Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Full Bleed

Back when I was in high school I was the editor for our school yearbook. I learned loads of publishing skills including developing photos in a dark room (with actual chemicals, as this was way before anything digital), writing corny captions, and designing creative layouts.

As part of making layouts, I learned the term "full bleed". This is when you take a photo, or some text, or any design element and run it right up to, or even over, the edge of the page. Normally you would have a margin around each page, but with full bleed you have a picture that breaks out of the traditional constraints and extends off the edge.

For high school yearbooks, full bleed is a good thing. For your life, it is not.

Far too often in my life I have been existing in a state of full bleed. Filling every square inch of my time, pushing myself to the edge, living without margins. Fully bleeding myself out.

For me one of the greatest reasons for this is technology. Now don't get me wrong, I love technology and it can certainly be a force for good, as it has often been in my life. Technology has allowed me to make amazing friends from around the world, improve education for children, and have a rewarding career.

But there is also a dangerous side to technology. It is so powerful and so convenient and so expansive, it can consume your entire life if you let it.

  • There will always be another email to read or write.
  • There is always one more blog post or website or YouTube video to explore.
  • The Twitter stream is actually an unending river.
  • Facebook has no bottom. You can scroll and scroll and scroll and scroll forever and you will never reach the end.

And it is all very justifiable.

  • Retweeting a great resource from an edtech friend.
  • Staying up until 1 AM writing a new blog post on a creative way to use a Google tool.
  • Working late to record a webinar to teach others.
  • Squeezing in time to stay up to date on the latest and greatest tech tools through podcasts or Facebook groups or RSS feeds.

Unfortunately our culture rewards full bleed. We wear bags under our eyes like a badge of honor, and take pride in how few hours of sleep we can get by on.

But we need margin in our lives. We need time that is not committed.

Margin is there for our safety. Think of the guardrail along the side of a twisting mountain road. It provides a space between you and a hundred foot plummet. There is no actual danger at the guardrail. The danger is another six feet away. The margin is there for when, not if, there is an accident, so there will be room to swerve and adjust and recover.

In the same way, life will go wrong. Maybe an unexpected illness, or loss of a job, or end of a marriage, or passing of a loved one. We need margin in our lives to see the warning signs, to have time to make changes, to avoid making things even worse.

But margins are not just about avoiding the bad. Margins are where real life can happen. In a book we use the margins to jot down notes about what we have learned, how we have been inspired, and what we want to explore. The same can be true in life.

When we work ourselves to the bone, fill up every spare moment, and split our attentions multiple ways, we can miss out on the best of life.

  • Life happens in the margins.
  • Life happens when we take the time to have a meal with a friend.
  • Life happens when we turn off our phone and look someone in the eyes and actually listen to what they are saying.
  • Life happens when we walk away from the computer and take a walk through the woods.
  • Life happens when we intentionally choose to do nothing. To give ourselves the gift of no agenda. To stop. To be present. To play. To simply live in the moment. To see the wonders all around us that are so easy to miss.

I don't share these thoughts as someone who has this figured out. I share this as the guilty party. Far too often I have lived in full bleed, with no margin in my life.

But I am trying to change.

You may have noticed my production of technology resources has slowed quite a bit. I have not blogged as frequently or made as many videos or shared as many tweets. I am still doing these things, but not as much. I am trying to find margin.

I have been catching up with old friends. I have been playing with my grandson. I have been questing in World of Warcraft with my daughter and son-in-law. I have been weeding and painting and cleaning. I have been reading books and going for walks and listening to music.

And I encourage you to do the same. When you work, work well. But know when to stop, to play, to live.

Leave margin in your life. And I will leave margin in mine. And I hope to meet you there.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Passwords and Positive Self-talk

I have never been really good at positive self-talk. And there I go again. That is a great example of how I am not very good at it.

However, I do believe in the power of self-talk, both positive and negative, to have a great impact on our thoughts, feelings, and attitudes. Psychology tells us that what we say aloud to ourselves really makes a difference. Negative statements can bring us down, while positive, encouraging words can build us up. It may be just bit by bit, but every bit makes an impact over time.

Historically I just have not been very successful at taking advantage of this. If anything, my self-talk is often negative, pointing out where I fell short, or forgot to do something, or let someone down, or don’t feel well, or am tired. Hearing these words from my own mouth day after day after day becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

So I have been working on how to improve this.

At first when I think of positive self-talk, I can’t help but visualize Stuart Smalley from Saturday Night Live. I can see him sitting in front of his mirror saying “I'm good enough, I'm smart enough, and doggone it, people like me”. As much as I love that character, I am not sure if that approach fits my personality.

As I have said many times before, I am a nerd. So I have been trying out a technology solution to this problem.


Yep, I said passwords.  Passwords are something everyone has, and probably more than one. They are also something that we have to type in often, maybe multiple times per day.

Plus it is important to have a strong password that will not be easily hacked, to improve your security. A common suggestion for this is to use a passphrase rather than a password. A passphrase is a group of words or even an entire sentence. Since it is a sentence conveying an entire thought, a passphrase can be much easier to remember. Of course you can still get creative with capital letters, numbers in place of some letters, and use of punctuation.

So I have decided to make my passwords stronger, and in the process try to make myself stronger as well.

What I have been testing out is making my passphrase a sentence of positive talk. It could be anything like:

  • 4GiveYourselfAndMoveOn!
  • BTheChangeUWant2C!
  • Stop&CTheGood2Day!
  • I*Love*MyselfAsIAm!
  • IAmGr8ful4MyLife!

There are endless possibilities for the positive passphrase you could use. The key is to choose something that builds you up, helps you heal through the pain, and grow toward your goals. Something that acknowledges your value and the value of others. Something that helps you process the past and embrace the present. It will be unique for you.

On our work domain we have to change our password every three months. Of course I can change it sooner if I want. On my Google accounts I can change them anytime I wish. The point is I am now creating a passphrase with a positive message for myself.

Now for the next three months, day after day, maybe multiple times per day, I have to type in that message. When I log into my work computer first thing in the morning. When I unlock it after lunch. When I log in on a different computer for a training. And on and on.

Each time I do this, I am reading a message I sent to myself weeks ago. I am being reminded of a powerful encouraging truth that can help me heal and move forward in my life.

And sometimes it is perfectly timed. I have had those mornings at work when life has not gone well. Maybe nobody in the cubicles around me know that I am struggling, that I feel like a failure, that Facebook just had to choose this morning to show me a picture from 9 years ago of a happier time, that I am feeling lonely, that I am anxious, that I am depressed, that I am angry.

And then I type in my password. A message from myself to myself. It reminds me to forgive, to grieve, to stop beating myself up, to find the beauty, to take one day at a time, maybe even just one step at a time. And sometimes that is exactly what I need.

So everyone needs better passwords. Well if this is something you are going to have to type in hundreds of times over the coming weeks or months, then I encourage you to choose something that will literally encourage you. Create a passphrase of positive self-talk. Strengthen your password and strengthen yourself!

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Broken Legs and Broken Lives

Time heals all wounds.

I am sure you have had someone tell you that before. Maybe you were going through a painful relationship breakup or the end of your marriage. Perhaps you lost a loved one. Or maybe all you had built, your career or business or life’s work, came to an unexpected end.

In such situations, well-meaning people will often try to encourage you by saying, "Time heals all wounds."

And they're not entirely wrong, but they are also not entirely correct. Time does heal all wounds, but that doesn’t mean it always heals them right. To understand this we need to think about a broken bone.

Let’s say you break your leg (skiing, or in a car wreck, or trying to do the floss dance). Given time, the broken bone will heal.

  • First your body will form a blood clot around the break to help fill the gap and send in needed cells.
  • Next these cells will start to produce cartilage between the broken portions to join the bones back together.
  • Finally, real bone forms to complete the healing of the break.

The entire process can take months or even years, but time will heal the wound. The question is... will it heal properly?

To make sure it heals correctly, what do we use? We put on a cast.

The purpose of the cast (besides giving friends something to sign) is to stabilize the leg and keep the broken bones properly aligned. That way when the bone repairs itself, it will heal straight.

Without a cast the bone will heal, but it can heal crooked. This could make it difficult or impossible to walk or run correctly, or could cause pain for the rest of your life from sore muscles and inflamed tendons and ligaments.

So what does this have to do with emotional pain? Well having a broken leg is a lot like having a broken life. In both cases:

  • You are in perpetual pain.
  • You find you can’t function like normal, not even being able to do the simplest routine tasks.
  • It gets especially difficult at night when you are not able to fall asleep.
  • And the medications, given to help with the pain, end up making your head fuzzy so it is hard to think straight.

But just like having a broken bone, when you have brokenness in your life you need to put on a cast. A life cast.

While time is healing your wounded heart, you need to surround yourself with things that will make sure it is healing straight and true. These things will likely be different for different people, but may include many of the following:

  • Get rest and sleep. Let your mind and heart and body recover. Your mind is most likely filled with anxiety or regrets or anger. You need to turn it off at night, so you can think more clearly the next day.
  • Get exercise. It can be walking or jogging or biking or yoga or playing a sport or lifting weights. Just do something you enjoy that moves your body and races your heart and tires your muscles. It may hurt but it will make you stronger and healthier and release those wonderful needed endorphins. Lately I have discovered orienteering which for me is an awesome combination of exercise, hiking, and problem solving.
  • Eat well. Unfortunately my “go to” food of choice in a crisis is Ben and Jerry’s Cinnamon Roll ice cream, which may just be the most delicious thing ever created. Nutrition is one of the first things we let slip when we are hurting, but a suffering body makes everything else in life seem worse.
  • Do a hobby. Maybe something you have always wanted to try. Or maybe an old favorite pastime you let slip away. Do something you enjoy. Write, paint, build, read, travel, cook, craft, woodwork, play games, or such. As I have been working through my pain, I have been taking time to write again as a way to be creative, but also to process my feelings.
  • Connect with others. As an introvert by nature, this one can be especially difficult for me, but we are not meant to be alone. We need to spend time with others to share life, to find and give encouragement, and to get our butts off the couch and our minds off our own problems for a while. If you don’t know where to begin, the Meetup app for your phone is a great way to find local groups of people who share your interests and hobbies.
  • See a counselor. Talking to friends is wonderful and encouraged, but it is so helpful to also have someone you can say anything to with no concern about hurting their feelings or straining your relationship. We need an outside perspective from someone who is not too close to the situation, to help us see clearly.

In short, fill your life with things that bring you healing and strength and joy. Whatever those things may be. Do the things now that you want “Future You” to be doing, five years from now when you have come out on the other side of this stronger and healthier. Do these things because they are your life cast.

Without these things, the wound will close and the bone will mend, but it may be crooked and you will find yourself living with unforgiveness and bitterness and self-destructive habits.

Just like you would put a cast on your broken leg, surround your life now with a cast of self-care, connections, and healthy activities. It won’t be easy and it won’t be quick. There will still be nights of pain and days of frustration. But day by day, sometimes hour by hour, you will heal. And you will heal true and straight and strong.

Time heals all wounds. Make sure your wounds heal well.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Eric version 8.0

I am turning 49 years old. That is not typically thought of as a milestone the way next year will be when I hit 50. However it still has significance for me.

You see I am a bit of a nerd. As humans we usually like nice round numbers like 40 and 50, but 49 is special too. It is a multiple of seven, actually a square of seven, and seven has a scientific connection.

Every day cells in our bodies wear down, die off, and then get replaced with new cells. Some do this quickly, like skin cells every two to four weeks. Some take a longer time, like bone cells that can last up to ten years. But on the average, scientists estimate it takes about seven years for every cell in your body to be completely replaced.

So every seven years you are literally a new person.

Well I am turning 49, so I have replaced every cell in my body seven times, and this is now going to be the 8th version of me. Eric version 8.0. Of course that sent me down the existential rabbit hole, asking the question “So who am I exactly?”

It reminded me of the ancient philosophical thought experiment “The Ship of Theseus”. It goes like this… Let's say there is a famous ship commanded by the hero Theseus as he travels the world, winning great battles. Over time though, parts of the ship start to wear out and break. So the crew replaces those parts as needed with identical new pieces. New boards. New sails. New ropes. But exactly the same. Eventually every single piece has worn down and been replaced while Theseus and his crew continue to sail the ship.

Here’s the question… Is it still the same ship? Even though it looks the same and has never stopped sailing, there is not one single piece of the original boat left.

I feel a lot like that ship. I have traveled a long way, fought many battles (won many and lost many), seen amazing sights, made mistakes, had adventures, and bit by bit have changed myself seven times over.

I have been...

A son of a father who struggled with alcoholism and who lost that struggle when I was eleven.

A husband to my college sweetheart, but seventeen years later I no longer was.

A husband a second time, and a step-father to three amazing boys, but after nine years I found myself alone again.

A father to my wonderful daughter, and a grandfather to her beautiful baby boy.

But like the ship of Theseus, who am I?

On one hand I feel like I am all of these people. I am 7 and 14 and 21 and 28 and 35 and 42 and 49. All of those experiences will always be a part of me.

But on the other hand I know I am something new. In so many ways I have changed. My hair has moved from my head to my face. My knees make popping noises they should not. I take pictures of my prescription bottles with my cell phone just so I can zoom in to be able to read the tiny directions. But I have also changed internally... many of my opinions and beliefs and goals and dreams. I am not the person I used to be, and that's ok.

I am a new person. Seven more years have passed and the ship of Theseus has once again been replaced board by board.

So now I am pulling out of the dock again and heading out on my eighth voyage. It's a new life. With the wind to my back and the sun to my face I am eager to see where my next travels take me, the people I will meet, and the adventures that await.