WHAT IS YOUR STORY?

This blog post created itself last night. After Margie and I had finished our Wednesday night show and found ourselves driving with our friend Kelly. We began sharing defining moments from our childhood that defined who we are today. It caused me to reflect on a few moments that I would like to share with you. More so, it made me think of something far more important that we will get to right after this moment of reflection.

For those of you who may have been reading my writings of late, I have shared the story of my senior year English teacher. On the final day before graduation, she pulled me aside and said in an almost pleading tone, “I pray to God you will never have a career involving writing.” Given the evidence up to that point I would have been inclined to agree with her, but here we are.

Another fun story involved a teacher I had for business. She was a kindly lady. She kind of reminded me of someone’s grandmother from a Norman Rockwell painting. My relationship with this wonderful woman was great. We laughed, smiled and shared many good conversations. I would have said I was the perfect student with one glaring exception. In this class it just so happened I was surrounded by friends of mine. It also happened these were friends that like conversation as much as I did. Daily we shared conversations about life, love and our pursuit of happiness. When the time came out for giving everyone a grade I still recall what this teacher wrote. Written next to my grade was the comment, “Neil will do a lot better in life when he understands you can’t make a living discussing life and its challenges with people.” Once again, here we are. Discussing life and how to positively approach and overcome its challenges. Granted you might be reading this in Greenland, South Africa or Fiji while I am here in West Allis, Wisconsin, but virtually we are engaged in this conversation.

Let me share a more comical example from my youth. Second grade I do believe. I had a good friend who had just moved away and I found myself in trouble for something. That part seems to remain vague. As punishment I was to stand with my back against the wall and watch the other kids enjoying recess and playing on the playground. Sounds a little cruel in hindsight but I guess it served as a lesson – almost. As I was standing there I thought of a joke. One of the kids walked by and I told him my joke. He thought it was so funny he went to bring other kids to hear it. Before recess was over I found myself doing what could be described as a forced stand up comedy routine.

I saved this example for last because it was by far the darkest example. I was part of a group called ‘peer helpers’ in high school. The program was designed to help students who were facing addiction, abuse or any other emotional trauma. To me it sounded like a great idea on the surface. It became apparent very quickly that I disagreed with the approach of the program. It seemed to approach the issues from that of the adults who formed the group and not of the youths facing the challenges. I soon politely left the group. All would have been ok with one exception. I really did have the desire to help and still talked to many of the kids I had met in the program. I tried methods I believed might reach them. This was especially true because most of them had stopped asking for help from the Peer Helpers program.

Again, this would have all been good, but my locker happened to be right across the hallway from the lady who was in charge of the program. Once she noticed that quite a few of the students who left her group were coming up to my locker and asking questions she stormed over. She issued what can only be viewed as a veiled threat. She yelled how dare I think I could help kids better than she could and I better stop what I was doing “or else.” I really wasn’t trying to do anything but help people the best way I thought I could. I continued to do so with a little more discretion. Two days before I was set to graduate I was summoned to the principle’s office. When I arrived the teacher was there along with several police officers. This teacher, this adult, this individual who is supposed to be an example told all of them I had threatened to physically harm her. Not only was that a total lie, but I had no malice towards this woman, merely a difference in philosophy. Luckily, with the support and sworn statements of my character from other instructors I had and her changing her story several times the matter was all but dropped.

What is the point of all of these stories? The point is that anyone of these stories could have had a very negative impact on my life. What made the difference is that I chose what they meant to me. My high school English teacher could have prevented me from ever starting this site which has close to 1000 posts. What she told me could have dissuaded me from ever writing my book A Happy Life for Busy People. My business teacher tried to convince me there was no future in listening to the challenges people face in life and trying to help create solutions, but that is the basis of all I do.

Through my punishment that day in second grade I learned the power of humor to reach people. I also learned that sometimes when the world seems to be taken away from you, the best solution is to make the world come to you. It is a theme that kind of plays throughout the videos on my YouTube channel. It also showed me new and wonderful ways to make friends. The lesson that if you can introduce your material to enough people it can really change your situation didn’t escape me either.

The final dark situation could have steered me in many different directions. I could have decided not to trust authority. Certainly learning that ego can override professionalism and make people act in ways they shouldn’t. I could have decided that it meant if I try to do things on my own in a way I feel will help the most people it will lead to trouble and could land me in jail. Of course it also showed me the value of displaying and acting with the best character and highest standards.

What is your story? What events have transformed your life? Have you let them decide what you can or can’t do? Are they putting limits on your life or are you using them to motivate you? The story of our lives should not be told through the mouths or actions of others. Realize you are not a victim of your past but a victor over it. You have made it to today despite what you have been told and what has happened to you. Do not let your past or those in it steal your power for a strong future. Find the empowerment in every challenge you have faced, or may now be facing.

LOVE IS THE REWARD

We have spent the last few posts discussing relationships. How to increase the odds of finding a good one. How important it is to bring the best version of you to the relationship you are in. How important it is to respect yourself while you are respecting your partner. These are all great ideas. They are not always easy to do, but the reward is certainly worth it. What is that reward? It is a relationship that supports and adds joy to your life. Whether that be a great friendship or an intimate relationship.

Even while working hard to craft these skills, life can put us in situations that make maintaining our joyful and loving relationship difficult at best. Although it may not look like it from the outside, Margie and my relationship is no different. From the beginning we dealt with people whose self-serving nature tried their best to pull us apart. Add to that issues of family stress, working in the bar industry where the idea of a healthy relationship and the respect shown to other relationships is extremely low. Makes life challenging at times. Recently, you add the passing of quite a few people close to us, most recently Margie’s mother and my discovery and hospitalization for a genetic heart issue and you can imagine there is almost as much stress as there is love at times.

How do we, and more to the point, how can you deal with the stress of life and keep on loving? Whether it is family, friends or your spouse the answer is the same. The easiest, and to be honest, most enjoyable way to do this is to realize the little things are the big things. This sounds cliché, as many things with love can, but the reason something is said so often is because there is truth in it. How can we turn the little things into the big things? How can we take a cliché and turn it into a part of our lives? Allow me to share with you a few personal examples that may help you.

The way Margie and I accomplish this is first and foremost keeping an attitude of gratitude. When we have challenges in our relationships, or even in our life in general, it can be easy to lose sight of all that we have to be grateful for. If we are so busy with work we do not have time to sit down to a wonderful dinner together, at least we have each other and something to eat. When one of us complains, the other does their best to find something to be grateful for in the situation. It helps that both of us have this desire.

In the middle of  the whirlwind of stress we often face, there is one thing we do more than any couple I know and it makes all the difference. We love. What I mean is in the middle of a karaoke show, or last night while shopping at Best Buy, if one of us feels love for the other we show it. This can be anything from stopping for a quick hug or kiss, or even just focused compliments and words of affection. Last Friday while doing a show I happened to notice just how beautiful Margie looked at that moment and I told her. I held her hand looked in her eyes and said, “I’m sorry I know we are really busy, but I just had to let you know how beautiful you look to me right now.” The words touched Margie who thanked me and leaned over and gave me a kiss. Sadly, the grown woman who was standing next to our DJ area who witnessed this responded in what I can only describe as a immature and cynical way. She said “Eww! Eww!” and made a motion like she was going to get sick. Did I mention the bar atmosphere can often not be the best place for a couple?

In your own relationships, take time to make sure the little things become the big things. Whether it is family, coworkers, friends or the special someone you love, take time to show appreciation and gratitude. When you feel love for that person make sure you pause and take time to express that. It could be a hug, an email, a card or a quick phone call. When you see two people sharing a moment like this try and understand all the stress and challenges they may be facing. Taking time to enjoy each other, even if only for a quick hug or kiss may be the special reward that keeps that relationship working.

A NEW AVENUE EXPLORED

Recently, I had the honor of being part of an inspiring publication. See Beyond is a wonderful magazine that tackles the gritty issues facing our youth and does so while encouraging and inspiring them.

In this issue, I had the great pleasure of joining other authors while sharing the challenges I face in my career as a writer. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of such a unique and thought-provoking publication. I am already looking forward to contributing more.

CLICK ON THIS LINK TO READ MY ARTICLE ON PAGE 32 OF THIS MONTH’S ISSUE

SPEAK THROUGH THE 3 GATES

This is a great litmus test to put our words through. How many times a day do we let something escape our lips that we shouldn’t? Having these 3 questions in mind would help prevent that from happening. Remember you cannot unsay something.

How do we keep these questions front and center? Use this picture as your screensaver, pertain jot them down on an index card you carry with you. Then, put it into practice. Try doing this just for a conversation here and there. Eventually, it well become a way of not only speaking, but thinking as well.

So you don’t feel too down on yourself when you first try this, allow me to share my experience. I tried this at work and all I can say is “wow!” I never realized how many useless negative things I say there! Even someone who writes positivity for a living! Although a bit taken aback, I was excited. There is so much room for me to improve my conversation skills.

Try this yourself. I’m about to meet a friend for coffee and am going to try again. I think you will notice different people bring out different conversations. I would love to hear your experience as well!

IS NOW A GOOD TIME?

Our last post was a little lengthy, so we will try to keep this one short and to the point. Today is Monday, the beginning of a new week. Time to start to be refocused. It is also August 14th, a great time to start to be refocused! What makes today so special? Everything and nothing. Confused? Let me explain.

We often wait for moments like New years day, our birthday, or even the start of the week to begin our new goal whether that be a healthier life, a more positive attitude or any other journey worth embarking on. The truth is by waiting we are just losing momentum. If you were offered to start your dream job on a Thursday would you decline because it wasn’t a Monday? If you were to win the lottery on the 3rd, would you pass because it was not the first? Of course you would not. The same holds true with anything we wish to begin.

Most of us have heard the expression “It’s 5 O’clock somewhere.” Meaning anytime is a good time to begin to celebrate. I couldn’t agree more! I want to remind you of another expression, “There is no time like the present!” If you have the urge to begin to eat healthy for example, capture that feeling by at least doing one thing towards that end right then and there! If you wait until New Years, your birthday or even next Monday, a lot of things can happen to drain that enthusiasm. Let’s make August 14th the day we turned our lives around!

BEAUTY IN THE STORM

This was the sky in front of my lady and I as we walked on the trail the other day. We certainly turned around and went back to the car. As you can see, before we did that I had to take a picture of how beautiful the coming storm was.

There were people out walking like we were. Some people were jogging or on bicycles. We even saw a few golfers rushing off the golf course as the storm came in. When it did arrive it was fierce and intense. Does this make storms the ultimate party killer? Not exactly. Without the rain there would be no nature for us to enjoy as we walked. The same would hold true for those walking, jogging or biking. Even the grass on the golf course could not be there without the rain.

This got me thinking about the storms of life and how the same holds true. As I write this I am currently dealing with a terrible sinus infection. Today is also the first day of summer. A day I traditionally party and celebrate. Not today, however. I spent the whole day in bed. Still, this sickness has forced me to get some rest. It also reminded me how lucky I am to enjoy good health most of the time. Perhaps I needed that reminder not to take things for granted.

How about you? What storms in life have you recently went through or are going through? Can you see the beauty in them? What lessons are they teaching you? Feel free to share yours with our readers in the comments below.

LET THE BEAUTY SHINE THROUGH

I took this picture the other day. Immediately I noticed the daisy. It is as if it were growing straight out of the rocks. You could say it is the rocks that made the daisy stand out. If this flower had been in a meadow it may not have grabbed my attention so much. This struck a chord in me. Beauty can often best be appreciated where there is none. For those of you who are a fan of rocks, I apologize and am not calling them ugly. Even if you are a fan of stone formations, you must admit the daisy does jump out in the picture.

This is not a blog about gardening, rocks or flowers, but one about improving our lives and ourselves. So, how do the two come together here? If we pay attention to the media at all we are filled with stories of hate crimes, war and other not so fabulous information. I don’t even watch the news, but see these things as I log into my email. It can make you feel there is no point in trying to be positive, that the world is going in the wrong direction. Even in our daily personal struggles life can seem overwhelming. We take one step forward and can fall three steps back. You can be tempted to throw in the towel and give up. Your life can seem like…well…a pile of rocks.

This is where the picture comes in. In a world, be it personally or globally, that can seem negative at best, hopeless at worst it is easy to just become another ‘rock’. It is also easy to save expressing our beauty around people that we know we receive it well. There are pluses to that. It helps us gain confidence and expressing our beauty anywhere is better than not expressing it at all. When we express our beauty in a place that truly needs it that is when we truly stand out. In fact, it is the very troubles in our lives that can make our beauty the valuable gift it is. Look at the daisy among the rocks. In a field of daisies we would be hard to pick out just one even though they would all add something special.

A real world example I can think of is Mother Teresa. She could have helped any part of the world. What makes us remember her is her choice to help those who were in some of the ugliest situations. She chose to help the people of Calcutta in India. Her foundation, Missionaries of Charity helps those suffering and dying of HIV/AIDS, leprosy and tuberculosis. As well as soup kitchens and orphanages. Those in the foundation take a vow to provide “wholehearted free service to the poorest of the poor”. Wouldn’t it have been easier to teach children of wealthy parents to read? Absolutely. That would have been a noble deed as well. By expressing her beauty in a place that needed it most she did more than give medical attention to the sick and dying, she gave them something far more valuable. She gave them hope and beauty they needed. She was there daisy among the rocks.

Now you do not have to move to a poor country and help the poor (although the world always needs more of that) to take from this example. Just know when you are tempted to give up in the face of negativity and challenge, whether that challenge comes from abroad or right in your own life, be the daisy. Give beauty to a world that so badly needs it.