February 26, 2011

Pay it Forward - Part V

Yesterday I decided to go on “walkabout.” My soul was restless and needed somewhere there were wide open spaces and fresh air, away from my “home” in Encinitas, CA. I was feeling closed in. I needed freedom from all that had occurred the previous few days. Change was brewing in the air in my life and I knew I had to get away to clear my mind.

So, after waking and doing a load of laundry I began my search. The desert came immediately to mind. There I could find what my soul needed, or at least I hoped it would. I decided on a short trip near Palm Springs, CA. As I drove north, the incoming weather system was on my mind and, although it was clear at the time, I knew the next day would bring a vigorous cold front with plenty of wind and rain. I found the least expensive room I could find, ate dinner at a little restaurant, and settled in for the night with a book lent to me by my Aunt. I was tired though from the prior days of searching for a new line of work. I’d left the insurance gig only the week before after months of navigating through the “system” and finally getting my insurance license in late December. It just didn’t work out. By 9 p.m., I was out like a light.

And then it “happened” again. At 3 a.m. I woke with a lurch and SOMETHING told me to get moving. I brewed a small pot of coffee, didn’t even bother showering, just washed up my face, brushed my teeth, quickly packed, and I was gone. Topped off the gas tank, got some more coffee, and by 4 a.m., I was heading west on I-10 back to the coast. When I say “happened”, this is the sort of thing that occurs from time to time over the past 3 years. I’ll wake, not really knowing why, and have this burst of energy like something is pulling me to move forward. Movement. There’s that word again. Always “forward”, never looking back, no regrets, and this strange sense of peace and serenity comes over me.

By the time I got 10 miles west on the freeway, the weather I foresaw the previous day was in full throes. It was absolutely pouring and I knew I had to drive slowly and carefully. The winds were fierce. Suddenly, it occurred to me that Joshua Tree, CA. was nearby and although I didn’t actually drive there, I could FEEL the spiritual significance of the term. I’m not a man of the bible, but I knew the tree referred to the biblical story of Joshua reaching his hands up to the sky in prayer. Nearing Beaumont, CA., not far from Riverside, and less than 60 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it began snowing in the midst of all the rain. And then I took the wrong exit. But, as it turns out, this exit led me to where I WAS SUPPOSED TO GO in the first place.

Coffee. I needed more. After all, I’d gotten up at 3 a.m. and here it was 5 a.m.! After finding my way back to I-215 via state highway 60, the one I THOUGHT was the wrong exit, I saw a Chevron station off the freeway and pulled over. As I drove into the station, rainwater was ankle deep near the entrance. And then I saw her. She was standing near her car by the gas pump and as I pulled up, she had this fixed gaze upon me. After refueling my coffee cup, she had come into the store and was talking with the cashier in Spanish. Both of them of course, were Hispanic. I smiled and said, “I have NO idea what you’re talking about but it doesn’t sound good.” Then she replied, “I ran out of gas on the freeway.” I thought she was just waiting to pay the attendant so I went outside to my vehicle. But before I even got to my car door, SOMETHING inside me said to turn around and go back.

 I went up to her, smiled, and said “Did you say you ran out of gas?” She said, “Yes, but I have no money.” THAT’S when I knew why I got up the previous day, why I drove out in the desert to clear my head, why I got up at 3 a.m. with this burst of energy to keep moving “forward”, why the Joshua Tree was still on my mind, and why I took the wrong exit. So, I said, “Follow me. Let’s get you some gas.” The startled look on her face and the cashier’s was PRICELESS! She said all she needed was just enough to get to Hemet, CA., not that far away. But then ANOTHER lady came up, one who had obviously already talked with the young lady I was helping, and asked her if she had called anyone she knew for help. The young lady looked at her, pointed to me, and said “He is.” By then, I’d already said “Go ahead, fill her up!” The other lady looked at me in astonishment and said “God Bless you! I would have helped but I have to use what money I have left to get a birthday gift for my daughter.” I said, “Really? When is her birthday?” She said, “Today! She’s turning 13!” By now, I knew I was extremely BLESSED so, without hesitation, I reached into my wallet and handed her a $20 bill. The rest is history.

Turns out the young Hispanic lady’s name was Teresa and the black lady’s name who came up to ask Teresa if she found help, was Sharron. Sharron was nearly in tears. She looked at me and said, “Are you a spiritual man or something?” I said, “No, I’m not what you call a “man of the cloth” if that’s what you mean, but I AM spiritual.” That’s when Sharron went on to say she was a baby in Christ, only a year and a half old actually. To top it off, prior to that she had served SEVEN years in a federal penitentiary. I didn’t bother asking her why. Frankly, it didn’t matter. When we were done filling up Teresa’s gas tank, Sharron said a little prayer for us all. Right there in the Chevron parking lot somewhere near Riverside, CA. at 5 a.m. in the morning, in the pouring rain. Three complete strangers brought together by fate and the hands of God. My heart was filled with joy and gratitude as I left them with two heart-shaped cards. On the cards, I simply wrote down my name and website, asking them only to Keep Kindness Alive by “Paying it Forward.” Funny thing, NEITHER Teresa nor Sharron had ever seen the movie! I told them both to just find 3 people they could do an act of kindness for, even something as simple as smiling and opening the door for someone, and ask THEM to do the same.

Some may say, “Gus, you were crazy to be out in that kind of weather at that time of day! What if something happened? What if you got in a wreck or something? You can't afford this anyway!” So what if I couldn't afford it? Fact is, I couldn't afford NOT to! Furthermore, something DID “happen”, something wonderful and miraculous. Three people who will likely never see each other again but three people whose souls are tied together forever by simply being kind to one another. Not much different than the story described in this blog entitled “People That Inspire – Part I”, about a lady I helped out at the Eagles concert in May 2010.

My mission is becoming clearer with each passing moment. Things “happen for a reason.” I’m here on this planet to HELP people. Yesterday afternoon while I was out in the desert with the Joshua Tree, I received a phone call. I was offered a temporary job to organize and create a non-profit organization in order to HELP widowed parents and their families. Just one more step forward and I’ll gladly accept that with deep gratitude, humility, and HONOR.


February 22, 2011

Will Smith's Wisdom

Will Smith: "Don't ever let somebody tell you, you CAN'T do something. You got a dream? You gotta protect it. You want something? Go get it!"

February 21, 2011

When Life Deals You a Lemon...Make a Pie!

Everyone has heard of the term “When life deals you a lemon, make lemonade.” That’s the standard version, the “safe” version, one that stays “inside the lines.” Recently, in a Facebook message sent from one of my good friends and colleagues I went to the UCSD accelerated Paralegal Certificate program with last spring, she offered this alternative and it’s one I really like: “When life deals you a lemon, don’t make lemonade, make lemon meringue pie!”

By way of background, our conversation centered on our respective career situations. My friend lives in Riverside County, CA., which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the state. She was expressing her frustration at finding the right job that suited her lifestyle and family needs and had little luck in her area. This was coming from someone whom I knew had legal experience since she had a job at one time in social services, an area she was wanting to move away from and now she was even looking at northern San Diego County for jobs. I, on the other hand, told her of my own frustrations in finding the right situation in the legal field, shortly after graduating from UCSD last June. And while I had obtained a job in the insurance industry last summer, I told her I had decided to leave it in mid-February of this year, mostly because I discovered the job required way more travel than I desired, an unstable and uncertain cash flow since it was commission-only, and what I viewed as one becoming literally 7 days a week working 10-12 hour days. Keep in mind, I’m NOT afraid of long days and have been known to be somewhat of a workaholic in my former banking career. And, just so you know what I left on the table money-wise, this job had the POTENTIAL of becoming easily a six-figure income inside of 2 years. Why? Because I wasn’t PASSIONATE about it. So now, instead of viewing it as a lemon, I choose to view it like my friend put it. I will not accept just lemonade; I’m going to make something much tastier and satisfying out of it!

One of the things we hear often is “play to your strengths.” Whoever you are and whatever situation you find yourself in, it’s not so much what you “do” that makes you PASSIONATE, it’s who you “are.” The key is opening your heart and mind, get outside the lines a little, look deep down inside yourself and evaluate what it is that brings the FIRE out in you, what gets you pumped up, what motivates you. For instance, if you love arts and crafts, wouldn’t you be more passionate about a job involving that than say, one selling insurance? An extreme example I know, but perhaps you get my point. Many times, we find ourselves in jobs that have absolutely NOTHING to do with what makes us passionate but we do them anyway because they pay well. Consequently, we end up making a horrible mess of it and likely end up miserable in the process. Here’s another example. If you ask me to prepare and cook a meal for you, chances are pretty darn good it’s going to be a disaster because I’m not particularly fond of it. On the other hand, if you ask me to clean up all the dishes after YOU’VE prepared an elaborate four-course meal, using nearly every dish and utensil at your disposal, I can guarantee you I wouldn’t hesitate for a second! Furthermore, I can also guarantee you  those dishes will be spotless! Why? Because anyone who knows me well, also knows I LOVE doing dishes. Strange I know, but true!

At this point, I’d like for you to scroll through the “Ramblings” chapters and read the one called “Passion” I wrote on May 17th, 2010. In that particular piece, I briefly described my life as it was then and still is today. I’m passionate about many things but the one I’m most interested in is helping others through what I’ve learned as the result of a life time of experiences, but primarily and most importantly, those that I’ve learned over the past few years. The question is, how? It begins here. Right here in this blog, in writing. And with numbers. Oh, how I love crunching numbers. Even as a young boy, I can recall sitting at the kitchen table with my father and his insurance agent while they were discussing some of the figures my father’s agent was tallying on his calculator. While he was doing that, I was busy adding them up BY HAND and could come up with the same figure as he could in the same amount of time it took him to add it on his little machine. Of course, in later years, this gift served me well in my banking career and in operating and managing the family farm alongside my father. It was during those years I discovered the other gift God gave me. Writing. I was well-known among my banking peers for comprehensive and well-thought out loan narratives. I left nothing to chance and usually, there were few questions when I was done.

Today then, I’ve had an epiphany of sorts. With the God-given gifts of writing and with the ability to “see” numbers, I envision new opportunities. Of course, given the paralegal training in hand, contract law administration comes to mind as an obvious choice or even perhaps as a professional fiduciary, one who is court-appointed to handle the financial affairs of the elderly or disabled for instance. But, there’s another and it’s one I’ve only recently discovered. There are a number of organizations and entities all scrambling for money in order to continue operating and growing in a difficult economy as we have now. Those entities have the ability to access money through the form of federal or state grants but usually don’t have the staff expertise to go after it. That’s it! Writing proposals for these entities in obtaining grants! It also involves formulating and presenting detailed financial information to go along with the written proposal. What better way to utilize these two strengths God has bestowed upon me?

Find YOUR “Passion” then. Evaluate yourself honestly. Determine what it is that brings the fire out in you. Then do it. Even if it’s doing dishes. As for myself, I will continue moving forward in an attempt to help my fellow man with the gifts God has already given me, EVEN IF it means it doesn’t pay (or promise to pay) six figures like the job I recently left. Whether it’s in grant writing, a situation in contract law, becoming a professional fiduciary, or even a life coach, it doesn’t matter. As long as I focus on my strengths and “play to them”, chances are pretty good I’ll do well. Same goes for you, just find out what your “Passion” is and make lemon meringue pie out of those lemons life throws at you!


February 3, 2011

Belt and Suspenders

I once had a supervisor; in fact it was a supervisor I had for nearly two decades in my banking career, who had a way of putting things in the simplest of terms, making them easier to understand. By way of background, he raised cattle, was a farmer by trade originally, and loves horses. His parents were settlers in Kansas going back to the early 20th century. This man, along with his siblings, then managed to grow their parents’ operation into ones of their own. In later years, being a man who enjoyed working with numbers, and frankly was and still is quite good at it, he decided to get into commercial banking in my hometown in Kansas. I became associated with him initially in 1985 and for the next 20 years we worked side-by-side through some very difficult times with the bank.

To this day, I still recall some of the lessons I learned from this man, along with some fairly inventive ways he taught them. He also had a sense of humor, even though he was deadly serious about his job. For instance, when one of our clients was encountering financial difficulties and couldn’t understand why, he’d say things privately to me like “it doesn’t take a raisin for a brain to see that!” Of course, he never said that to a client’s face. But, one of my favorites was his use of “belt and suspenders.” When I was faced with a particular difficult decision about whether and how to extend a large amount of credit to a client, he’d simply say, “Gus, just make sure your belt and suspenders are on with that deal. That’s all I ask.” In general, he was simple, direct, and to the point. He said what needed said and did what needed done. Period. He even had a necklace that had these 3 simple initials inscribed on it: TCB. Take care of business. A philosophy he subscribed to with his actions, and one he instilled in those around him, including me and my fellow co-workers.

In my capacity as an agricultural and commercial loan officer, especially during my tenure in dealing with what could be best described as some extremely challenging economic times, it was imperative that I, along with my co-workers, did everything possible to protect the bank and its stockholders. Dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s was one of my mottos. Sometimes even with a certain ink color, metaphorically speaking! And putting our belts and suspenders on as bankers, as my supervisor used to say, making certain our loan portfolio was clean was VERY important. Loan analysis, loan administration, and compliance had to be at their absolute best. It wasn’t easy for some, but it came as natural to me as it did for my bank supervisor. We prided ourselves on that.

So it was with these thoughts in mind when, a few months ago, I discovered another possible choice for my life path. It’s called “Life Coaching.” The tag signifies what one would associate with the term "coach", to support an individual in achieving a specific personal or professional goal. A month or so ago, I met with a newfound friend here in Southern California who has been engaged in this profession for many years. In fact, she was one of the pioneers in the industry in this part of the country. I’ve been toying with the idea of getting into this sort of career myself and I’m still contemplating it, even though for now I’ve got a job in the insurance industry. Looking back over my life, I can see many experiences, both good and bad, that I might be able to utilize in this capacity. In fact, most people my age could say the same, wouldn’t you agree? After all, at our age, we’ve all had experiences we could use to facilitate the personal and professional growth of others. At the same time, there’s the notion in my head that there are literally dozens, perhaps hundreds, even THOUSANDS of people out there doing the same thing.

That notion gives me pause. There are motivational speakers galore, self-help books and videos out everywhere; the list goes on and on. Many of us have encountered these sources in our lives, whether at work, on television, through counseling, or whatever. They all seem to “speak” the same language for the most part. Still, to me, there’s something missing. I think sometimes people get bogged down in the process of pushing themselves forward in a positive fashion, even complicating things to the point they get lost. Personally, I think motivating others, encouraging and fostering positive personal and professional growth can be simplified to a great degree. It’s not rocket science. You put your belt and suspenders on, cross the T’s, dot the I’s, organize yourself, and focus on what it is you want. I’ll discuss with you some of my thoughts on that.

In a similar way, “keeping it simple” yet effective, and putting one’s “belt and suspenders” on with your personal or professional life isn’t as hard as you might think. Going back to my bank supervisor’s methods, I recall that he wasn’t what you call an “educated” man. His methods were simple, direct, and though they sometimes lacked the “refined” nature one might think would be needed in his profession, the fact is they worked. But, I didn’t always agree with him. Our personalities, education, and life experiences were so much different. On the other hand, we both had a lot in common. We’re both tenacious by nature, meticulous when it comes to completing a task, and play the game called “life” for keeps. We leave no stone unturned and stop at nothing in our drive to succeed and win. We also share another intangible. We were both born and raised in an area of the country known for producing people who have withstood hardship. We are people with strong hearts, minds, and souls.

But I think I have the edge on him on something else. Something that, on the surface, might appear to be tragic, even a failure to some. Overcoming a personal downfall like mine and ALL the negative fallout that became of it; the loss of my job, the emotional scars inflicted on so many and the healing that still continues to this day, yet the triumph and glory of emerging from all of this gives me a HUGE source of strength. I’ve learned much. More importantly, I’ve applied these lessons I’ve learned over the past several years in my daily life. But, the work is never over. As I’m always fond to say, “Life isn’t a sprint to the finish line, it’s a marathon, and we all need a little help along the way.”

So, speaking of help, I’d like to ask a favor of you. If what you’ve read here has given you anything, ask yourself this question. First, what is it EXACTLY, you want out of life? After you’ve answered that question, write them down. Now, decide on a plan to reach those goals you’ve set for yourself. Then, act on it. It’s that simple. Don’t be one of those that thinks in order to achieve success in life you have to be “lucky” first. There’s no such thing. What your life becomes is what you WANT it to be. If you’ve ever heard of the Law of Attraction, you’ll know what I’m talking about. If not, look it up. The sum of who we are is what we create in our minds. Thoughts become words, words become actions, actions become habits, habits become your character, and character becomes your destiny.

Reflecting back on my life, I realize the qualities I’ve always possessed, the successful career I once had in banking, and the glory of awakening to a new life and a new way of living as the result of overcoming a difficult set of personal circumstances, gives me a more than adequate set of skills in helping others achieve THEIR dreams and goals in life. For now though, I’ll continue with what’s been placed on my plate with the job in the insurance business. Time will tell and, in keeping with everything else in life, it’s all in God’s hands. He’s driving the bus, and I’m sure enjoying the ride!


February 1, 2011

Live and Let Live!

Have you ever found yourself in one of those situations where, in spite of your best efforts, things from your past seem to pop up at the most inopportune moments? Of course, I’m speaking of things that weren’t some of your finest moments in life. Usually, it involves another person and sometimes many people. Think of something from your past, someone you might have hurt, even indirectly, either emotionally, personally, or financially, and what you did or said can’t be changed. What did you do when you found out the other person was hurt? Did you “own up” and apologize? If the answer is yes, good for you! And it’s you this post is directed towards.

I’ve discovered in my own journey that the people I love the most are often the people I’ve hurt the most. In turn, these same people have the hardest time “letting go”, forgiving, and moving on with their lives in a positive fashion, leaving the sad baggage behind, taking only the good memories with them in the present. One of my favorite sayings is this: “I can’t change what happened five years ago, let alone five days, five hours, or five minutes ago!” Here’s another favorite: “The past is gone, the future isn’t here yet. So, don’t piss in the present. It’s all you got anyway!”

“Being in the moment”, and living in the present is tough. I know you’ve heard of the phrase “forgive and forget.” Perhaps you even believe in that philosophy and practice it daily. Personally I do as well but not the second part of that phrase, though I might have at one time. The reason is because the past is part of WHO we are TODAY. And no matter how hard any of us try, the human mind makes it utterly impossible to EVER forget. So, what’s the solution? Took me awhile to arrive at the answer. In fact, it took nearly two years before it finally sunk in. Here’s where the explanation gets a little tricky.

For instance, when someone asks me: “Do you have any regrets, either with what you’ve done or said that might have caused someone pain?” Here’s my stock answer: “No. Because if I did, it means I didn’t learn a darn thing.” Think about that statement for a second. Seems counter-intuitive doesn’t it? But if we are to truly “live in the moment”, we have to realize that the past is part of that. What I’VE chosen to do is bring ONLY the good and positive memories with me into the present, leaving the painful ones behind. But I will never forget them. Rather, I’ve chosen to use those mistakes of the past and turn them into assets TODAY. In the simplest terms, we learn from our mistakes. Not brush them aside or sweep them under rug as if they never existed. Fact is, they DID. I can’t change that. What I CAN change is how I choose to use those mistakes as assets today to help myself, my friends, and most importantly, my family.

So, going back to my original question then. Think of someone, someone you’ve caused pain in whatever fashion in the past, someone you THEN made sincere amends to, and they, at least on the surface, appeared to ACCEPT those amends. Then something happens years later, something is said or done that “triggers” that old wound to open in the other person, and suddenly their innermost feelings of anger come gushing forth, spewing out harsh words to you. How did that make you feel? Would it make you angry? Would you want to lash back and say, “Hey! I thought that was behind us! What gives?” I think most people might. Not me and here’s why.

Recently, I found myself in that exact situation as I’ve posed to you. Less than two years ago, my reaction would have been much the same as yours might have been. I might have lashed back verbally to this individual. But, I didn’t. Sure, I was mad, hopping mad in fact. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing! And then all of the training and growth I’ve accomplished came to the surface. Rather than fighting back, I ACCEPTED the fact that the other individual has still not truly ACCEPTED my amends. I did my job then. I made my peace the best I knew how long ago. What the other person does today when those feelings of pain come to the surface for them is THEIR feelings, not mine.

Similarly, the same goes for you. If you have or ever find yourself in a similar situation, ask yourself this question: Is my emotional peace worth it to react negatively? Perhaps the following lesson about “Expectations and Serenity” might help:

One of the best things anyone should remember is that your serenity is inversely proportional to your expectations. The higher your expectations of other people are, chances are that your serenity will be lower. You can watch your serenity rise when you discard your expectations. But then "rights" try to move in, and they too can force your serenity level down. You have to discard your "rights", as well as your expectations, by asking yourself, How important is it, really? How important is it compared to your serenity, your emotional peace? And when you place more value on your serenity and inner peace than anything else, you can maintain them at a higher level, at least for a time. So keep your magic magnifying mind ON your acceptance and OFF your expectations, for your serenity is directly proportional to your level of acceptance. When you remember this, you will see that you never had it so good!

But also remember this, something a wise man once told me after reading that paragraph above to me one day: “Just because I read all this to you doesn’t mean if I walk out that door and some dog pees on my leg, I’m not going to kick his butt into the next county!”

He was kidding, of course! What I think what he was trying to say is this: “Hey, just because I read all this doesn’t mean I won’t get angry. I will, trust me. After all, I’m human, just like you.”

Fortunately, we ALL are, right? Live and let live. Let go, and let God. Easy does it. That should be our motto. Have a great day!