Lessons Learned

The difference four years can make

 
No matter where you go, you are what you are player
And you can try to change but that’s just the top layer
Man, you was who you was ‘fore you got here
— Jay-Z, Public Service Announcement
Atlas, holding up the universe. Not exactly subtle.

Atlas, holding up the universe. Not exactly subtle.

I got this tattoo four years ago today: it was my third, and opened up the gate for the more than one dozen that would follow. Tattoos for me are often cathartic, helping me get out of my heart and mind things that trouble me. The pain is penance. The marks are forever reminders.

When I got that one I was going through a lot. My marriage was crumbling. I'd just pushed my entanglement with Girl past the Rubicon--there would be no going back. I was crushing under the weight of expectations, mine and others. I was stretched by stresses I couldn't endure and was crying out. I was scared shitless of judgment, of breaking promises, of leaving people behind. I wanted to know what it all meant and spent countless hours trying to understand and getting no closer.

Changes had to come.

And in the days and years that followed I made significant changes. I divorced. I fell harder for a woman than I ever had before. I got high. I wrote. I spent time reviewing what I'd done, where I'd gone wrong, and what I needed to do to be where I was supposed to be. To be me, someone I liked.

I made more changes. I walked away from Girl. I left my high-paying job. I traded my house and stuff for a backpack and saw (at least some of) the world. I met new people and found a relationship that actually worked. I turned 40, and I was happier than I ever could have imagined being at 36. Then I made more changes because there was more I needed to see. And that was very hard. But people touched my heart, and I got some things published. And I learned the meaning of life, which is pretty great no matter what you have to go through to do it. 

I came back home to see the people I loved and missed. Then one of them died before I could, which shook me to the core and made me question a lot of things. I'm still dealing with it.

Four years gone since that tattoo. And in that time I've often thought of Jigga's lyrics, is he wrong or right? After all, haven't I changed tremendously in the last four years? Or was I, before that time, trying to be something I wasn't--just trying to change the top layer, and thus, in the time since, realized who I was and am and shaped my life and behavior in ways that truly reflect that?

I don't know--and I'm okay with that.

Lessons learned: don't wait

On my way out on the One Way Ticket, I drove a long loop to see friends and family. The first arc was down to Charleston, SC, to see my dear friend Richard Bachschmidt.

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I met Richard when we both worked in radio--SuperTalk 99.7, specifically. I was brand new and paying my dues, giddy to be a weekend board op making $8.75 an hour. He was already a legend around the halls.

And he approached me. Though he was so much cooler than I, we became friends.

Later I got a show, Saturday night/Sunday mornings, midnight to 2 a.m. My goal was to see how many people I could make mad, could I get all six of our phone lines to light at once. He had a show on before mine, and through some fortunate personnel shifts, I became his "producer" (though anyone who has worked with him knows he was the mastermind genius). And one of the reasons I'm not still in radio was because of him, because I saw that no matter how much time I put into practice and show prep and research, I'd never approach what he could do completely on the fly. He was naturally gifted. He did all the big and little things. I was watching greatness.

In the 16 years that followed, we stayed in touch. He'd hit his stride, and became a big deal as Box in the Morning on Charleston's 105.5 The Bridge. I came down to visit several times and always enjoyed it. I got to join him on the mic, we'd riff, we'd laugh. But more than any of those times with "Box", I most enjoyed spending time with Rich. When the mic was off, the persona slipped away, and he became real. Most people didn't see his complexity, his frustrations, his pain. But those aspects only made me love him more.

When I left we'd message. I knew about the dust-up at The Bridge and followed his decision to got it alone in podcasting--a risky move, but one that seemed to be paying off. I listened a time or two while I was abroad and it was damn good, no surprise. He even shouted me out live, talking about my travels and how "he's doing it right".

Soon after, I started making plans to come home. And I was making plans to work with Richard again--I had ideas and so looked forward to pitching them. But more than that, I just wanted to hang out with my friend again.

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Our messages from 3 weeks ago: what I would give to share that rum with him

Our messages from 3 weeks ago: what I would give to share that rum with him

And after I got back, I kept meaning to message him, kept meaning to listen to his podcast. I was getting settled, you know, and was probably going to do it next week. Now that I have transportation again, I was going to drive down to The Holy City and we were going to do it up.

Well, I will now be making that drive. But it will be for a funeral.

My world is a little dimmer today. I've lost a beautiful, inspirational light. I've lost one of my dearest friends. And I think I'll always carry the weight of guilt now.

If I hadn't waited...  

Lessons learned: nationalism is bullshit

So I'm back in The States after nearly 15 months abroad, and one lesson I learned was that more unites us than divides us. Upon making this statement I was asked to explain. So I will here.

give it a chance

give it a chance

We all** are largely the same, regardless of arbitrary distinctions like race and the invented lines inside of which we were born. We have the same needs and desires. We like good food, good music, good sex and a good story. We have the same fears. There are people we love, and we want them to be safe and warm and cared for.

**And we all have a few exceptions to this: narcissists, sociopaths, powermongers and problem children who play upon the fears we all have to divide us from each other. People who manipulate us, using symbols, flags, gods and false nostalgia as proof that We are good and They are bad and if we aren't careful They will take what's divinely Ours and sully what is pure.  

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It's easy to buy into the false narrative. But there is an antidote.

Back in b-school I learned about Genchi Genbutsu, a management technique that basically means "go and see". You hear there's a problem? Go to where it is and see for yourself. I liked this idea very much, and applied it in my subsequent corporate consulting and strategerizing life. It applied equally well on the One Way Ticket

Of course, not everyone can get their boots on, pull up lifestakes, and slum it in hostels searching for truth. I get it. In that case, I recommend seeking out dissonant voices. Get out of your echo chamber and comfortable messaging about who "They" are and how they don't share our values. And when you're fortunate enough to meet someone who has a weird name or different skin pigmentation or was born inside different manmade map lines, talk to them. Start with "hello" and a smile, just like you would with a friend or a neighbor.