Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Way Out of Unhappiness...

A few years ago, I learned the way out of unhappiness trap, and thought I'd share it with you:

People who feel like they can't catch a break in life aren't paying attention to the good things. Why? They won't ever be happy because they want to be unhappy. They're right where they want to be. I won't ever be able to bring them up to my level of happiness, and therefore if allowed to, they'll always always drag me down to their level. My solution used to be to try to help them. Now it's to get away from those people at all cost. I started out as one of the negative people. Here's the story of how I found my way out of that.

When I graduated, I had some idea of what I wanted to be in life, but didn't have the self-confidence required to follow through on that. So I listened to the people I trusted and became a student at an engineering University. About three years in, it became apparent that I didn't want to be an engineer. I went ahead and graduated an engineer, mostly because I was so close already, partly getting a diploma proves to others that I wasn't too stupid to get a diploma. Then I worked for several years. But looking back, I wasted a lot of my life because I didn't have faith in myself. What went wrong? Did the people I trusted let me down? Nope, they had good advice, but it just wasn't possible for them to know what was right for me. No one but me could have known. I've always heard "Do what you love (for a living), and you'll never work a day in your life." What I didn't realize until this point in life is that if you don't do what you love for a living, no matter how hard you work, you'll always be unhappy always.

When I really started paying attention, it turns out that good things and bad things are happening in ratios of approximately three good for every bad one. Here's a real-life example of Three To One in action:

Bad: To get through some tough times, I had to sell everything I owned. On Ebay.
Good: This was the coolest social experiment I've ever performed. I learned who my friends are.
Good: I really learned who I was along the way. I learned to believe in myself.
Good: I learned how little I really needed in life. I expected to miss all of the things I sold on Ebay, but it turns out that I only missed one thing - my camera. All the stuff I accumulated over the years that I didn't really need was worth over $50K.

It didn't seem like a random coincidence that I only missed my cameras, so I decided to follow that through. It takes a lot of Faith to believe in what at first appears to be random coincidence. I also started to pick up on the fact that when I allowed others to control my destiny, things went poorly, and when I reassumed responsibility for my life, things instantly got better. I also found that my college education had done more than teach me to be an engineer. It taught me to learn. I no longer find it necessary to take classes to learn a new subject. I'm the best person I know to teach me a subject. That it was something that I loved made photography all the easier to learn.

Here's another example of Three To One that started just as round one (above) was winding down:

Bad: Chaos at work. Not just a little, but enough to kill a couple of my friends outright and make me feel that it was killing me.
Good: Within 30 days, I'd shot some of the best pics of my life.
Good: Within 60 days, I had sold enough prints to buy a BMW and started my first business.
Good: Within 90 days, I was earning more at a part-time job that I loved than I ever would at my full-time job that was killing me.

I'm not sure what changed, but something clicked. Back in my college days, I learned that if I couldn't solve the problem, I was trying to solve the wrong problem. The problem I was trying to solve was the one of the chaos at work. Sure enough, I was trying to solve the wrong problem. If I acknowledge the problem at all, I empower it. I chose instead to ignore it entirely, and sure enough, after a while, it failed to exist.

About the same time, I saw a sign on a coworkers office door that summed up stress. "No one causes stress for you. Stress is something we choose to Accept or Deny." I instantly recognized this to be true, and it changed my life again. If I didn't accept the stress, if I didn't acknowledge it and allow it into my life, it wouldn't exist. Sure enough, as soon as the problem was identified, it was possible to eliminate it instantly.

Things started coming together quickly. I decided that I wasn't going to let my job kill me. From the Ebay experiment, I had the self-confidence I needed to start my own business and the knowledge of the direction to proceed. I was driving along and saw a billboard that said "What could you accomplish if you knew you could not fail?" Even though it was an ad for the Church, for some strange reason, I didn't totally ignore it this time. What could go wrong? I had an Angel looking out for me. The billboard must have been some sort of a Sign. I bought a new camera that same night that I saw the bulletin board. It was December 31, 2003. The camera was a Canon EOS 3 just like I had before the Ebay experiment. That weekend I shot some incredible photos.

I started with nothing more than a newfound belief in myself and an Angel named Debra on my shoulder. And within 90 days, I had completely eliminated the need for the chaotic job that I believed was killing me. Hmm - maybe bad things don't happen at all? Or at least some of the things we think are bad are really good. Maybe that's what they mean when *they* refer to "Blessings in disguise"? Sometimes, they're both good and bad, I guess.

I believe that it was only possible to find the way out of unhappiness because I wanted to find it, because I was actively looking for the way out. Without the willingness to escape, it wouldn't have been possible to see the clues that were right under my nose. For some reason, no matter how much faith we have, it seems that when anyone other than our minister starts telling us about God, we write them off as a religious nut. The Church that placed the billboard ad about accomplishment was trying to show me the way out. I'd driven by it hundreds of times and dismissed it as the rantings of one of those new-age churches with the guitar and drum set up permanently on the altar. In past years, I ignored the billboard. When I was actively seeking the way out, then I was able to hear its message. It turns out that those who aren't willing to escape aren't really trapped. They're right where they want to be all along. Unhappily ever after.

For this to work, you have to want it to work, and you have to be willing to work harder than you ever have. You can't rely on friends to help you with this. Most likely they're stuck in the same unhappiness pool that you are. But that's OK - if you believe in yourself, you alone can make this happen. The friends and family that fall into the negative and unhappy pool, or who try to talk you out of this change aren't real friends or family. Don't worry, along the way, you'll find some new friends and family that will help. Those are your real friends and family. Once I started down this path, all thoughts of failure, all thoughts that I can't, all the excuses - were gone. When you're ready to start, you'll know. The difference between not ready and ready is instantaneous, not gradual. When you're ready, you'll know. If you're still making excuses for why you can't, you're not ready to start yet. Signs that guide us down the path and random chance look a lot alike. Don't ignore what at first appears to be coincidence. Instead, give it a chance, try to reconcile it with the rest of your beliefs. Hard work is necessary in life, but dying isn't. Don't ignore those thoughts that your job is killing you - if you think that, it literally is. This is your body's way of telling you what's happening to you. If this happens, take immediate action.

Now that I know to look for it, I'm finding more happiness and opportunity and success everywhere. I'm seeing it everywhere. Now when something bad happens, I start looking for the good. I start looking for the opportunities. I believe in the success. The Angel is still with me, and prouder than ever of Our accomplishments, I'm sure. The coworker had found the way out, and was kind enough to post the map to freedom on her door. With that, I was able to find my way out of unhappiness, and now I'm posting it for others to find. If you're seeking the way out, you'll find that part of the answer is above. If you're not seeking the way out, you won't see this anyway. The rest of the answer is in the signs you choose to find along the way. When I try to tell this to my friends, they either laugh at me or become angry. All of them. They chalk it up to me being crazy, I guess. Personally I think those two are unrelated. The ones that laugh at me don't yet see the light. The ones who become angry are ready to start. People laugh at new thoughts they think are untrue, and become angry at thoughts they think might be true.

The good news is that three years later, there's more chaos at work. Let us Pray that this time around, those causing the chaos don't have to kill anyone in the name of Progress...

God Bless,


Saturday, October 14, 2006

I think I'll Miss The Springs The Most...

Today I made the rounds on my annual fall tour of the springs around southern Missouri. It was *the* weekend for fall foliage, but the drought this summer didn't allow for the colors I'd hoped to see.

There's a sign in Licking Missouri that says "Success 13 miles West. Rolla 26 miles North." It's right, Rolla is nowhere near success. However the town of Rolla does seem to embrace change. Students come every semester. Some leave two weeks later, after learning how woefully unprepared their public school educations have left them. Other woefully unprepared public school graduates like me stay despite this, complain for 4-6 years about how there's nothing in Rolla to do, but that's OK because I'm spending 21hrs/day 7 days/week on class work, then leave the second they graduate. Faculty and staff come and go because there is no money to be made, no success to be had. Rolla Townies leave for the same reasons - there's nothing to do here, your friends are always leaving, and Success is somewhere else. When your friends and relatives and acquaintances are constantly leaving, there is no one - I repeat no one - who cares about anything. Service industries that rely on townies for staffing are out of luck, because none of those people care about showing up, let alone doing a good job. There is no pride of ownership. As I look out the door of my two room apartment, I see a sign that says "Welcome Rolla". Not "Welcome To Rolla" mind you. This is because the entire population of Rolla changes so often that we need to constantly welcome a whole town of new people that often.

I graduated from UMR in 1994. I didn't want to leave, but I needed a job and found that I had to. I didn't really miss Rolla. Instead I missed my friends. I came back in 1998, and the school friends had gone on to greener pastures. Once again I met a great group of people at UMR. It's a small town, and so friends and coworkers were one in the same. It was the best team I've ever been a part of. But everyone had different goals, and one by one, they found a way to achieve them and left UMR. And once again, I miss my friends.

Yesterday my coworkers came by my office and said goodbye. It was strange, because I didn't know I was going anywhere. But they certainly seemed to know. The ladies of the office cried and hugged me and asked if I was alright. "I'm not going anywhere!" I insisted. But I'm starting to think that maybe they know something I don't.

My job is chaotic and I'm forced to say goodbye to friends and coworkers far too frequently. One by one they left Rolla in search of something better, and it seems that they found what they were looking for. Thinking about all of my old friends who are gone reminds me that I'm not accomplishing my goals. Sure time changes things, but is it really progress? Not if your goals aren't being accomplished, and that's certainly the case for me. I'm still single. I'm still living in a two room apartment, and my garage and workshop is a storage shed. My job has been chaos for the last three years, and shows no signs of change.

Today I said goodbye to Alley Spring, and to Rocky Falls. I waved to Greer Spring and Falling Spring and Turner Mill as I passed by. I took lots of photos of the spring and the depot at Mammoth Spring, Arkansas. Two trains went by when I was there - that was nice. I stood and watched the water falling over the dam for a half-hour, then ate dinner in a town along the highway. At the restaurant, hundreds of miles from Rolla, I saw one of my old friends who had left a long time ago. She looked happy. And instead of saying hello and catching up, I just sat at my table as she left. I didn't want to have to tell her I was still in the same town, still single, still at the same job. I didn't want her to feel sorry for me.

I always wondered if there was anything that all those people who left missed about Rolla. I miss the people, sure, but they have already left. So I think I'll miss the springs the most.