Category Archives: Life in General

General thoughts and commentary on life, family, personal experiences, and some of the things we think about.

Land Lordin…

I am a land lord, but not really by choice. I bought a little house a year out of college at the height of the housing bubble (around 2007) at a steep price, then six months later, watched as its value plummeted to about a fourth of what I paid.

Now, 8 years later, the little old house in northwest Georgia sits at about 6/10th of the value I paid for it.

At the end of this month, I lose my golden tenants who I’ve had for most of the last two years and so the hunt begins for new ones. Oh joy…

You learn a lot of very valuable life lessons and sharpen quite a few business skills as a land lord. You learn to start recognizing interesting little social clues and personality traits that might tip you off as to whether a person is a potentially good or bad tenant.

You also learn to manage risk, or even more importantly, to become more comfortable with risk. You start weighing pros and cons, making judgement calls and even learning when to trust or not trust your gut.

But most of all, you learn to just be patient with both people and the process as a whole.

Being a land lord who actually CARES is tough. I work so very hard to show compassion, to do a great job for my tenants and feel like I’m really providing them with just as much value, if not more, in return for them basically paying for my house that I no longer care to live in but cannot sell.

And I never forget that if I can work this all out, I’ll own a house free in clear by the time I am in my mid-40s. A house I could live in if times got tough. A nice supplement to my retirement… or hell, my retirement home someday!

But alas, being a land lord is not for the faint of heart. I have been lied to, stood up, cleaned up messes that are not mine and dealt with crap neighbors (and the city code enforcement officers by extension). I am happy to have had the experience though.

I am starting to truly understand how to get down to business while retaining my compassion and humanity. And this is a mix that I feel is becoming rarer all the time in our society.

Please wish me luck, soon enough I’ll have to select that lucky person (or hopefully a small family) to sign a lease with, and start all over again on the rollercoaster or land lordin…

-Holden

Identity Crisis

Sometimes I have a lot of difficulty defining myself.

Am I just a corporate slave? Another drone in the white collar, paper pushing workforce?

Am I just another average 30 something year old dude with a wife, two kids and a few cars in the garage?

It seems like I’m not doing a lot of the things I like most. I’m not really doing the things I love, all that often anymore.

I’ve taken on way too many expenses. My wife and I have build a beautiful family, we have nice things and possessions, great careers and positive prospects to just keep on moving up but we have enslaved ourselves.

Then I step back and start to feel like I’m bellyaching. I feel like I’m a brat.

The more I move forward in life, the more I realize I don’t care for most the people I encounter.

Where is the love of music and art? Where is the desire to travel or experience other cultures? Where does the worship of retail, new cars and shiny trinkets end?

I feel like my life is turning into a poor imitation of a top 40 radio station. The same dozen songs playing over and over, the over enthusiastic DJ and the endless commercials urging me to buy something else I really don’t fucking need.

This is so mundane. Why do we do this to ourselves?

Because it is comfortable and easy.

 -Holden

 

Pillars of Self Improvement

As I alluded to in the previous post I am undergoing a personal transformation. Moving forward I have identified three pillars in which I want to focus my efforts. The Physical, the Mental, and the Emotional & Spiritual.

In my personal journal I broke it down like this:

Pillars of Consciousness

I know that each of these elements are tied together – meaning that you cannot be successful, say mentally and emotionally, if you are not also making an effort physically. For example, one thing I am trying to do is bring mindfulness to my diet. Not just by eating healthy, but by taking a methodical approach to choosing and preparing my food.

For example:

This evening I prepared Salmon with my wife.

We searched for the perfect fillet. We settled on one with a great silver skin and beautiful deep red flesh. We chose peppers and spices for our sauce. Smelling each ingredient and holding it directly to my nose. I could almost see what the sauce was going to look like. Red and creamy with small flakes of chili’s – delicious. (I normally run through this process without thought.)

Then while preparing the meal I took time to appreciate each component. We spent over an hour dressing the meat, preparing the vegetables, and cooking. Coating every inch of the salmon in an even coating of sauce before carefully separating the collard from their stem. Each time I took time to appreciate the direction and speed I separated the vegetables – in clean symmetrical lines running perpendicular to the leaf’s veins. The stems in one pile and the leaves in another.

The Result:

Taking time to be mindful of meal preparation meant I spent more time with the family, enjoyed the food a lot more (it was the best salmon I’ve ever prepared), and ate something very nutritious. In this way I combined physical (diet), mental (researching meal preparation), and spiritual/emotional (zen – enjoying the moment).

I hope to share these efforts a little more often going forward.

iPhone Generation and The Long Game

Run 4.2 miles. Immediately following Holden and I get coffee at the local coffee house that is a half mile walk from my house. We don’t buy anything fancy, just a strong cup of coffee. It cost $2.00 even.

The coffee shop is  trendy (call it hipster-esque) with local art hanging on the walls, a starry night themed study room, and a barrister with a handle-bar mustache. One painting always makes me shake my head because it looks like a beautiful painting of a young girl that someone scribbled over top with purple crayon. Art.

My community is a pretty interesting mix. There are lesbian couples, a mysterious guy in great shape that curls rocks in his front yard, a few veterans, accountants, religious, atheists, old people, and young. There are antebellum homes, American flags, and an art/farmers market every weekend.

Holden and I sit in the trendy little coffee shop – mostly empty on a rainy morning. We still have our workout clothes on and talk a little too loudly for a near-empty coffee house. We feel free to speak our mind and pay no attention to the patrons at the next table. They pay no attention to us either.

These are my favorite kind of mornings. Holden and I chat and boost each other’s ego then laugh about it. Casually praising the other, but in a natural and healthy sort of way. We talk about personal growth, family, travel, and life. Our talks are, in many ways, an extension of this blog.

Even as we finish our coffee I enjoy the thought of the half mile walk back to my house.

Holden and I have been friends for nearly a decade. We have traveled to the third world, helped each other through relationship problems, and personal growth. In fact, this is the longest friendship I’ve had to date (I’m 27). It has taken a lot of work for both of us, but like any craftsman, the result (and journey) has been worth the effort.

Which brings me to my point:

I want to teach my daughter (and anyone else who will listen) the value of time well spent. I feel like most people want instant gratification. Holden and I call it the “iPhone generation” (a term we coined over coffee). The value of the “long game” (also coined over coffee) has been lost.

Everything I value in life was developed over years and decades. None of it was given to me. And everything I worked for and continue to work for I appreciate on a different level than those things that were handed to me. It is a unique type of appreciation that is only privy to those who have the experience of having done it. (Which is also why I’m beginning to realize the value of experience and age.)

It’s like reading a good book rather than watching the movie. It took a few days or weeks to get through the book. You spent time with it, developed a relationship with it. You can watch 6 movies in a day on Netflix and forget which before you go to bed. The “long game” is a good book.

These are the differences between sitting in a coffee shop talking about life with your best friend and liking a photo on Facebook.

The Value of Time Alone

For the past five years I have spent time writing everyday. A lot of that writing happens here on this blog and a lot of it happens in a personal journal I keep on a bookshelf at home. My journal is a small black leather bound notebook I bought for myself a few years back. I’ve since filled two or three of these little notebooks and always purchased the same one.

About a year ago I wrote in my journal that I was concerned that my wife and I were not communicating enough. I wrote down the reasons I thought we didn’t communicate and the places in life we were missing the opportunity to have an intimate conversation.

I remember writing in my journal:

“We sit in front of the TV at dinner and we play on our phones before bed. We don’t try to ignore each other, but after a few shows it’s suddenly time for bed. We check our emails then go to sleep. I wonder what she’s thinking…maybe nothing…I’m pretty much brain dead the whole time. We should talk more.”

After that my wife and I decided to have “No tech” dinners and evenings. Instead we sit around and talk, clean the house together, cook, and eat dinner. Just opening up a couple of hours to communicate with each other made a positive difference in our relationship.

It is interesting how small changes in your daily habits can change your life. All because of little time alone with myself.

Cornerstone

As a youngster I remember my great uncle. I still see his face now. Clean shaved with a shadow of beard that he can never fully rid himself. He has deep wrinkles from a calm smile that never totally leaves his face. I remember the sincerity in his voice that always struck me.

“Papa” on my wife’s side of the family was the same type of man. Though he died years before my wife and I became a couple not a holiday goes by that I do not hear fond stories about Papa’s role in their lives.

On Thanksgiving day 2014 –at age 27 and my house full of family – after my mother-in-law and aunt-in-law hugged me and thanked me for “taking care of the family”, my nephews asked how to be successful, and my father-in-law asked for advice – I realized I had become a Cornerstone too.

For me, there are more questions than answers about this journey. About the type of man I want to be. How to do what’s right. What is right anyway? And how to lead.

I think conscious effort is a good first step. Here I am.

Live That Way

At least three times a week I run 5 miles. I live in a historic area of Atlanta, GA so the scenery is quite charming. The path is full of historic homes from the early 1900s and the occasional plantation home – now surrounded by urban development instead of farmland.

My run happens in stages.

For the first mile my brain is disconnected. This is the most congested part of my run. I focus on avoiding traffic, crossing intersections, a train track, and clearing my mind.

Miles 2-5 are where the magic happens. I’m in the zone. My mind drills deep into itself. My thoughts follow through no particular path, create hypothetical situations, and eventually lands in some place I find enjoyable or helpful.

Sometime I relive college wresting matches in painstaking detail. I shoot – take the opponents leg – circle, circle, circle – head in leg, finish the takedown!

Other times I walk through scenarios at work or home. How to treat my family better. How to be successful at work. Always in great detail. I visualize body movements, voice inflection, outcomes, and various alternatives. I see myself sitting behind a desk at work. Moving my arms confidently as I discuss a project. Remember to smile. Listen, head nod, courtesy.

Sometimes I think about my death bed too, but not because I’m afraid of dying. Because I want to be at peace with death when I get there. By thinking about my death bed I’m really contemplating life.

I see myself lying back with oxygen running to my nose. There is always natural sunlight hitting my face because my bed is near a window. In my vision I know my family is there, but I always focus on my face as if I am a camera man staring from the foot of the bed. Maybe the view a small grandchild would have.

In my final moments I close my eyes and smile. I smile.

Two phrases have become quite important to me over the years:

1. On my death bed I want to close my eyes and smile knowing that I have given life everything I have.

2. We are given one life, one chance, we should live that way.

Neither of these ideas are unique or original, but I take them seriously as part of my vision of life and death. Instead of being a cliche’ quote I’ve consciously tried to put these ideas into action. I can’t tell you how many trips I’ve booked immediately following a long run. Or how many times I’ve come home and been a better father or husband.

For me, very little happens by accident. Most things I have been truly successful with have come from hours of deep thought and mental preparation. Long runs or laying in bed at night – just thinking. Then taking those thoughts and putting them to action.

You are given one life, so you should live that way.

In the Moment

Orange, green, and brown leaves. A perfect seventy degrees. There’s a beautiful family walking down the mountain trail as my own family walk up it. The trail is steep and there are a lot of roots and large stones so we move to one side to let the family pass. The Dad, head of his family, marching proud down the trail. He leads his wife and three kids down.

His wife has brown-blonde hair. She also looks happy to be on the trail. Their children following closely behind like young ducklings. A proud momma of a son and two daughters.

But something is different about their children. Their heads are down. They aren’t looking at the beautiful leaves, they do not have the same proud look their parents have, and they are missing it. There is a lack of life in their movement. A lack of interest. Missing the golden leaves, the breeze, nature. Missing all of it. They are out of touch – eyes glazed. The youngest’s nose almost touching the screen of a phone.

That night my wife and I return home and begin to make dinner together. We turn on music, chat about the day, watch our daughter play with her toys and scoot across the floor. I pick her up and throw her up and her head almost touches the ceiling. She laughs and I put her down. She craws across and I am impressed with her speed. We are in the moment and enjoy each other’s company.

Choices and Liberation

My routine starts the night before. I choose an outfit and iron my clothes. I neatly hang my outfit in my closet. I shower and shave. This saves me time when I have to get to the client early. I have status reports to get out before lunch.

That morning the alarm buzzes. It takes me exactly 29 minutes each morning from alarm buzz until I leave the house. I know this because I’ve timed it. I arrive on site at the client at least one hour before anyone else shows up. This is when I’m most productive.

Status reports. Client meetings. Happy hours. Recruiting events. Networking. Between 6pm-8pm most nights I arrive home. I answer a few emails. I eat dinner. When I’m really busy I work until bed. Certain deviations in schedule were allowed for out-of-town travel or long commutes.

Three weeks ago I left consulting for a new job. The rules outlined in the three paragraphs above are no longer applicable. I’m still adjusting.

I guess the strangest thing about this new job isn’t having less work, but rather the permanence of my new situation. There were slow times when I worked in professional services too, but I knew that that was only temporary. It prevented me from taking on new hobbies or doing anything that required commitment. How can you commit to something for the next few months when the next project is staring you in the face? Always present in your mind like a burdensome task that you keep putting off, but know you have to complete.

This new allotment of time and consistency is peculiar to me. I have the time to dedicate to new (and some old) passions that have long evaded me. I find myself reading more often, I have time to write again, to goof off with friends, to get back into old fitness routines, and all without sacrificing time with my family.

I loved consulting. I loved the pressure to perform, the constant bombardment of knowledge, the travel, and the people I had the opportunity to work with. On the other hand – as I ease back into a slower-paced life I am surprised by the options I have available today that I didn’t a few weeks ago. In a sense it is liberation.

I am not advocating any particular career or life choice. What is right for each of us is unique.

I guess the point I’m trying to make is that we have to be mindful of how certain self imposed structures in our life can limit our choices. Maybe it’s our career, debt, or a relationship –  It could be anything. The trick is to pay close attention to the ways these self-made structures have the ability to make us their slaves – and to avoid it.

The strange thing about building a cage around yourself is that you are proud of it – even happy with what you have built – but no less trapped inside. That was consulting for me – I had build this structure around myself that ultimately trapped me inside.

Thoughts on Maturing Relationships

Holden has written several posts about marriage problems (here and here for example). We have had a number conversations and email exchanges on the topic too. Unfortunately, most of the time I can’t offer much in the way of advice, but I’d like to point out a few things that have served me well during the decade-long relationship with my own wife.

1. The Couple and the Self

My wife and I started our relationship very young. We were immature and as result of that immaturity I do not think I had the ability or experience to distinguish between the two entities that exist in a serious relationship: The Couple and the Self.

My wife and I are both a couple, but still our individual selves. We have our own ambitions, goals, desires, interests, insecurities – but those feature sets simultaneously overlap and bleed over into our couple-self. Sometimes those elements of self and couple are at odds and sometimes they align perfectly.

The key is coming into a relationship with respect and love for the other person as an individual.

When I think of my wife I see a women who dreams of selling her artwork at craft shows, having the courage and self-confidence to make friends, traveling the world, sitting at the dinner table with family, and being the world’s best wife and mother. I see a playful and feisty women with insecurities and dreams – some of those the same as mine – others different.

Sometimes I have to muster the courage , trust, and patience to let her be herself – even if that means sacrificing a little of my own time to do so. She does the same for me in return.

2. Self-Examination and Leadership

I have always tried to be a leader and my philosophy has typically been that leaders do two things:

1. Lead by example, and
2. Lead with integrity.

Leading by example and with integrity requires that one examines their own behavior – not the behavior of their partner. It is an exercise in self control, self discipline, and honesty.

In my own relationship I’ve tried (and often failed) to lead with these qualities. And I’ve learned that my own actions and responses are independent of the actions of anyone else.

If someone screams at me I can respond calmly. If I am insulted I can respond with a level head. When it is someone you love doing these things an appropriate response is even more difficult. Leadership responses take a lot of self control, but are the job of any good leader. If you expect a certain behavior you must first exhibit that behavior yourself.

These lessons are fluid – not just one way. My wife, for example, demonstrates unconditional love. She is caring, devoted, and faithful. She has taught me those traits by example and I have learned a lot from her. She is an emotional leader in our household.

I like to think she’s picked up a few of my better qualities as well.

3. Speak-Easy

I learned a long time ago that I know my wife well enough that I can use words as deadly daggers. Words that can tear into her self-confidence, break her down, and make her fill like nothing.

I used to use those words with more frequency than I’d like to admit, but as I’ve matured and as my love has matured so has my use of words.

Sometimes I try to step outside of myself. When my temper is about to explode I take a moment to self-evaluate and to reassess my actions. I’ve learned (and sometimes failed) to speak-easy.

Over the long haul I have watched my wife’s self confidence return and our arguments fizzle out faster. Try to remember you love this other human being – even when you are at your most upset.