Author Archives: Thomas

Wait … I have a blog?

I’m not dead.

Or maybe I am, and someone has hacked my wordpress account and gone rogue.

Of course, posting on the site would draw attention to my untimely, and maybe unknown until this point, demise.

Well, I’m not dead.

I’d be lying if some days I didn’t feel that way.

A lot has happened since my last post (waaaaaay back in February).

A lot of interruptions.  A lot of sadness.  A lot of stress.  A lot of change.  All smashed up in about 30 days.

A lot can change in 30 days:

… You can think that your home is under contract and will sell … and then it doesn’t.

… You can think you have a wonderful job close to your home … and then your landlord gives you 30 days notice because he wants to try and sell the house.

… You can settle into a career path that you know will, in good time, give you the space to prepare for your dream … and then you get accepted into a life-changing academic program that may just ask you to give up that security.

… You move towards the last month of a year-long adventure into changing yourself … and then you see –  in the thick of it – how much you might not have changed.

… You can be pregnant … and then you are not.

I have been absent – things this last 6 weeks or so have not been what I wanted them to be, but something else happened today:

The sun rose.

And while I know that there is no guarantee that it will, it did.  Signalling the chance to take another day and beat out of it what I can for my good, the good of my family, and others around me.  The sun doesn’t know about what yesterday was like.  The sun just keeps doing what it was purposed to do, and it will keep doing that until it’s purpose is concluded.

I find peace in that.  I think at times, it is one thing that I am pretty good at – and something that will occasionally drive Summer crazy.  I am good at the mundane, the routine, the pattern of life, even in spite of the torrential storm around me.  Alas, that is the thing about your purpose, dream, meaning  – whatever you want to call it.  It never stops.  It never gives up.  We may have trouble in seasons of our lives discovering what that purpose is, but it always, always finds a way to push itself into a new day.  We, in our lesser selves, can stifle it, smother it, try to keep it from escaping – even so much that we don’t recognize it anymore.

But, the sun rises.

So … I am back on the wagon … or horse … or whatever euphemism you want to use there about getting back to the business of what you were built to be.  As far as this blog, I hope in the next weeks to share with you some of my lessons from my 30th year, and what I plan to do with those lessons – and where this blog will go after that.

If you’re there, thanks for still being there, even through the drought!


Two things for Friday – One month to go and #QuitterConf

I’m posting tonight, and many of you won’t see it until tomorrow.  The content is kinda raw tonight.
Today is an exciting day – for two reasons.
1. There are exactly 30 days (well, at least I think, considering that February has that extra day this year), or at least it is safe to say that I am one month away from my 31st birthday, and the end of my 30 While 30 Project.  The year has flown by, and to be perfectly honest, I am sometimes surprised by other people mentioning some of the things that I did this year.
Didn’t you learn to ride a motorcycle? – and it takes me a few seconds to realize they’re talking about me!
I still have a few things that I am trying to accomplish prior to the year ending, but like I have posted before, have come to the cool realization that not everything will be done.  I am ok with that, and understand the several reasons that contributed to that outcome.  Regardless, it has been an awesome year, and I am excited about what is coming next.
What has intrigued me the most in the last year is not so much the goals, but the process that this year has taught me.  The process of what makes change possible, how you decide what to change, and the realities of what happens when you do … and when you don’t change.  More on this to come.
Goals I’m still going to try to take care of for the year:
1. #14 Paint a picture
2. #21 Take a cooking class
3. #27 Launch my professional entity website (Note: I am SUPER excited about this one.  As I am sure you have noticed, the content at ThomsThoughts has tapered in the last weeks.  That isn’t because I’m not writing, only that I am writing pre-content for the new site – to be announced on March 10 of this year – something I am looking very forward to sharing with all of you)
There are a few others, but I am a bit scattered right now.
In addition to all those things, today is an awesome day because I am getting to participate in the Quitter Conference with Jon Acuff.  If you follow me on twitter (@thomasvertrees)  you’ve seen some feed already.  More of that tomrrow, and if tonight is any inclination, I will have content topics for weeks based on what I will learn here.
Happy Saturday.

30 While 30: Day 328 – Why everyone needs a little crazy in their life.

Just a few short weeks ago, I did something crazy.

Here’s a photo of me right before I did:

(I’m the dude in the green shirt and red shorts – like it’s Christmas – in the middle of the field)

For some reason, when looking for the last few items to put on my list for this year, I thought to myself …

“Y’know, Thomas, a Polar Bear Plunge would be fun.  You should do one.”

Me, being delusional at the time, agreed with myself. (Well, maybe it’s more delusional that I was having a conversation with myself … but that is a matter for a whole different day.)

This thing, along with a few others (like climbing one of the tallest mountains in the US), are on a short list (within the list) of things that … well … I might just deem crazy.

How does one define crazy?  Well, there are books upon books on this sort of thing, but let’s keep it simple.  It’s a short list of criteria:

  1. Understanding that something is well outside your expertise, character, or normal state of affairs.
  2. Understanding that the something can, in fact, kill you.
  3. Knowing #1 and #2, you decide to try it anyways.

If I am honest with myself (and why not when one is blogging about one’s own life?), I didn’t really think this one through.  As it was, I found myself learning a bit about “ice swimming” mere days before the event. (Also, as an aside, could I have picked a more mild winter for this venture?  I had considered another location and take in January … but that day, it was 65 degrees … geez).

People die doing this.

And please, don’t lecture on how it’s more dangerous to drive a car, cross the street, drink from a Nalgene bottle(thanks BPA!), or that eating non-organic, hormone fed beef can kill you as well.  That stuff normally takes much longer, and as for the beef, it’s a much tastier killer.  Anyways ….

Do you know what happens to your body when you jump in near-freezing temperature water?

Let me tell you.

First, this nifty thing called “cold shock response” happens. In short, when you willingly place your body in such cold water temperature, your body thinks that it’s dying.  Immediately, you hyperventilate, which is the cheif cause of drowing when someone falls through the ice.

Yay?

Needless to say, I was beginning to think of creative ways to back out of this one.  I’m focusing on more pressing tasks. (Yeah that’s a good one)  I’m trying to exercise more to pound out these last few pounds.  (Noble!)  My favorite?  I just couldn’t find one where it was going to be cold enough. (Perfect!  That way, I don’t have to do it AND I come out looking like the tough guy!)

As noted by the photo above, none of those excuses worked.  I mean, if I didn’t do it, I would miss out on my stellar T-shirt.

Which brings us to January 20th, 2012.  3:00 pm.  Air temperature – about 54 degrees.  Water temp – 44 degrees.  Translation: Pretty stinking cold.  The setting: I am surrounded by youngsters, most of which are affiliated with some combination of Greek lettering.  To say I felt a little out of place was an understatement.

You can safely assume that as you are reading this, I did survive, and looked pretty stellar:

The experience?  Hard to explain.  I did feel like drowning.  There is no real description for breathing normally one second, and a second later breathing like you’ve been trying to escape a rabid black bear freshly hungry from getting up late from hibernation.  As for the cold, it wasn’t that bad until I got out.  This was mostly due to most of the outer layers of skin (where most of the nerve endings are) pretty much instantly going numb … so very quickly I didn’t feel the “stinging” cold, but more of a dull freezing feeling. … until I got out of the water.  Yikes.

So what does this have to do with anything?  Was this really a big deal?

Well, no, it’s not a big deal when it comes to some of the wild and crazy things that people are recording these days (thanks YouTube!).

At the core, though, we all need a little crazy in our lives.

I remember several years ago, when my son was just learning to talk, I asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up.  He stated as emphatically as he could:

A fire truck.

Recent research indicates that self-esteem for most girls peaks at age 9.  Yeah, I said peaks.  The researchers state that this has to do with a more rapid sexualization for girls rather than boys, but I think it goes deeper than that.

While we are still young, we get told what we cannot do more than what we can do.

Much of this is good parenting: Don’t cross the street without looking.  Stovetops are normally hot.  You cannot wear two left shoes.  You can’t date that boy until I meet his parents.  You will be home by 10:00.

None of those boundaries are inherently bad.  We have to, though, be cautious about what we teach our children (and ourselves as adults) about what we can or cannot, in fact, do.

How can we foster boundary pushing in our lives?

You see all the time in the news, or in your twitter, or on facebook, story after story of someone who accomplished something outlandish or seemingly impossible, or, dare I say it … crazy.

Each of those stories didn’t start where they ended.  They started well before:

The olympic gymnast tried the scariest thing in the world at 3 – a cartwheel.

An overseas missionary began their ministry with the riskiest thing they could imagine … traveling overseas for a week (or even before that, giving money to another servant).

The overweight sit-up for the first time.

Real life change often starts with a little crazy – add a little to your life.  Move your tentposts out.  You may never know where it may lead.


30 While 30: The dark side of the force.

Can I be honest with you all for a moment?

Ok, thanks.

Want to know something true?

Sometimes my life is out of balance.

I know.  I know.  Shocker.

Let me tell you a bit about this.

I walk a fine line between contentment and ambition.  I don’t mean contentment with “things”.  In fact, I feel pretty settled with stuff like money and possessions.  I’ve written a few times about our family’s new policy on simplifying our existence, and having read Radical (and espousing with easy belief – though sometimes challenging practice) I understand that even on my poorest day, I am more financially blessed than 80% of the world’s population.  I am content with things, rarely ambitious with stuff.

I’m not really talking about money, or stuff.

My problem, as I have discovered this week, is walking the line between contentment and ambition in influence.

Believe it or not, I get a little jealous of others.

In this last year, I have widened my net as far as learning from others about how they run their business, how they connect with people, better ways of getting things done, smart ways of losing weight and being fit, and engaging in conversations about personal development, making changes in life, and making a difference in others.

And yet, there are days that I am jealous.

I am jealous that someone has a better and more developed platform than I do.  I am jealous that someone has more twitter followers.  I will make harsh statements about how “I could have said that waaay better“, or vehemently disagreeing with someone yet thinking no one pays attention to me, because I’m just a comment in a thread.  I am jealous of those that are getting to live their dream, today.  I, at times, am discontent, because I feel I am living between two realities: where I am and where I want to be.

But Jealousy is of the dark side.

To broaden that for the non-Star Wars aficionados, jealousy – along with things like anger, fear, and hate, are the things that lead down the dark side of the force, the dark side of a life philosophy that is dominated by a selfish perspective on life.

It was present this week.

In a week where I had many things to say, I didn’t post at all.

In a week where I debated trying to add a post on Sundays on to talk about faith related things I am experiencing, I didn’t post at all.

In a week where I read about the success of others, all I could see were the barriers in my own life.  All I could see were the reasons why it wouldn’t work, why I didn’t have the time, why it wouldn’t make any difference at all even if I did “make it”.

All I could see where the wrong things.

I share all of this, mainly to share with you that I am human, and I am not past expressing my troubles in the same space that I express my successes. I share also to encourage any of you out there that might feel the same.  I encourage you with the reminders that I use for myself.

There is a story in the Bible about a man that went on a trip and gave to his servants a share of his wealth.  He came back after a time to take account.  While each of them were given a different measure of wealth to work with, each was held accountable for what they were entrusted, and were not measured against their peers … only against themselves.

In moments where I am jealous of others influence, I remind myself that I am in a different place, with different skills, and with a different (albeit similar) mission.  I can only do that which I can do, and I will not be measured or judged in light of other humans, but on what I did with my skills, abilities, and resources in my time.

In moments of discouragement about blogging schedules, A/P II, applying to graduate school, building a website … I must remember balance.  Balance between loving where I am for where I am, while not forgetting where I should be going, and pointing myself and my family in that direction.

To weigh too heavily in contentment, is to become stagnant.  It is to cease growing and cease creating.

To weigh too heavily in ambition is to forget what makes the journey important.  It is to sacrifice timing and experience for the sake of the next task.

So today, a new day, the start of a new week, I work to practice balance, remembering that where I am is an important to place to be, and where I am going is important, too … in it’s own time.

Happy Monday!


30 While 30: Day 308 – Stop letting other people do your work for you. What LEGOs taught me.

My son, Daniel, loves LEGOs.

And I love that he loves them.

I can remember being little, cracking open the box, meticulously following the directions step-by-step as to not make a mistake and have to back-track several pages to correct it.  Finishing the model, however, was just the beginning.  After that came the splicing of bricks and designs with sets I already had, creating both structures that I had seen other places or detailed automatons from my own imagination.  It was great.

And that was just last week.

I kid.

A little.

Because of this shared passion, for his 5th birthday, we purchased Daniel’s first LEGO model – a replica of the Pizza Delivery truck from the Toy Story movie.  That day he and I worked to build the model.  After a few moments of fumbling over the small pieces, Daniel asked me for help … which I was (probably visibly) elated to provide.  I involved him as much as I could in the process, asking him to search out the pieces needed for each step and having him help check my work, scanning the directions and then the model after each image.  The finished product:

Awesome … I know, right?

We shared this new interest with the family, and boy were the floodgates opened at Christmas.  Most of the sets (thank goodness) were small, unlike the massive castles you would find a certain 8 year old drooling over outside the windows of the local Kay-Bee Toy Store.  Danial got several, with the first being at my mother-in-law’s home.  Of course, he couldn’t wait, so we sat down at the table to begin construction.  We cracked the box and opened the bags, and as I started the same routine from his birthday, Daniel spoke seven simple words:

I can do it by myself, Daddy.

Now, Summer and I had heard these words before (and I will let the parents in the audience comment below about activities associated with that phrase that have come from the mouths of their little ones), but after picking up the pieces of my shattered heart on the floor, I let him work.  Here was the outcome:

He did it … all by himself.  Watching him build, ever so carefully, tracking the instructions so closely, checking his work, and correcting his mistakes, I could only think of one thing:

He’s a freaking genius.  Someone call MENSA … now!

After calming down a bit, what settled in me was a sense of pride and love for my son, who through his hard work, frustration, knowledge and determination (that last one a product of his mother, for sure, and one of her best features) was able to accomplish something (not to mention developing his fine motor operations and spacial reasoning – that genius!) that, if I am honest with myself, that I didn’t think he could do.  Sitting there, I thought:

I almost took that away from him.

I almost took that away from him, because I wanted to do it for him.

It didn’t stop with that set. Oh no … no, no, no.

Then there was this.

And this.

Can’t forget these rough and tough guys.

And last, but not least, these awesome folks.

All on his own.  The only help I gave was breaking the box and ripping the bags.  Quite a different picture than just a few weeks before.

–          –          –

In my work, I was able to meet with a team at school to help assist a young child with some problems he was having in the classroom.  One of those issues was a concern that the child had under-developed fine-motor skills (cutting paper, writing with a pencil, coloring, operating an zipper/buttons/laces/etc.) I was in agreement with the initial assessment, until I heard the observational assessment from the occupational therapist.  While I can’t remember the exact quote, it went something like this:

He can do more than we originally thought.  When I began the assessment, I noticed several folks doing things for him, taking his coat off, helping with his zipper, stuff like that.  Once I asked the teachers to stop the things that they normally did to help him, I noticed several skills present.  He can hold his pencil, he can cut relatively straight, and he can attend to some of his basic needs.

Now, get ready for the blindside –

How do you get in your own way?

How do you know that you can’t do this or do that until you make an attempt, take a leap, or commit to a change?

We are our own worst critics.  When we speak out, asking the masses if we are capable of completing a task, learning a new skill, training for a new career, you know which voice is the loudest against us?  Often our own.

Maybe you don’t believe me.  Let me ask you a different question:

Do you have a “bucket list”?  A “dream list”?  Are there those things in your life that you would be able to do “just if …”?

How about a personal example?  Working on #27 (Launch my professional entity website) I am building a site from scratch … from the ground up. – and when I mean “scratch”, I really mean the kind of “scratch” where you take a tube of cookie dough, add some chips of your own to make them “chunky” and call it “homemade”.  That kind of scratch. – The fact is, I am a total web design virgin.  A neophyte.  A newb.  As of 30 days ago, I knew nothing.

Now?  Every day since about the 15th of December, I have been learning about self-hosting, comment systems, CSS, plugins, SEO optimization, 6-integer color codes, among other things.  30 days ago, I knew nothing.  I still don’t know much, but each day a little bit more.

If you had asked me 13 months ago if I thought I was the kind of person that would build a website for myself, I probably would have:

  1. Chuckled.
  2. Have told you that I didn’t have time for that.
  3. Have told you that I would have thought the task too hard to be worth my trouble.

The difference?  Perfection is not my name.  Choice might be.  I didn’t know it could be done until I leaped in head first.

Don’t assume you can’t do it, just because you have never done it before.  Instead, turn off that little voice that assumes that because of “X” reason (I’m too young/inexperienced/old/male/entrenched/busy/etc) that something can’t be done.  Become a student of yourself.

Tell yourself –

“I can do this by myself, Thomas.”

What can you leap into this week?

Don’t you think LEGOs are awesome?! Comment on your favorite set or memory!

_Thomas


30 While 30: Day 306 – Only 60 days remain

Photo courtesy of Rawich via freedigitalphotos.net

It’s been a while since I did a bona-fide list update, so today is as good a day as any!

1. #1 Read 30 Books – I’m not going to make it to 30, and while at first I was a little disappointed about this, truth be told, it meant reading (on average) 2 1/2 books a month.  There were some months that I could do this (especially if I was flying somewhere – seems reading is the best thing I can do on a plane), but for most months, I was averaging 1.5 books a month.  I also had this peculiar problem about adding books to the list throughout the year (for example, currently reading Quitter – by Jon Acuff) so the list kept getting larger.  Regardless, my pace has varied with the heaviness of the content and my ability to assimilate the information.  I feel good about what I’ve been able to do, and since have modified my reading target for the next year in my FinishYear.

2. #2 Lose at least 30 pounds. – First, I am excited that this goal will be accomplished by March.  I am so close, it is nerve-wracking.  I just want to be able to take a picture of that scale and share with you all here, but it can’t happen till it happens.  What I will add to this, is that even when at times the numbers on the scale don’t show what I want, three days at the gym, and movement on other days is changing my body.  I feel stronger, more flexible, and well … better.

3. #14 Paint a picture. – This one going down within the next 30 days.  We have a local shop here in Clarksville that holds classes where you can paint a picture under the direction/guidance of the instructor.  Gonna be done soon!

4. #27 – Launch my professional website. – This is what I have been spending a large amount of time on the last few weeks.  In preparation of a launch by the end of the 30 While 30 Project, each day I have built the habit of adding some kind of change to the site.  Can I say – I love the process!  I am learning a lot about formatting, CSS, html, and the wonderful plugin page on my wordpress.org page.

–          –          –

On Friday, I mentioned a lie that we (including myself) like to tell about how we view the time that we have each day.  It is my contention that we have just enough time each day for what is important to us, but by accident, habit, or on purpose, we fill each day with things that are not linked to what is actually important to us and to our purposes in life.  On Friday, I also mentioned some tasks to accomplish to try and re-align our time spent each day.

Jeff Goins ( @JeffGoins on Twitter ) has shared a few posts about the love-hate relationship that people have with making goals and plans.  While some of the gripe seems a bit about semantics, something that he mentioned struck me, and is an idea that I am believing more and more each day:

Changing your life, as it turns out, isn’t about setting large, unattainable goals. It’s about small changes over time. That’s how I became a writer — by getting up every day and doing what I needed to do.

Now, we can chit-chat about how you have to have new habits to execute a plan, or how you have to plan to set time for your habit to built it, but the core of the message is this … change is less often one giant step, but instead is found in the small changes we make that allow for us the freedom to be who we need to be.  Small moves … for big changes.

This January is about taking inventory.  While I don’t espouse the “don’t ever plan” ideal, it’s crucial that I make decisions, that I “do” different things, to allow all the plans the freedom to develop.  This is what I was really talking about in the post from Friday.  Instead of trying to pour more coffee into an already-filled cup, what do I need to pour out to make room for the things that are really important?

The good news is that this isn’t new.  All the time, we don’t give ourselves credit for the small changes present in our lives.  January will be a bit of an inventory of the last year.  Which habits stuck, which didn’t, and having a discussion on why either was the case.

In honor of The Happiness Project and in participation in my own FinishYear, each month I am going to share habits that I have mastered to free up time and energy from idle time as well as habits focused solely on building disciplines that, by default, will increase my success with the things that really matter.

Feel free to take a look at the #FinishYear 2012 page as this list builds.  I haven’t planned out the whole year.  Who knows what habits will be important in August?  Instead, I will look one month at a time at what freedom-inducing habit I will attempt to master.

Do you think that there a difference between a plan and a habit?

What do you need to take inventory of today, this week, this month to decide on what is worth keeping (stuff, routine, people, vice) and what is essential to remove?

_Thomas


The lie we love to believe about why we fail at our goals – #FinishYear 2012

Photo courtesy of graur razvan ionut via freedigitalphotos.net

This week, you are likely reading a variety of posts about how to follow-through, commit-to, or stick-with your New Year’s Resolutions.  You will also likely read posts about the pitfalls to our plans that cause many “resolvers” (is that even a word?) to “give up” by right around Valentine’s Day (a third won’t even make it to the end of January).

We are really good about making ourselves feel better about that failure.  We tell ourselves lots of things in order to soften the sting of not being able to do what we said that we would do, especially in the presence of such an overwhelming body of knowledge and expertise in the world on goal-setting and follow-through.

There is a lie that is being overlooked, and it is a lie that we tell ourselves every day – so comfortably, so naturally, that the perceived truth of this lie permeates most ideas about time management in general.

There aren’t enough hours in the day.

This is a lie. Continue reading