Lately I’ve been struck by the equivalency of ‘challenge’ with ‘obstacle’. In the same vein, the synonym for ‘change’ might as well be ‘pain’. So if challenging the status quo is your objective, saddle up buckaroo ’cause pain is part and parcel of conquering the obstacles now heading towards you like a charging locomotive.
As eloquent and wise as that may be, let me bring my lofty observation down to street-level.
As I continue to pick my way through the mine fields that can be my workplace, I’ve gotten good at a lot of things. I’ve built good working relationships with a lot of people all over our 24/7/365 operation. And it has not been accidental. My experience has correctly taught me that the more I can do, the more valuable I become to my Organization. And the more valuable I become, the better the insulation between me and a still murky economy that has flattened so many people around me. Call me a free-thinker, but I like to eat. I have grown fond of of living under a roof with a TV and a warm bed. And, I like what I do for a living. I’m good at it. All of that interconnects very nicely. Hakuna mattata, right? While I’m not Swahili, I am leveraging the synergy. It feels good to once again feel like I am making forward progress. That should have been my cue that the other shoe was about to drop.
Several weeks ago, my general manager came to me on a Friday afternoon and said, “Dan. You remember the time when you told me that you wanted to be where I needed you most?” In a somewhat wary tone of voice, I heard myself saying that yes, I remembered. Why? “I have some real problems on 3rd shift. I need you there.” OK. “Good. You start Monday night”. [CUE: sound of other shoe dropping].
Becoming a creature of the night has not been easy. The schedule of our life has been totally turned on its head. I now sleep from 9:30 or 10 in the morning till about 1 or 1:30 in the afternoon. I get up and live my ‘real life’ for a few hours, read my favorite bloggers, do a little writing and eat dinner by 4:30 or 5. I’m back in bed by 6PM and up again by 9:30. Spending the next hour or so waking up, I shower while Rick does his award winning rendition of a NASCAR pit crew in putting my lunch together, brewing a thermos of Hawaiian coffee (or Hazelnut on special nights) and generally getting me ready to be out the door so I’m in place and ready to rock at work by 11PM. I’ll work till 8, 9 or 10 in the morning and head back home to start the loose inverted cycle all over again. Bills get paid, groceries get bought and six-days later, I’ve got the day off before it starts all over again. I have such a new found respect for hospital workers, the drive-through guy at the 24-hour White Castle and every single person who ever worked at a convenience store. It’s a different America in the middle of the night. And now I’m one of them. Gratefully, it’s been a long time since I was 18. But that being said, getting my body and my brain acclimated to the new night-time reality has been painful. And while I’ve often referred to my love affair with coffee, I now view it as life giving plasma that propels me forward through the darkness.
It was while driving to work the other night when one of those dirt-simple observations that qualify as a Life Lesson popped up in front of me in living color.
Wednesday night, I was driving to work through a stretch of interminable construction on the state route that is my most direct path to work.
After months of the same narrow two blinking lanes with its now familiar veers to the left and right, I rounded a bend only to have my rote knowledge of the route rudely interrupted by an imposing phalanx of orange traffic cones arrayed across the roadway like a Roman Legion in battle formation. I may not be psychic, but even at that distance, I could hear their collective drum beat, ”Boom. Boom. Thou shalt not pass’. Boom. Boom. Do not pass go. Boom. Do not collect $200.’
“But I’ve got to get to work”.
The cones were unimpressed. Boom.
Obstacles are funny that way. They present large and often, just as suddenly. They live to threaten us in their purpose of warning as often as they shut down any hope of access, egress or any other obvious form of safe passage. After all, if you think about it, barricades are, by their very function, oppositional statements. Ever seen Les Mis?
The ‘ah-ha‘ moment came as I got closer and closer to the construction barrels blocking my path. Dropping my speed as I approached my new orange enemies, I suddenly realized I’d been punked by an optical illusion. The line of obstacles barring my way wasn’t a line at all, but rather two lines of cones that formed a path around the sewer work being done in anticipation of the paving soon to follow.
The last kicker in this little thunderbolt moment of mine came the next morning as I retraced my route back towards home. In the morning’s light, I had to smile as the same line of traffic barrels came into view. Even at a half-a-mile away, I could see they weren’t a fortified line of obstacles at all…they were just a bunch of orange cones in a couple of lines to guide motorists around the site of the new manholes.
Isn’t that just like an obstacle? All full of blow and bluster until it realizes you’re not turning back. In the face of your Purpose, they inevitably reveal secrets you didn’t know they held. And in return? They grant you passage you wouldn’t have gained had you not approached them head-on. Granted, the route is not likely what you were expecting, but it’s a route nonetheless and it’s yours.
Got obstacles you need to climb? Me too. That being said, let me leave you with a bit of poetry I’ve come to really hold close.
Next time you find yourself climbing the face of a cliff, look to your left…that’ll be me, climbing mine. With that in mind, I’ve left you a cool checklist at the bottom. See you at the top.
Hope abides; therefore I abide.
Countless frustrations have not cowed me.
I am still alive, vibrant with life.
The black cloud will disappear,
The morning sun will appear once again
In all its supernal glory.
If it is love unconditional,
Then it can overcome
You must overcome
All your difficulties,
Not try to escape from them,
For there is no such thing
A failure is not destruction.
A failure is a challenge
To overcome and go forward.
We can overcome fear
Only when we sincerely feel
That fear is something
Worse than useless.
– Sri Chinmoy
Conrad Bain, 1923-2013
NEW YORK (AP) — Conrad Bain, a veteran stage and film actor who became a star in middle age as the kindly white adoptive father of two young African-American brothers in the TV sitcom “Diff’rent Strokes,” has died.
Bain died Monday (1/14/13) of natural causes in his hometown of Livermore, Calif., according to his daughter, Jennifer Bain. He was 89.
Pauline Friedman Phillips, July 4, 1918 – January 16, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Pauline Friedman Phillips, who as Dear Abby dispensed snappy, sometimes saucy advice on love, marriage and meddling mothers-in-law to millions of newspaper readers around the world and opened the way for the likes of Dr. Ruth, Dr. Phil and Oprah, has died. She was 94.
PHOTO CREDITS and ATTRIBUTIONS: Martha Graham. BrainyQuote.com, Xplore Inc, 2013. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/m/marthagrah113628.html; overcoming-obstacles-or-free-at-last-randy-burns: http://images.fineartamerica.com/images-medium-large/overcoming-obstacles-or-free-at-last-randy-burns.jpg; 3-D Cones Source for dan4kent compilation: Elena Suslova, Belarus – http://www.123rf.com/profile_disfera; 3d-traffic-cones-night_overhead by dan4kent; Obstacle Hand Climbing 4 by dan4kent with Source at: http://michaelhyatt.com/the-necessity-of-obstacles-part-2.html;
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Here is a simple check-list I am using to help
me navigate my move from Day to Night.
If it helps you (even a little), then I’ve done a
very good thing. Enjoy.
1. Get sufficient sleep every night. Sleep is often the single most undervalued behavior in our lives and the one with the most immediate power to improve our experience in every waking moment. If you sleep in the 6-6½ hour range, like the average American, just one more hour of sleep a night will leave you feeling more physically energized, emotionally resilient, and mentally clear.
2. Move more. It’s not only good for your heart’s health, but also for your mental health. Do some form of exercise that significantly raises your heart rate for 30 minutes at least four times a week and move frequently during the day.
3. Eat less, more often. Food is fuel. Lean proteins and complex carbohydrates are high-octane fuel. You’re best off when you keep feeding your internal furnace in small doses throughout the day, beginning with breakfast.
4. Renew more. Human beings aren’t designed to work continuously. We’re meant instead to move between spending and renewing energy. Ideally, take a break every 90 minutes, even if only to spend a minute or two breathing deeply.
5. Invest in those you love. The greatest gift you can give is your absorbed attention. Better to be fully present with someone for an hour than physically present, but distracted, for multiple hours.
6. Give thanks. We’re far quicker to notice what’s wrong in our lives than we are what’s right. At least once a week, hand write and mail a note of appreciation to someone who deserves it, telling the person precisely what you’re grateful for.
7. Do the most important thing first. Early in the morning, you’re likely to have the most energy, and the fewest distractions. Start your workday by focusing without interruption, for 60 to 90 minutes, on the most important and/or challenging task you can accomplish that day.
8. Practice reflection. We’re so preoccupied with the urgent that we rarely take time to think about what it is we’re doing. Set aside 15 to 30 minutes at the end of each work day (or in the evening) to reflect quietly and without interruption on what you learned that day, and what your highest priorities are for the following day.
9. Keep learning. Our brains work better if we challenge them, and life becomes more interesting when we do. Reading books is a simple and surefire way to learn and grow, but so is building a daily practice around learning a new language, a sport, a musical instrument, or around how to write code, fix a car, or draw.
10. Give back. Take at least one hour a week to put your own needs aside and devote that time instead to adding value to the world at large. One hour a week is very little time, but it’s a start — and it’s also more than most of us regularly give.
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