I was in a state where day-to-day life had lost its luster. Family and work were fine. I have an awesome family whom I love immensely. My co-workers are a great group of folks that I like to be around and there are plenty of challenges to keep us interested and engaged. So what was wrong?

After taking inventory of what could be causing this malaise, I realized I was missing creativity. I wasn’t writing as much. I wasn’t dreaming and crafting and designing hardly at all. Outside of work, I wasn’t hanging around primarily creative folks, either. Even at work, most folks I deal with are engineers and primarily analytical people. Nothing wrong with that, except I was missing the high creative side. 

I’ve always been a creative person. I wrote poems and plays before I ever became interested in computers or science. When I was introduced to role-playing games at the ripe old age of six years-old, I was hooked. More stories!

But I hadn’t been involved in many activities like these recently. I was starting to play Warhammer 40,000 and Age of Sigmar. However, I rushed through the building of models and getting enough paint on them to meet the “3 colors rule” that you sometimes hear about and get some models on the board. So this wasn’t doing it on the creativity side. 

Then I slowed down. I needed to be more creative. I began taking greater care with my painting, intentionally working on my skills. This figure is where I was about a month ago, about 5 months after my self-search. There’s still a lot wrong with it, but it represents progress. 

Maybe you aren’t missing creativity but there’s something else that is absent. Take the time to take a self-inventory. Think about what you’re doing now. Think about the kinds of things you were doing when life felt more “right.” What’s missing? What are you not doing now that you were doing then? And what will it take to get back to something similar?

For me it’s a bit of cash for the right supplies and setting aside the time. Also, it is about setting goals. This model represents the first time I ever built a custom base. Those foundation rocks that look sort of like slate are actually cork board. Again, there’s a lot wrong, but it’s a start. Each time I intentionally invest, I learn and improve. What will you need to do to regain the luster?


I’ve written before about the value I’ve found in writing thank you notes to folks, especially when I am in the habit of doing so daily. For this new year, I took this a step further: I wrote a note to each of my immediate teammates. In each note I put something personal, I told them how much I appreciated working with them, and I included that I was hoping for a great 2017 for them personally. 

What led me to do this was seeing a few comics which indicated how people dreaded coming back to work after the holidays. Comics tap into what people identify with. Logically, that meant at least some of my co-workers feel the same way. I wanted to do something to lift them up with the start of the new year, to let them know that their contributions mattered to me as a teammate and that they weren’t just “a cog in the system.” A positive attitude tends to be contagious. I want my co-workers thinking positively about what we do and who we work with because I want those things for myself.

Hopefully I’ve accomplished that. I enjoy my co-workers but I probably don’t tell them that enough. I spend a lot of time around them and they contribute heavily to my happiness and well-being. I want to do the same in return for them, hence the notes. You might give it a try. It doesn’t take a lot of time. 

I hadn’t gone out with a friend in longer than I could remember. When opportunities presented themselves, I always had a reason to beg out. Some was due to my health. But mostly it was me avoiding people. I had this realization over Thanksgiving. 

In Japan, it’s a stereotype: folks who shut themselves away from society as much as possible and have no human contact except through electronic means. I was becoming that stereotype. I have seen such examples in real life and realized I was on my way. I don’t want that. 

As a result, I’ve decided that it is time to rebuild and strengthen relationships. I’m extremely introverted and shy on top of that (they aren’t the same thing). This is going to be hard. But I don’t want to look back 5 years from now and realize I don’t have anyone I could call, anyone I could hang out with, anyone outside of my immediate family I could have drop in and say hi. 

If you’re anything like me, consider the long term cost of isolation. Regardless of how valid the reason is for your separation, it’s often not worth it. I know there are always exceptions, but those are rare in this case. I hope in this new year you’ll make an earnest effort to reconnect, to strengthten relationships, to build ties and bonds with others again. Even if you don’t have a problem connecting with folks, try to make those friendships deeper. Build, build, build. We need each other. 

I know I’ve written about this before, but this is as much a reminder to me as it is a post to anyone who might be reading.

I used to be in the habit of writing a thank you note to someone each day. I have gotten out of that habit, but I’m restarting this simple gesture. Each day in our lives people help us. Sometimes the help we receive is big and sometimes it’s small. However, we do receive help. It’s good to acknowledge when people make a positive difference in our lives.

I found that when I wrote thank you notes, I would often receive an email or the person would stop by to tell me how much that thank you note meant. A couple of times I had the person’s supervisor come by and say something about how that note brightened the person’s day. The reality is that most folks don’t feel appreciated like they should. A simple note let’s them know that they are thought of and that their contributions make a difference.

With the Thanksgiving holiday behind us here in the United States and the Christmas season approaching, would you consider making this a habit as well? While the holiday season can be a happy time, it can also be a sad one for a myriad of reasons. Your note might make an important difference in a person’s life by reminding them that they matter, that they are thought of, and that there is a reason to smile and laugh. 

I would be neglectful if I didn’t point out that we do feel good when we do something nice for someone else. There is that intrinsic reward, even if we don’t hear directly from the person we’ve helped. So not only will you be brightening their day, but yours as well. Also, the process of deciding who to write a thank you note to will likely stir memories and recollections of when people have done you a kind deed. So not only will you feel good about the deed you’re doing, but you’ll also be warmed by the memory of deeds folks have done for you.

Recovering Progress

I love creative outlets. I’ve write, both poetry and prose. I am a musician (but don’t ask me to sing). Lately I’ve gotten back into painting miniatures. However, while I love these pursuits, I paused most of them with the occasional output here and there.

Back in the spring I was diagnosed with a chronic condition I’ve actually been suffering with for a while now, likely the last several years. I also struggle with migraines. Those issues gradually wore down my ability to do the extra-curricular things I love. Therefore, any progress I was making on projects, on learning, on anything, ground to a halt.

I’ve spent the last six months learning to better deal with the chronic condition. The migraines are what they are and some environmental changes at my workplace and home have made it easier to handle them. That brings me back to progress. Those creative activities I loved, I never stopped loving them. I just found myself unable to do them. Now that I’m better able to do so, I find it difficult to get going again. In short, I’m stuck in a “recovering progress” state.

I want to do everything again, and all right now. That’s not realistic. I need to pick and choose what I will do. My goals have to be less ambitious. I won’t get my flute “chops” back to playing in public again any time soon, for instance. However, I can still make progress.

Have you found yourself wanting to do more? It’s challenging when you want to do more than what you’re capable of doing at the present time. We can get so down about not being able to do it all that we just don’t anything (or very little). That sets up a vicious cycle because we know we’re not doing anything. There’s nothing to show for our desires. Simply, we have to scale back. If you’re like me, that’s hard. That’s not the way I’m wired. But it is better to make some progress than none at all. Make the hard call to scale back. Make progress happen.

“Your history reveals you are good at getting into adversarial relationships.” – Jocko Willink

When I heard these words on Jocko’s podcast (episode 5), I cringed. Jocko was talking about a subordinate who asked him for advice. And Jocko, who could be blunt with this man knowing the words would be taken as constructive criticism, gave him the raw truth. Jocko might have been counseling a fellow SEAL, but I know that over the years these same words could be applied to me. When I go back and I read my old USAF officer performance reports, I saw that I wasn’t that way back then. I was noted for my tact as a junior officer. That means I have changed, and not for the better.

I realize that I’m not alone. I’ve come across many professionals who think this way:

Jocko, in that same podcast, made this observation to that same individual (actually prior to pointing out the individual’s history):

“Creating adversarial or antagonistic relationships never helps you reach end goals.”

He goes on to explain that at best, someone who you are in an adversarial relationship with will simply not get in your way. At worst, they will actively seek to stop you. Therefore, it doesn’t do us any good to create adversarial/antagonistic relationships. We only hurt ourselves.

Now I titled this staying out of those kinds of relationships. The best way to stay out of those kinds of relationships isn’t to avoid people with whom those types of relationships are likely to occur, whether because of them or because of you. Rather, it’s to understand that building a healthy relationship is important for personal success and act on that understanding. Part of that is to accurately assess whether you are being adversarial. Maybe you’ve changed like I did. Maybe you’ve been that way as long as you can remember. It doesn’t matter. What matters is actively seeking to build healthy relationships, not adversarial ones.

When I was 3 or 4, I almost drowned. It was in a swimming pool at our apartment complex. I was in a ring. I slipped through. I remembered being pulled up and thankfully I was fine. My mom was there and I think there was a bigger kid who helped. However, every time I go into the water, I remember slipping through the ring, seeing the water close up the sky, the first big breath of water, and then the feeling of losing consciousness. Needless to say, I still have a big fear of water.

This fear has remained with me despite a beginner swimming course with the Red Cross when I was 11 or 12. This fear has remained with me despite spending a semester in survival swimming with a former SEAL. There were three of us in that class. While I was able to complete all the requirements, including swimming laps and treading water, I never got over that fear.

That fear has been limiting. I still don’t like getting past about calf depth in the water at the beach, though I love the beach. I don’t like getting out of the shallow end of the swimming pool. And I don’t like getting on small boats and I haven’t done any type of white water rafting despite the fact that I’d love to sit on a boat and fish or experience the fun that everyone tells me white water rafting is.

Then I saw this:

That brought me back to my fear, my life-limiting irrational fear. I learned how to swim from a SEAL. He didn’t “drown-proof” us as they do in SEAL and Combat Control training, but he taught us all the basic floats, how to tread water properly, how to swim effectively, and how to survive in the water. Therefore, other than being out of practice, I have no reason to fear. But fear I still do. Time to do something about that fear. Time to get in the pool again. Time to swim and practice until I lose that fear, this time for good.

What fear limits you? What are you doing about it?