The smartest person I know – a true story

1 09 2010

He’s probably the smartest person I know.  For that matter he’s probably the smartest person you know.  My friend Gary (I have changed his name) is one of my closest friends.  He once shared with me his stated mission in life, as a teen, was to be the smartest person anyone had ever met.  Gary succeeded.  He teaches for a living and actually learned Greek (Latin) and Hebrew to understand the context of the historical writings he was teaching  in order to have a better handle on the historical significance of what had been written thousands of years ago.  I have a hard time with Dr. Seuss at bed time with my kids.  Hebrew?  No way.  So it should be no surprise Gary’s made a huge impact on my life in so many ways.  The least of which is a seed knowledge he planted in me 9 years ago which I have been trying to harvest for almost as long.  The beauty of his brilliance is in the truth of what he said.  Fittingly, the beauty of my stupidity is it only took 9 years to figure out what he was talking about. 

When I asked Gary how he knew he wanted to teach and what steps he took to get there he shared this with me.  Gary said, “Sean – when you get to the place in your life when you can no longer look in the mirror because you are not doing the one thing you know in your soul you were made to do, you will know it is time to do whatever you have to in order to live out your calling.”  This statement changed my life.  Not at first.  At first I thought, “I am there now!”  At least I thought I was.  In fact there have been countless times I have thought I was there…Gary’s statement ringing in my head… longing to be fulfilled in my work.  What took me 9 years to realize is actually what the absolute gut wrenching process of getting to the point where you cannot look in the mirror is.  You see for me, I never have liked what I see in the mirror.  Looking in the mirror has always been wretched.  Maybe you’re like me – you may not tell anyone how you really feel about yourself – but the reason you spend all that time in front of the mirror is to try to convince yourself you’re not as bad as you think.  Maybe it’s just me.  What I never realized was Gary’s comment was less about the mirror and more about the soul.  It was nothing new to me to not like what was in the mirror, as I say I have been dealing with that my entire life.  But actually listening to the whispers of my soul?  Totally new.  Being the kind of person who tends to speak first and listens much later I have not often practiced purposeful listening.  Especially to myself.  However over the last 9 years God has been working in me – changing me from the inside – allowing growth in the areas of greatest need.  9 years after Gary’s life altering wisdom I heard my soul.  It whispered to me.  I finally came to terms with what my calling was and I no longer would let fear, self loathing, and the loud voice I have always listened to tell me I couldn’t do it.  It was finally clear – I could no longer live without living out my calling.  Whatever it takes to see that happen is what it will take.  As the famed radio announcer Dave Ramsey says, “To live like no one else in order to live like no one else.”  After 9 years Gary’s words are so clear.  I get it.  And I also have come to terms with why so many times before I thought I was at that place in my life but in fact was so far from it.  It’s not about the mirror – it’s about the soul.


What makes the elephant charge his tusk in the misty mist, or the dusky dusk? What makes the muskrat guard his musk?

1 04 2010

Courage is defined by as “–noun 1. the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty, danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery. 2. Obsolete. the heart as the source of emotion. 3. have the courage of one’s convictions, to act in accordance with one’s beliefs, esp. in spite of criticism.”  When I looked up courage in the dictionary I was expecting to see a picture of John Wayne, Barack Obama, or Rosa Parks.  A photo encapsulating all that is courage.  Maybe when you think of courage you picture a mountain climber cresting the peak, a firefighter with soot all over her face and a clean outline of where her re-breather would have been, or maybe you see the silhouette of a solider walking a dusty desert road at sunset?  There are many different examples or images we typically associate with courage.  Whatever picture comes to your mind when you think of courage, I’ve had two opportunities this week to see courage in my friends in distinct and inspiring ways.  These are two examples I would have never put on my example of courage radar.  They have moved me, encouraged me, and inspired me.  Considering the name of this blog is ‘Living Your Dreams – a journey in courage and triumph’ I thought it only apropos to include these two different stories of courage in dramatically different ways.

Imagine living your whole life afraid.  Afraid of what ifs, maybes, or could happens.  Growing up being told where to go, what to do, and even at times what to think.  Imagine this environment, and assume it has been created with the most redeemed intentions, being one where self discovery may have been low on the totem pole of behaviours.  Growing up in an environment where experiential learning may not have been promoted it’s easy to understand the lack of experience in living courageously.  With this as the backdrop you can see why I was so moved by my friend this week.  She had never known what she wanted to do in life.  Didn’t know what she was passionate about.  In fact, if you would have asked her she may have replied shopping, her kids, or ‘I don’t know’.  My friend got a job this week.  A job she has wanted to do for as long as I’ve known her.  It’s not a glamorous job but that doesn’t matter.  This isn’t a story about glamorous jobs but one of triumph and living fearlessly.  My friend had never even applied for a job before.  Her family was well connected growing up so she would get a job at the business her father ran or one of her father’s friends businesses.  She never really had to find out what it was that made her tick and never had to have the courage to step outside the family compound to find experiences.  She went from her family home to her marital home.  From the job she had as a teen to full time motherhood.  She was able to stay safe, comfortable, and frankly – somewhat afraid without any trouble at all.  It was funny receiving the email from her asking me for help with her resume and cover letter because, as she insisted, she couldn’t do it as she had  never even written a resume and didn’t know what to put in a cover letter.  When I asked her what she wanted to do with this resume she told me she was finally going to go after the job she had wanted for 8 years.  She didn’t know if she could do it, get it, or even if she was qualified but she assured me she was going to put her mind to it and overcome the fear of stepping out of her comfort zone.  My friend is the kind of person who is so afraid of everything she has been paralyzed to do most things she desired to do.  She’s been quite content to simply be a passenger on the train of life.  This is why I found such joy in celebrating with her when she told me she had in fact landed that job.  She shared with me that she had initially been sluffed off but that she persevered and went back a second and then third time.  She found the courage to not take no for an answer.  She found a way to triumph over her fear, grow experientially, and she has found something she LOVES.  Awesome!  Sometimes the biggest victories are found in the smallest places.  FDR said it best, “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”  Now that my friend has triumphed over her fear of her fear the sky is the limit.  Her story allows me the perspective to know it’s not the big glossy dreams that speak to legacy rather the smaller personal victories that come when I have the courage to do what I know needs to be done despite my reservations.  Thank you for your wonderful example.

An e-mail arrived yesterday which stopped me dead in my tracks.  Through the day I, like many of you, receive a lot of e-mails and the majority tend not to stop me, lean me back in my chair, and cause me to reflect this way.  I’ve been accused many times of living in my head or being too cerebral.  For me, reflection on our shared experiences allows for the experience of wonder.  It creates space to find the jewels of wisdom in one another’s lives.  Reflection allows me to extract the marrow of life.  This particular e-mail did that.  A friend of mine is looking forward to getting married for the first time in the fall.  I know – many of you are thinking that IS the courageous part.  Others may be thinking ‘what’s the big deal.’  You see my friend was asking me for advice on what to expect in her first year of marriage.  What to do, think, say, expect?  What she needs to prepare for having been single all of her life?  She was looking for the kernels of wisdom her married friend may be able to provide.  What was astonishing to me was not the question or perspective she was looking for as this is a natural and regular occurrence in our friendship.  What was astonishing to me was the courage it had taken her to get to this point.  You see my friend has lived her life having never experienced a serious romantic relationship.  In fact, she had never even experienced a kiss.  Ever.  She decided in her youth she would dedicate herself to her dream of saving herself for her husband.  Upon reflecting on her decisions and beliefs I was astounded by her courage.  This is not information she readily shares and the disclosure of said details, while certainly mildly daring, was not the genesis of my inspiration.  I remember back to when I first found interest in the fairer sex and the pressure to flirt, touch, kiss, fool around, have sex – whatever – was tremendous.  In fact it was the way we as young people and adults for that matter related with one another.  It seemed as though the single most defining factor in relational interaction was the “spark” and often that was discovered based on the kiss and/or one another’s desire to be in some form of nakedness together.  Those who chose to avoid these interactions where marginalized.  It is worse today with girl’s social acceptance being based on their level of promiscuity.  Imagine the courage it took for my friend to not only stick to her guns in what she knew to be right for her but to do all of that in light of her own longing for relationship, love, care, interaction, and physical connection with a man.  She had the fortitude to follow her dreams regardless of cost and desire to the contrary.  My friend is amazing.  She gives me the inspiration to know if my dreams are important enough to me, no amount of immediate gratification can substitute the sheer joy experienced in a dream realized without the mortgaging of my beliefs.  And look at the payoff.  She is about to marry the man of her dreams and she can say with pride that she saved everything for him.  She said once that she wanted her husband to be the only man she had ever kissed.  Well, my friend, your dream has come true and I couldn’t be prouder for you.  Your courage is inspiration to me and I am so proud to call you my friend.

What decisions have you made recently that speak to courage?  What defines you?  What one small decision you have made has been the catalyst for what you are doing now?  Take a moment to reflect on your own courage and triumph.  Your story is worth celebrating.

Where’s the game?

29 03 2010

“I want to be a firefighter, figure skater, singer, and a crane operator.”  My 3 year old son understands in the current age of career and work experience – diversity is the mother of prevention.  Prevention from a life of what if’s, when we were’s, and wish I would have’s.  At 3 he believes he can do all of these things and as parents we seem to encourage his ideas and dreams by saying things like, “you can do anything son” or “that sounds fun”.  When does this change?  At some point we start to encourage and guide our children and ourselves away from the I can do anything attitude of our childhood and more towards a make up your mind and be responsible type of positioning.  What happened to us?  Was it the disappointment of our first attempt and failure at following a dream?  Is too much riding on where we are now that to leave the comfort of the day-to-day rhythm is too daunting?  Are we embarrassed to start talking about our dreams and aspirations?  Have we no one in our lives who is willing to step up to our sides and walk with us as we finally start living happily and wholly rather than as a reasonable hand drawn facsimile of our best selves?  I don’t know when things change however I am convinced we can change it back.  We can take back the childhood wonder we gave up and build the life of our dreams.  In fact, I’m going back to my childhood for the wisdom to move forward.

Growing up my mother was the consummate list maker.  In fact you could walk into to her home today and find countless numbers of lists posted to the fridge, countertops, and side tables.  This seemed to keep the Lithium dosages to a minimum.  These lists seemed to keep everything under control and ensured all was well through the day.  My father was a budgeter.  He would have a budget, add to the budget, pour over the budget; maybe those budgets were his lists in disguise.  All of that to say – I have a reason to HATE lists.  Maybe you’re not like me but if my parents did it, for most of my life that was enough reason for me NOT to do it.  I mean really – how many of us wanted to be just like our parents?  Not me!  But funny enough I think we may share a name for a reason.  The older I get the smarter they get.  Weird.  So in the spirit of honouring our parents I look to my mother’s lists for inspiration.  The first step in living my dreams is to write them down.  In fact, if you walk into my house today my 3 month, 6 month, 9 month, and 12 month goals are front and center on the fridge.  My daughter’s colouring and our real estate agents magnet have taken a side stage position for the goals I have set.  As a matter of fact, my wife and I have looked at that list for 2 weeks since it went up.  The list of goals has become almost like a mantra to realizing our successes and dreams.   We have been able to check off 4 different smaller stepping-stones in the ascension of Dream Mountain.  You see my mother taught me if I wrote down my goals and worked daily to stepping slowly and doggedly towards each smaller goal the big picture gets completed with each little check mark.  You are reading the second check mark now.

In 1986, Rob Lowe and Patrick Swayze starred in a “blockbuster” of a movie called Youngblood.  It was a coming of age story of a hockey player (Lowe) and his team.  As an 11-year-old hockey goalie this movie was the best.  My father tolerated the film with me but a funny thing happened on the way to his kiddie movie slumber.  In a scene which would impact my life unlike any other, the coach of the Mustangs (Lowe’s team) screams at Lowe from the bench, “Dean, where’s the game?”  As Lowe looks over to his coach the coach puts his fingers to his temples.  The game clearly is in your head.  If I had a dollar for every time my father screamed at me from the stands in my hockey games, in the kitchen of my childhood home, or on the other end of a March 2000 phone call from my office, “where’s the game”, the realization of my dreams would be much easier.  But imagine the impact this one small scene had.  24 years later the movie starring Rob Lowe and featuring the guy from Dirty Dancing and a young Keanu Reeves with a really bad French accent is the engine that drives my dream realization.  The key to my father’s insight is visualization.  I have taken to seeing my dreams coming true in my mind.  The talent, determination, and drive needed to be successful in the new world I’m entering is already at my fingertips.  I have everything I need and as I visualize success in my mind and I walk closer and closer to the goal.  The goal for me is not the end but the beginning.  Not the achievement or completion of the goal but the active participation in the world of small business ownership.  What is your dream?  What goals do you have as the stepping-stones to realization?  Are you visualizing yourself winning?  Where’s the game?

For me, the combination of childlike belief and parental wisdom has been the key to living my dreams.  Whether it’s a firefighter, figure skater, crane operator, or real estate mogul I believe anything I set my mind to I can achieve.  Heck, if I’m going to tell my kids they can do anything they choose I’m going to start telling myself the same thing.  We deserve that don’t we?  I mean if we’re not going to believe in us – who will?  However, the words and ways of my parental experience ring loudly for me.  Write it down.  Read the lists and adjust them as needed.  Visualize the success and it becomes a reality.  I am so glad I moved out of my parent’s house when I did.  The longer I’m out of their house the smarter they become.  What can you do today to live your dreams?

Red wine or red wine vinegar?

26 03 2010

Ever had one of those experiences where you say to yourself, “if I knew then what I know now…”?  Man those piss me off sometimes.  Only pissed off at myself but still a little prickly.  There aren’t too many of those experiences I hang on to but the ones I do hang on to I choose to keep close because of the lesson learned.  Not that they’re huge life changing lessons necessarily but more just those learning experiences that, with proper fermentation, turn into the full bodied wisdom I can call on down the road.

Think back to summer of 2004.  The sub prime mortgage “situation” was beginning in the USA, the Canadian housing market was plugging along nicely with fixed rates as low as 6.5%, HGTV didn’t exist (what would we do without Property Virgins), and you could buy a 1 bedroom condo in the heart of downtown Toronto for $249000.  Yes that’s right – $249000.  I know because my wife and I almost bought one.  Not to live in but to rent out.  We have been dreaming about the real estate business collectively for about as long as we’ve been married.  It was always something we were both totally enamoured with but never had the guts to get into.  Being completely inexperienced in buying houses, being landlords, mortgages, resale, tenants, law, and pretty much everything else to do with real estate we felt as though we didn’t have what it took to even be involved in real estate as much more then simply owners of our own principal residence.  So, at that time, we walked away with our dreams in our back pockets reluctantly happy to dream smaller and more responsibly. 

Maybe we just do things the hard way but instead of following up on our dreams and desires we “responsibly” started buying and selling principal residences.  First it was a new construction where we were able to work with a builder friend of ours to minimize our costs.  His poor assistant had to take my daily construction questions, décor changes, pricing realignments, and daily drop bys.  I’m sure by the day we took possession I had driven her to drink but to me – I was learning and I loved it.  Next was a move to a run down estate sale home on a GREAT property with a GREAT location.  What a mess!  We took possession, renovated, and moved into the house in 31 days.  That was exciting, stressful, maddening, and wonderful all at the same time.  I think I learned more in that 31 days then I had in 31 years prior.  And you know what – I had a knack for it.  I made a lot of bad choices on that reno but I learned what to do and not do in the real estate market and I found a passion.  Next was another new construction that we general contracted with the help of family and friends that are in construction.  This was awesome.  It took 100 days to build from scratch but wow was it fun.  We did a good job and we used the lessons we learned from the first 2 in order to save ourselves time, aggravation, and money.  It was right around the completion of that residence when we decided to take out first step into our dream of real estate holdings and investment.

First we bought a condo in our hometown for a number of reasons.  It was a small initial investment.  It was managed by a very good management company.  We could get into the rental property market without the dreaded hassles of tenants calling all the time for small detail issues.  It seemed like a good compromise and foray into our dreams.  We bought and tenanted the place in 5 days.  Next was a triplex.  Then our residence became our next property.  Then we moved and bought another property.  In a matter of 3 short years we have developed a real estate holding company for our properties.  We have strong positive cash flow, good tenants, and enough diversity in properties to ride out any kind of real estate storm.  This was the first part of living my dream – owning a business in something I love.  

The condo my wife and I first looked at in Toronto is on the market today for $500000.  That’s a 100% increase in 6 years.  Hahaha – makes the skin on my forehead scrunch up just thinking about it.  However, the success of our initial real estate ventures gives me the confidence to know I can successfully achieve my dreams.  Learning the hard way is sometimes a good thing isn’t it?  Remember the last hard lesson you learned?  Aren’t’ you glad now to know what you didn’t know then?  You see, as I stare up the ascension of the next mountain in my life I look up with a different perspective.  It’s the perspective that can only come through the patina of experience.  Of knowing now what I know now.  We can all look back at something and say “if I knew then what I know now…man that pisses me off.”  But how much more potential is there in saying, “I’m so glad I know what I know now – this kernel of wisdom will help capture my dream.”  It’s like the full bodied complexity of a finely aged wine – and you know what?  Because of those small kernels of wisdom my dreams are coming true.  How about yours?