Let’s get on it Humans.

P.s. My feelings as I was writing this were a moving target. My frustration with the lack of effort put toward finding solutions or even acknowledging problems continues to remain consistent but after many conversations, I find the shades of grey and different viewpoints make it tough adequately think about this post in its entirety ..But I did want to get my initial thoughts down.

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Coming to myself

I’m Igbo. In addition, I was raised in the south. As a result I spent a lot of time in the church. I’ve spent a lot of time traveling between the pages of the Bible. I like a lot about the bible (I also dislike what some people use the bible for). Many passages are poetic. Some are haunting. Some shocking. However, one of my favorite phrases from the bible is the phrase: “Coming to himself”. I just think it’s so viscerally correct. That is actually how it feels. Like your normal self went on vacation, and finally caught a flight, train, and uber back and found everything in disorder. The most classic example in the bible comes from Luke 15:17:

“But when he came to himself, he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have more than enough bread, but I perish here with hunger!”

This is of course, in the parable of the prodigal son. This son has been running through town and having a blast, blowing money fast like Big Meech, when he suddenly reaches the end of the pot of gold. He’s reduced to serving in a pig pen (which was a unclean animal according to jewish custom), and finally he realizes that he’s being a fool.

You ever have those periods of life, where you think your doing what you want to be doing? Your just chugging along, until a while down the road you look up, look around, and wonder how you got there? In those moments, I try to slam on the brakes, take a look at my path, and check it against my desired destination.

I’m there now. Coming to myself and wondering how “just today, just for now” became almost 3 months. And it’s not to say that the 3 month “spring break”  wasn’t necessary or needed, but they are, i think, at end. They have served their purpose. I’ve been on cruise control for probably the last 3 months. Letting my disciplines, and practices slide into the purgatory of my feelings. I’d focus on real estate when “I felt like it”, wake up early to focus on my extracurricular pursuits when “i felt like it”, spend time with God when “I felt like it”. It wasn’t until this feeling-driven work ethic leaked into my workout habits, and the results confronted me today in the mirror that I realized, again, that I have to be consistent, with no excuses if I want to be successful.

So here’s to re-committing to myself and the dreams that I have for myself.

Fly or Fall.

OFO

 

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