A Tribute to Man’s Best Friend

Take-Home Message: Dogs can teach us a lot about living and how to treat others.

In Loving Memory, Amos Earl.

He was more than a dog. He was family.


I remember the day we brought him home. His jovial, genuine enthusiasm for life impossible to disguise, Amos’s nub of a tail wagged a hundred miles per hour. He possessed this strange habit, like a contortionist, of shaking and twisting his rugged, canine frame into an almost “U” shape, as if his abdomen was made of rubber. We even wondered for the first few days if we would be able to keep him because of his rambunctious nature.

He had a gentle, loving spirit, though, which ultimately won everyone’s heart. In no time at all, he had become an important part of our family. His life created a ripple, whose wake extends as an example of joy, contentment, and love for all who had the privilege of knowing him. In many ways, the lessons we can glean from this companion, friend, and dog could teach us all a lot about how to live.

As I labored alongside my dad last night, shovel in hand, tears swelling in both our eyes, I reflected on many of the heartwarming memories brought to life by Amos, and contemplated some of the instructions he gave us on how to be better people.

  1. Live in the present. Amos rarely got worked up about anything. Every moment of his life seemed to be as good as the previous or the next. Whether you found him napping on the couch, hiding, tucked away inside his kennel away from the world, or stalking the holder of any food item, he never wanted for wonder. You could always find him entertaining himself whether chewing on his paws, or licking his crotch. He enjoyed life as it came to him.
  2. Be overcome with happiness. Amos had a special relationship with each member of his family. He would do the whole contortionist, nub-wagging charade every time someone came through the front door. He  would even greet strangers similarly. He would go absolutely nuts, even if it was the fifth time you came home. He never failed to show his joy at being reunited with those for whom he shared a bond.
  3. Eat ice cream regularly. Amos loved ice cream. He would revel at the chance to choke down a Sonic soft-serve. If you ever even offered him a taste, you’d better have watched your fingers, they might have met the same fate as the cone. He enjoyed the simple things in life, and among these, ice cream was high on the list.
  4. Don’t conceal your affections. If ever you took a spot on the couch, you better bank on Amos coming to join. He had no shame in this. He shared your seat, whether there was room or not, and he would climb right on top of you. He would jump up on your bed and keep your feet warm for the night, too, if you’d let him. He had little, if any, regard for personal space. He seemed to place a high preference on quality time with his friends and family, and we could all take a page out of his book.
  5. You’re never too old to play. Amos was never big on fetch. He was more of a “keep-away” or “tug-o-war” kind of guy. He loved to be chased, and he loved to fight you off if you ever could catch hold of whatever poor toy he held hostage in his trap. Even into his older years, he made an effort to engage whoever would give him a cross look in a playful bout. Even if you riled him up wrestling, he would never bite. His gentle spirit spilled into all areas of his life, and he never seemed to take things too seriously.
  6. Say what’s on your mind. Amos was a bit quirky, too. If ever he needed or wanted something, whether he thought it time to eat or go fetch the paper, he’d let you know. He would bay and whine a whole concert for you. I’m glad for all the times he gave me a front row seat, and carried on conversations with me. He was never afraid to tell you what he was thinking.
  7. Enjoy the ride. He seemed to be at the height of happiness riding shotgun. It didn’t even matter if you rolled the window down or not, though he’d love it if you did, just riding next to one of his buddies seemed to be as good as it got for him. He gave us a good example of how we should value and cherish the time we have with our friends, family, companions, and loved ones. He treated people well, he made them feel appreciated and valued always, even in the smallest of gestures. You didn’t have to be going anywhere in particular, he was just happy to be along for the ride.
  8. Be thankful for what you have. Amos could turn a pile of trash into hours of entertainment. He could create a whole new world for himself from a ragged, old tennis ball in the backyard or a pair of dirty socks. He didn’t need much to get by and to be happy. Common things taken for granted or considered garbage by others were every day miracles to him. He saw the beauty of life all around him and embraced it. He demonstrated a higher form of living for us to consider.
  9. Be remarkable at your job. When your absence is felt, you’ve had a powerful impact on those around you. Amos did just this with his life. He held on and never complained. In fact, he never made any excuses or mention of the pain or complications spreading through his body, though, perhaps if he had, we could have caught it sooner. He just kept on loving and living. He played his role as companion and friend to each of us sensationally. And he hung on for dear life to see to it that each of his kids grew up and he saw them off to college and adulthood before throwing in the towel. He created value in each of our lives, not from a sense of duty, but from a place of loyalty, affection, happiness, and self-esteem. He never tried to be anything that he wasn’t. With Amos, what you saw was what you got, always. He never shied away from being himself, and being himself meant pawing a way into your heart. He became irreplaceable in his time here, and his absence is felt.
  10. Love unconditionally. Every dog I’ve ever met earns top marks in this category. Amos certainly does. You couldn’t stay mad at him, and he would never let you. Even after he’d ruin the carpet, destroy a shoe, or break into the trash and disseminate it across the house, those big brown eyes, cowering down behind the closest piece of furniture would melt your heart. He knew when he messed up, and he couldn’t hide his guilt. But he would always apologize in his own way. He would come nudge your hand or sing to you in his Tenor 2, or come give you a look asking permission to hop up on your lap. He would never let you go to bed mad, and would attempt to reconcile beforehand if you were about to leave the house. Even if he caught a swat from his nefarious actions, he wouldn’t change his tune toward you. He was relentless in this regard. He might shy out of the room for a few minutes, but he wanted to be around his forever family, his people, his tribe, and would soon come frolicking into the room where you were. He did not exhibit prejudice. He did not act prideful. He loved his people, and he was loved back. He was a model friend, and a great listener. He knew how to console when you needed it. He knew when to come plop down next to you and enjoy a movie, and talk you into a nap instead. He loved you whether you took him on a walk or gave him a treat, or just scratched his ears when you passed him in the hallway. He didn’t ask for anything in return. He was a giver. He lived his love for others, and he painted a portrait of how to treat others. He was the best dog a family could ask for, and if dogs go to heaven, I know he’ll be sitting there by the gates, waiting to greet every new person alike with that little nub-a-wagging, and his butt shaking.

These four-legged, furry teddy bears come into our lives and plant seeds which eventually take root. They grow to become more than just friends, but our closest of companions. They show us love, friendship, loyalty, and so many more lessons on how to interact with the world around us. Amos was a rare dog and had uncanny human characteristics. He has been with us for nearly ten years, and grown up with us. He will be severely missed. Much like he has made a difference in my family’s lives through the joy he has brought the world, I hope these reflections upon his examples can add value to your life.

Amos-3

Get Your Own Yardstick.

Take-Home Message: We all possess unique metrics for measuring success. Stop using others’ to measure yours.

Writer’s Note: This blog was inspired by Chapter 3 of Ash Ambirge’s You Don’t Need a Job, You Need Guts.

As a senior in college, I went down with a sinking ship. I had been elected nearly a year prior as president of my fraternity (or Noble Ruler, as we called it inside the cult). Have you ever watched a dumpster fire? That’s basically what it was like for me. You just know the fire is out of control, and there’s no stopping it, but a fire that out of control is hard to look away from.

Anyway, so one month before my term ended, I was terminated and evicted from the house. Along with seven of my close friends, most of whom were also in leadership capacities, I packed my shit and hit the road. I won’t bore you with all the details (that’s what the “Ask Me” page is for) because I want to focus on a specific aspect of this trial.

At the time, it was the second biggest failure of my life to date. I crashed and burned. Publicly (Again). At one point, I had even been the patsy on the nightly news over the ordeal. It was a huge mess, and for quite some time, it flat knocked me out of the saddle. At that time in my life, I had no real mechanism for coping with that type of defeat other than impossible amounts of alcohol. (That was an interesting time, too, but another story altogether.)

This explosion, though, was the first step in a series of steps toward taking my freedom back. It led me to much introspection, and the conclusion I was forced to as a result is still among the greatest discoveries I’ve made in my life. I hadn’t been in control of my life prior to this, here’s why: I wasn’t using my own yardstick to measure my success. (Don’t be a pervert, that wasn’t a dick joke.)

Prior to that point in my life, I had been borrowing definitions from the world about what success meant. Trust me on this one, everyone in the world is happy to tell you what he or she thinks success looks like for you. Most of them are fucking idiots. They’re real leeches, and they sap the joy out of lives’. If this is you then stop doing it. You are a right annoying bastard. Seriously. The sickest part of it all, though, is that most of us buy into these fairy tales about health, wealth, happiness, etc. these spin-doctors are propagating without even asking if these things align with our own vision for our lives.

But here’s why I think we’re all so eager to present our vision of success and project it onto others: most of us don’t have the slightest idea what success would look like for ourselves if we were really doing what we loved. So, in order to cope with our own fears and inadequacies, we buy into the “American Dream Theory” and pretend to value things like financial stability, job security, and pension-plans. And in doing so, the picture of what we’re aiming for becomes completely distorted.

Newsflash: there’s no such thing as job security. And what the hell does financial stability even look like? What does a pension plan matter, either? If you’ve never done what you loved, then you’re not done working yet in my opinion. You still have more left to offer the world. You still have more to prove to yourself. You owe it to yourself.

So, after I got run over by the reality train and finally had enough of my self-loathing and moping around, I decided to kick myself in the ass and take back ownership of my life. It started with a few books, some notes, and lists, and then a few hundred more of each. I started looking myself in the mirror more, every day, too, and staring. I hated what I saw most days, but I was ready to overcome that and it became easier with time. Here’s what I did that changed my life:

  1. I got to know myself. I started narrowing my focus to the things I really enjoyed doing.

I love photography. I started taking pictures more. I live to write. I began journaling and writing down my ideas, though infrequently at first—now I do both every day. I am a nerd. I read every book I could find (See Good Reads for some of my favorites). As this list began developing, the pathway ahead of me came more into focus.

  1. So, after identifying these for myself, I thought about ways I could monetize some of those hobbies and interests.

Photography and writing were easier than reading. I sought out people who had a need for these and offered my services at what I thought was a fair rate for my time. They weren’t doing me any more of a favor than I was doing them. Participating in this mutually beneficial exchange made the world brighter, too.

  1. I had my ideas. I had a rough draft of a plan of action and I had some success. Next, I needed guts. These were the hardest to find.

I stood on the ledge for two years waiting to take the leap. I played along the 9-5 charades for a while and tried to save up some money before I tried to embrace this as a lifestyle, not just side-gigs. If you have ideas and dreams, you have to have money before you can do anything, right? That’s a lie I told myself, too. If your ideas are good, people with cash in hand will flock to you. Don’t let anything stand in your way. Not. A. Thing.

So, that’s my short-list, and there are realistically a thousand tiny things inside each of those items. Perhaps your dreams are more complex than mine and harder to monetize. That’s ok. The world needs surgeons and scientists, too. But don’t be afraid to change the game. Maybe your interest is in engineering. Cool, look at Elon Musk. Whatever it is, though, you have to become the arbiter of your life.

It starts with you. Spend some time alone, away from the influences of others. Fall in love with yourself. Explore your own ideas. Figure out what makes you tick. When you identify the intersection of your dreams and tangible things other people want, then just go knock it out of the park. Stop waiting. Get out a notepad and ask yourself, “What do I Want?”

Come Alive.

Take-Home Message: Do what makes you come alive.

What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever done?

Think about that question for a moment. Now, how many things came to mind? For me, it’s a laundry list. Most of these were just plain stupid, but all of them involved something similar: risk-taking.

Even some of the less-shitbrained ideas of mine throughout the years required risk to some degree. While a lot of them exploded in my face, I think back to some of those times and remember how alive they made me feel.

Like the time they told us not to throw that party in college that turned into a rager that the cops broke up. What a night. I think back to the time that a group of friends and I drove out to look at the house where a “crazy” lived and ended up getting shot at as we sped away. My heart was in my throat. I think about at least another half-dozen times that I shouldn’t mention, too. Two words: Pumpkin rolling.

Now, don’t mistake this as a message to run rampant through the streets ensuing what most people believe anarchy to be. That’s not what I’m saying at all. (Though, be sure to invite me if you get the itch).

It’s not so much the acts that I remember being awesome (they’re all much bigger fish tales today). In fact, I think back to how stupid a lot of the shenanigans I pulled were. What I can’t erase from memory though is the way each breath tasted in the act of taking risk. There’s something about the uncertainty that awakened my spirit. If only there were a way to experience that energy and channel it for good…

That’s what people who change the world do, in my opinion. They take risks, personally, professionally, emotionally, spiritually, and every other -ly. They embrace the uncertainty in pursuit of ideas, and put them on examination in the world. That’s my goal.

I don’t want to wake up ten years from now knowing I had the idea for the next Yelp! and failed to follow through on it. Is that what you want for your life? I say not no, but HELL NO!

Being creative takes risk. Especially if you’re going to exhibit your art, or product, or the manifestation of your idea for all the world to see. It’s mortifying, petrifying, terrifying (Yeah, that’s a play on A Beautiful Mind).

This is something I’ve had on the forefront of my mind for a while: If I want to change, I have to do something differently. I can’t change by remaining the same.

So, what makes you come alive? For me, it’s the thought of working for myself someday. I know without a doubt that I will have to eventually. For now, though, I’m working on obtaining new skills, refining current ones, and adding as many ideas to my arsenal for when that ship sails.

It absolutely terrifies me to think about the failure that is possible, but, it also brings me an immense amount of satisfaction to contemplate overcoming that. Don’t get paralysis by your analysis (<<That’s a note to myself).

This is what Ash (Ambirge) said today that kicked me between the legs:

“What if, instead of complaining that you don’t have a job, you created one? What if, instead of blaming a failing economy for your woes, you went out and sparked the economy with your talents? What if, instead of removing responsibility from yourself, you stood up and said “I!” What if, instead of merely accepting reality at face value, you repositioned yourself among it? What if, instead of pursuing a tolerable life, we fought tooth & heart for something we’d be proud to call our own?”

–Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts

Wow. I want the kind of guts that takes. I want to come alive by doing what I love. Hell, what if we all just did it?

Make It All Beautiful

Photo Credit: Joshua Earle: https://unsplash.com/joshuaearle
Photo Credit: Joshua Earle: https://unsplash.com/joshuaearle

Take-Home Message: Find a way to create so much value, that if you left, people would miss you. If you can’t be more effective, be more positive.

When I was 17, I began working at Jumbo Foods, like every guy with a car that age in Enid, Oklahoma. It was the first real platform for learning about the real world for me.

I learned pretty quickly that I was only supposed to bring six (6) carts in from the parking lot at a time. I learned that I was supposed to be cheerful and polite to customers. I learned that I was supposed to ask “Paper or Plastic?” I learned how to use a dust mop. I learned that tomatoes and bananas are bagged separately.

Needles to say, I learned every day on the job. But, as I began to learn many of the recommended practices of the day-in and day-out of a grocery store, I learned many ways that the efficiency of tasks could be improved.

At points, I even questioned why many of the practices existed at all. Except, I realized that, not everyone is looking around for ways to create value. The only reason I did when I began the job was because my dad ingrained that in me from a young age, and I didn’t want to earn a bad reputation as a poor worker.

Quickly, though, I realized that looking for ways to create more value, to do more tasks proficiently in less time was fun. I found it as a way to constantly challenge myself and to tap into unused potential.

Working at a grocery store took patience. Sometimes people weren’t the friendliest. Sometimes there were messes to be cleaned up. This is true in all walks of life, though, and I think the themes I learned early on at that first job translate well into all workplaces.

Sometimes, I find myself doing menial tasks even in the work I’m doing that I love. Have you ever compiled a hundred different short-answers into one excel spreadsheet? That’s just an example, but the point is that there are likely better ways to go about doing tasks that  aren’t the most enjoyable, even if it’s as small as changing my attitude.

Whatever the case may be, unless I’m looking for ways to do things more effectively, I tend to get bored when it comes to these types of tasks. The repetition makes me feel like another cog in the machine, and I hate that feeling. So, one of the things I’ve been challenging myself to do is look for ways to make tasks more enjoyable by searching out more effective tools for accomplishing them, and by turning these tasks into a game.

My challenge for you and one that I’m employing for myself is this: Look for ways to be innovative at every turn. If I can’t improve the efficiency, then improve my attitude when doing it.

I’ll leave you with this quote:

“The truth of the matter is that it isn’t natural for human beings to spend the
majority of their lives doing the same thing over and over and over again every day,
until the day we’ve finally had it, and we crack…open a bottle of wine and gulp to
the grave.
It might seem normal, since that’s what everyone around us does, but just because
a lot of people do something, doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.
It means it’s popular, and there’s a difference.
Being popular doesn’t mean proof of genius, quality, or even just a good idea. It
means that a lot of people think it is.”
–Ash Ambirge, “You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts”

So, don’t be another brick in the wall. You have more potential than that. Go out and turn the world on its head. Go turn something dull into something beautiful. Take an hour-long job and find a way to do it better in thirty minutes.

Let me know about your successes. I’ll be recording my failures and triumphs here along the way.

Best of luck. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Life Is Not A Shower.

art sideTake-Home Message: Stop waiting for the things you want out of life to happen and just go get them. 

Were you ever asked what you wanted to be when you grew up? I was all the time. My answer has changed a lot over the years, but now I think it’s mostly an absurd question. These days, I believe I don’t have to wait to begin working toward that vision. I believe I can do it today.

It takes more than believing, though. It takes hard work. It takes long hours of focus on small goals. It takes a relentless pursuit of a vision. It takes grit. These are truths I’ve been learning from others who have committed to their dreams.

For some reason, though, I grew up very commitment-averse. The fear of failure used to be extremely pervasive in my life. It used to scare me just being around people who didn’t worry about orthodoxy, people who pushed all their chips onto the table for their goals. There was too much risk associated with chasing wild hares. It was best to play it safe, or so I thought.

I went to public school K-12. I spent 4 years in college. I looked for a job. I enrolled in graduate school. It was like following the instructions on the back of a shampoo bottle. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. There’s more to life than adding conditioner afterward, in my opinion. I didn’t want safe, I wanted fulfilling. So, I made a change. I decided to break the mold.

I realized that I wanted to be more than employed when I grew up. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to find fulfillment in the work that I did. I wanted to be challenged every. single. day. I wanted variety in my schedule. I wanted to work in natural light rather than in a cubicle under fluorescents from 9-5. I didn’t want to go into a massive amount of debt while trying to figure out what the hell I’m supposed to do with my life only to opt out to the first job that paid a “living wage.”

I didn’t want to survive, I wanted to thrive. I wanted to create value every day, in every circle, in every sphere, in every conversation. I wanted to be a living beacon of the phrase my dad told me when I was a child, “Son, every person you meet should be better for knowing you.”  I didn’t think I could do that unless I was truly happy with the story I was spinning with my life.

I wanted to be wealthy in spirit, and allow the joy I found in my labor to overflow into all of the other areas of my life. I wanted to create things that I saw as beautiful through my labor. I couldn’t do that by marching according to the status quo.

And then I found out something: other people had the same vision for their lives. Other people saw that something was missing, too. Other people, too, had an inherent desire to change the game. But more than that, I met other people who possessed a willingness to commit to their vision for their life and to go out and make it happen.

That’s where Praxis came into the story for me.

I heard about a program that allowed me to pick the skills I wanted to cultivate; a program that paired me with a small business or start-up company in the industry I sought; a program that treated me like a customer and wanted me to soak up every ounce of value for which I was paying…

It sounds almost utopian, right? Wrong. It’s real. It’s part of the educational revolution taking place right now. And today, I’m fortunate enough to begin this year-long professional development experience.

For the next year, I’ll be setting goals monthly and working toward them. I’ll be discussing the things I’m learning and how I’m working toward those goals one-on-one with my coach on a weekly basis. I’ll be working first-hand with a firm that is going to make me prove my worth every day, and I’ll be getting paid to do it. I’ll be rapidly learning about new industries, new concepts, and ideas that are new to me.

So, as I begin this experience, I invite you to join me in discussion about the things I’m learning. I’ll be cataloging much of the growth taking place right here, on my website, or as I’ll frequently refer to it, my living portfolio.

Some of it might intrigue you. Some of it might bore you. Some of these ideas might inspire you. Some of my opinions might upset you. Whatever the case, I will be recording it here, with one ultimate goal in mind: to grow personally. This is me declaring that I’m no longer afraid to fail; that I’ve committed to chasing my dreams no matter the cost.

If you don’t like what I say, let me know in the comments section. If you want to join me in conversation, please do. If you want to throw stones at my ideas or condemn my understanding of a concept, consider this an open invitation.

I chose to do this program because I realized I had a lot of areas in my life personally and professionally that I wanted to improve. Tomorrow, I want to know something I don’t know today. Next week, I want to understand something I don’t understand this week. Next month, I want to read faster than I read this month. Next year, I want to be a better communicator, writer, photographer, marketer, businessman, entrepreneur, thinker, philosopher, leader, friend, son, sibling, and man than I am this year.

Make me work for it. Challenge me with your questions and comments. Critique me. Tell me when I’m wrong. I value your feedback. I look forward to showing you what I learn along the way.

Cheers,

–M.E.