Saturday, February 9, 2019

Happy Palentine’s Day!

Do you remember Valentine’s Day when you were back in elementary school?

I remember going to the local store to pick out a big box of Valentine’s cards, most likely Star Wars themed (the original Star Wars, that is, as I was in elementary school in the 70’s). Then at home I would fill out each card, one for every member of my class, boys and girls, and of course the one big card in the pack that was for my teacher. At school we would have our party and I would get a card from all of my classmates.

Then over the years something changed.

As we all got older, we no longer received a card from everyone in our class. Instead Valentine’s Day transformed into a holiday for us and a significant other. Some years I had someone special in my life. Other years I didn’t.

And that is certainly fine. Valentine’s Day is a great opportunity to do something special for your significant other, to celebrate your relationship, and to say you love them.

But it doesn’t have to be just that.

Many people around the world are single, and Valentine’s Day can be anything from insignificant to awkward to actually a painful day. However, even if you don’t have a sweetheart, you can still celebrate with…

Palentine’s Day!

Just like back in elementary school, we can take this day to let everyone in our lives know that we appreciate their friendship. I know there are so many people who are important to me, who share a laugh, or share an ear, or share the many moments of life.

  • Family members near and far
  • People I work with
  • Friends I have made through conferences
  • Even folks I only know “digitally” and have still never met in person

Certainly this is something we should do everyday in our lives, but it is helpful to get this friendly reminder to remind our friends how much we appreciate them.

And even if you do have a Valentine, you can still have loads of Palentines!

And for those of you who are single, if you are hoping to find love, I truly wish you well! However, I want to make sure that you are reminded of a few things. Although having a significant other is a wonderful thing…

  • You are not half a person. 
  • You are not a puzzle missing a piece.
  • You are whole!
  • All by yourself you are an infinitely valuable person.

And it is when we realize and embrace the fact that we are a whole person, then we can have the most healthy, interdependent relationships with others, whatever those relationships may be.

So this year, I will be celebrating Palentine’s Day, and encourage you to do so as well. Take some time to let the people in your life know they are important to you. To help out with this, I have created a few simple sample Palentine’s Day cards below that you are certainly welcome to download and send along to your friends (sorry, there are no Star Wars cards). Better yet, make your own with Google Drawings (like I did) or you favorite graphics tool.

And a big thank you ... to you! Thanks for being my friend and making my life richer. Happy Palentine’s Day!

Friday, February 1, 2019

Level Up

When you are going through a difficult time, or dealing with a painful loss, or facing a seemingly insurmountable challenge, people try their best to offer words of encouragement. We all do it, and we all really mean well, even when we struggle to find the right thing to say.

Often we will share something positive and hopeful such as:

Hang in there, it will get easier.

It will all work out in the end.

Things will get better.

Now if you are struggling and hurting, I certainly hope all of those things turn out to be true. But I don’t want to lie to you. Unfortunately sometimes it doesn’t get easier. Sometimes life doesn’t work out. Sometimes things just don’t get better.

Thankfully though there is still hope. There is a chance for change. Just maybe not the change we are thinking of.

As usual, since I am a bit of a nerd, my inspiration for understanding this comes from something a bit geeky… video games.

Back in 2004 the greatest video game ever created was released. Word of Warcraft. (Please direct any objections to I had played several MMO’s before (From Everquest to Toontown) but I had never seen anything so immersive and expansive as this virtual world.

I created a human paladin, an awesome mixture of might, magic, and holy defender of all that is right. As I ventured around the starting zone of Elwynn Forest, I easily defeated candle-headed Kobolds in the mines, fought gurgling Murlocs by the lake, and collected lots of bundles of wood. Everything was going perfectly.

Then I met Hogger.

Hogger was a level 11 gnoll, the chieftan of the Riverpaw pack. The quest to defeat Hogger is a legendary task in World of Warcraft because for many players it was the first time in the game we actually came across a significant threat. You see, Hogger was “Elite” (with that special embellishment around his portrait) meaning he was much more powerful than anything else at that level.

I died. A lot.

Time and time again I tried to defeat Hogger, and time and time again I found myself respawning from the nearby graveyard.

Eventually I was able to complete the quest, most likely with the help of several other people who joined in the battle to assist. However, like many other players, in my mind Hogger became an enemy of legend, a creature to be feared.

And then I kept playing and moved on to explore Westfall and the Redridge Mountains and Stranglethorn Vale and on and on. And then something strange happened.

From time to time I would have an occasion to pass through Elwynn Forest again, probably going to or from Stormwind, and sometimes I would think of Hogger. Eventually I decided to visit him again. As I rode my horse along the road toward his hill I could feel that old dread and fear mounting up inside me, remembering all of the times he had killed me. When I finally got to Hogger, I attacked.

He was dead in a few seconds.


So what had happened? Hogger had not changed. He was still the same level 11 elite monster he had always been. Something else had changed.

I had changed. I was stronger, with exponentially more health points. I was smarter, having mastered dozens of new powerful and devastating spells. I was better.

Sometimes our challenges in life are a lot like Hogger. I truly wish I could say things you face will get better, but unfortunately that is not always true.

  • It is possible the doctors will not find a cure for your illness.
  • It may be that the person you love will not come back.
  • You might battle anxiety or depression the rest of your life.
  • The memories will always be there.

Things may not change. But you can change. Just like leveling up a video game character we can become stronger, smarter, and better.

Like my paladin, sometimes we level up by going on a quest. We may need to move out of our comfort zone, and try something new that stretches us and gives us a new perspective on life.

Other times we level through grinding. In the game that would be the often tedious tasks of battling dozens of low level beasts or collecting loads of resources for a vendor in town. In life grinding can simply mean pulling ourselves out of bed and facing one more day, moving forward one step at a time, not giving up.

We can…
  • Connect with people who love and support us, who will listen without judgement, but speak with honesty.
  • Find things that build us up, whether it be running, meditation, music, painting, or more.
  • Learn about ourselves and where we are broken and work toward rewriting unhealthy mindsets and destructive habits.
  • Value ourselves and take care of our bodies and minds.

And little by little, day by day, we get stronger. We learn about who we are. We grow.

The world around us may not change. We may still continue to face the same problems and the same pain. But when we do, we can face them as a new person, with a different mindset, perspective, and resolve.

Sometimes it doesn't get easier. You get stronger.

Sometimes life doesn't work out. You work through it.

Sometimes things don't get better. You get better.

Monday, January 28, 2019

You Shouldn’t Be Here

You shouldn’t be here. I don’t mean specifically here reading this blog post (I am glad you are). I mean you shouldn’t be here, like, at all.

You shouldn’t exist.

Back in 2011 author Ali Binazir tried to determine the probability that any specific person would ever come to be. Although an exact calculation would not be possible, he did an impressive job making an estimate.

For example, just take your conception. Your mother had around 100,000 eggs throughout her lifetime. During the years you could have been made, your father would have created about 4 trillion sperm. So the chances that the exact egg and the precise sperm came together to make you would be 1 in 400 quadrillion.

That is 1 in 400,000,000,000,000,000!

But that is just you. The same thing needed to happen for your specific parents to be born. And their parents. And their parents. And so on and so on. You get the picture. When all of these and other factors were combined, Binazir came up with his final estimation. The probability of you existing, the specific unique you that is you, came out to be:

1 in 102,685,000

That is a 10 followed by 2,685,000 zeros! To put that is some perspective there are only 1080 atoms in the entire universe. (For more details, there is a copy of the infographic made from Binazir’s data at the bottom of this post.)

Mathematically speaking the odds of you existing are virtually zero. You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t exist.

But here you are reading this blog. So what does that mean? Does that make you special? Is this the spot where I go on about how you are a unique snowflake. Well… not exactly.

To help clear this up we need to understand probability a little better. Back when I was teaching middle school math I would often use coins, dice, or playing cards to help illustrate chance. Let’s take this ridiculously large problem and make a much simpler, but similar, version to explain the situation.

Let’s say you roll a single die. What is the chance you would get a "6"? Well there are six sides to a die with numbers from "1" to "6", so you should roll a "6" one out of every six tries, or 1/6 as a fraction.

What if we roll a second die. What is the probability of getting a "6" on one die and another "6" on the other die? Well both are a 1/6 chance, and we multiply the probabilities to get the chance for the combined event. That would be 1/36 or a 1 in 36 chance of getting two "6's".

We can keep extending this out with more and more dice. To keep it simple let’s just stay we use five dice, like playing Yahtzee. What is the probability of rolling five "6's"? Well it is 1/6 times 1/6 times 1/6 times 1/6 times 1/6. That ends up being a chance of 1 in 7,776. Not very likely.

If you roll 6-6-6-6-6 it feels really cool, doesn’t it? Like you have done something very difficult, extremely rare, and intrinsically special.

Well, hang on.

What if you roll 2-5-1-4-2. Doesn’t seem very special at all, does it? But what is the chance of rolling those five numbers? Well each has a 1 in 6 chance, so getting those five numbers would also be a probability of 1 in 7,776.

Just like 1-6-4-5-5 or 6-2-4-1-3 or 4-4-1-5-1 or on and on and on. If you roll five dice you are going to get five numbers. That is a 100% probability (unless you lose some dice under the couch or something.) There’s nothing inherently special about 6-6-6-6-6. It is just one of the many equally likely outcomes.

So what does this have to do with you and me and everyone we meet?

Well, it is like the universe rolled a trillion dice. And you are what came up.

As long as the dice were rolled (that is, kids were had by your parents and their parents and their parents and so on and so on) someone would be the current end result. In this roll, that someone just happens to be you.

So what’s that mean? Does that mean you aren’t special? No, not at all. We are all very special for many different reasons. What I am saying is this is not what MAKES you special.

The fact that you have a 1 in a bajillion chance of being alive, that the odds of your existence are virtually zero, that you shouldn’t be here at all, none of that makes you special. It makes you something else.

It makes you fortunate.

Out of the near infinite possibility of people that could have existed, you are the one who gets to be alive. You didn’t do anything to make it happen, to earn it, or to deserve it. You just got it. YOU get to live!

You won the life lottery. You got the golden ticket to the ultimate Willy Wonka factory. For such a brief moment, a mere 80 to 100 years out of the billions of years in time, you got the chance that countless others did not. To be alive.

To live and learn and laugh. To love and lose and love again. To wonder and discover and to still be amazed. To create and give and take a risk. To let your voice be heard. To make the world a better place.

So stop.

For a moment, just stop right where you are. Just breathe, deeply. Just be quiet and still. Feel your heart beating within you. Remember… you are alive. You are so, so, so incredibly, infinitely fortunate to exist. Don’t lose that. Don't forget it. Don't waste it.

It is so easy to get distracted and discouraged. We can get so caught up in trying to win at the game of life, that we forget we already won the greatest possible prize. We simply get to play it. I have been trying, and failing, but trying to do this in my life. To pause and just be. To exist in the moment and see the beauty all around. To cherish the fleeting days I have. To see past the challenges of life, and remember the joy of living.

There is a beautiful line from the song “Saturn” by the band Sleeping At Last that always breaks through my funk and reminds me just how lucky I am:

"With shortness of breath, I'll explain the infinite
How rare and beautiful it truly is that we exist"

Don't forget that you are so, so fortunate. You shouldn’t be here. You shouldn’t exist. You shouldn’t be alive. But you are.

So... live!