“Take a look at my body, look at my hands. There’s so much here that I don’t understand…Contempt loves the silence; it thrives in the dark with fine winding tendrils that strangle the heart. They say that promises sweeten the blow but I don’t need them. No, I don’t need them.” – Natalie Merchant | My Skin
There’s a moment that I remember like it was yesterday and yet it happened nearly 23 years ago. It was a moment that would serve as a catalyst in one aspect of my life, while also eventually igniting a series of moments I never expected in the years to come. That moment, with me curled up on my bedroom floor of my college apartment in Tempe, Arizona on a warm late October evening, sent shockwaves through my core and lit a creative fire within me. I was so enchanted, so captivated, and forever changed by what I witnessed that fall evening, that weeks later it caused me to dive into the depths of my being and leave a time capsule that I just unwrapped in my mind all these years later.
Living the Questions – Nov 1998
As a child, there were two things very clear about me: my stutter and my inner vision. The outcome of both these evolving traits grew into a strong sense for listening. Not just listening to what’s being said but, more importantly, listening for what’s not being said. This sixth sense born from a self-imposed shyness merged my strengths, prompting me to always seek answers to the questions burning in my mind.
“You think too much…”
…they often told me. Yet, they didn’t quite get why. To others, it felt like I was straining too hard to simply be and enjoy life. Little did they know (nor I at the time) just how much this often stress-induced tendency was shaping me for the desired life slowly becoming clearer in my mind. For when you have a vision (a goal) you begin to listen differently, more intently, and you seek out answers to the questions that lead you along your path. You’re constantly searching for inspiration.
On that late October evening, while I was just 18 years old and in my junior year at Arizona State University, inspiration spoke to me. It was the soothing sounds and intricate words of one of the most beautiful voices I’d ever heard in my life.
A few years earlier, I heard that voice for the first time and it whispered depth, complexity, softness, and sweetness – all in one. And that was even before I truly listened to the words it softly sang. There was such calmness in its complexity. This unique voice and the words it spoke became one of my initial guiding lights of inspiration along my path in life.
Weeks after that inspirational night just days before November, I began to look inside of myself with a more creative eye. I became more comfortable with expressing who I saw as self and how it was so different than how I wished to be. It was as if life was like a Rubik’s cube and I was now able to see how disarranged the colors of my life were at the time.
Sure, I was already living my dream – graduating high school in three years, moving across the country to attend university, and meeting new people from all over the country. Yet, there was still so much missing and untapped that needed to be excavated for me to move closer to my desired way of being.
Hearing vs Listening – July 2011
We hear all the time, even when we try not to. It’s impossible not to hear (or “sense” in the unfortunate case that one does not have their auditory functions). Hearing is not a skill; it can be as simple as breathing. But, listening…that’s a different story. Listening requires patience, concentration, and consideration. It also requires a desire to create connection. For me the connection has always been listening as if I’m trying to solve a puzzle, constantly searching for patterns, and constantly trying to find the way forward.
After that late October night in 1998, I began to listen to more intently, take action, and open myself up to people and experiences that would shape my life over the next decade. Soon I found myself more able to be honest with the “man in the mirror” and in doing so, better able to hear the whispers leading me towards my desired vision of self.
In a little over a decade, I completed graduate school in Chicago, moved to California and eventually found a job working at the only place I wished to work. I started my travels abroad, learned a second language and started a third, started my consulting business on the side, became a private pilot, and made a couple of vintages of wine – all because they were things that whispered to me along the way. Things that “filled my cup” of life. And yet, I can safely say that most of these things would have never happened, if not for me learning to listen and leaning into the depths of my discomfort.
For all that said, the Rubik’s cube of my life was still not perfectly aligned. It was as if three of the four lines were all correct but that last one was still out of place. And so, I listened and made a decision, because even though it may have seemed that I was close to solving the puzzle, sometimes we have to mix things up to find new patterns.
Measuring Success – July 2021
“I’ve come tonight; I’ve come to know the way we are, see the way we’ll go. I’ve come to measure this, the width of the wide abyss.” – Natalie Merchant | Thick as Thieves
When I left my corporate job in July 2011, I didn’t quite know how things would play out. Yet, play is the operative word, for it is play that we desire most as children. Play and connection are what drive us in our barest form, and nonetheless as we age, our desire to play is subdued and often shamed. If only we understood that life is like a Rubik’s cube that is never to be fully solved. While it may seem that we are constantly trying to crack the code, the beauty is in seeing the patterns, creating connections, and recognizing that life is more engaging when we addressing questions yet to be answered.
If the previous decade was all about creating the foundation of my being, this last decade has been about creating life on my own terms. I focused on health, wealth, creativity, and connection. I learned how to live my perfect days by “living the questions” and challenging myself along the way.
For the first five years, I worked location-independently as I grew my solo business based in Northern California while expanding my travels abroad. Yet, once I decided to live abroad the questions grew louder. I found myself “Yearning to Feel Limitless Rather Than Limited”, paralyzed by the “Paradox of the Pivot”, and sometimes sickened by the “Shadow Side of Downsizing My Life to Live Abroad.” But, if I learned anything from that experience in Fall 1998, I needed to ask the questions and use my creative constructs to see new patterns and create deeper connections – in my mind, in my life, and in the lives of others.
And so now, success is measured more widely…it’s not simply focused on the output and comparisons. Sure, I left my corporate job and nearly doubled my income over the decade. And yes, so far I’ve visited 28 countries and worked from 68 different cities around the world, while being able to save nearly half of my earnings. I added another language to my lexicon, awarded $25,000 in flight scholarships to aspiring female pilots, reached the best shape of life in my early 40s, and helped others along their path with ideas and insights spawned from my creative reflections.
While all those achievements are great, my true success is measured more simply…how often am I living my best days. Days when I no longer see myself as a “Silent Hypocrite” but one that is focused on health, wealth, creativity, and connection – the four lines of my life’s Rubik’s cube.
Oftentimes in life, we are so focused on looking ahead that we fail to make the time to look back. We are so caught up in what we haven’t done and haven’t acquired that we fail to recognize how far we have come and how much we have inspired. Yet, each day lived is also one that has been survived and for those fortunate enough to reach steps along their dreams – all days to be appreciated when one has thrived.
For survival is about simply overcoming challenges. And along the way, it’s important to have moments of reflection and introspection to “take a look at our bodies and at look at our hands” and try to reveal that which we may not have taken the time to understand.
Twenty-three years ago, I dug deep to archive my thoughts in the moment. In the silence emerged a level of self-contempt that thrived in the depths of my being and at times strangled my heart. Yet, over the years I found that I didn’t need the promises, per se, of those outside of self to sweeten the blow. Instead, I used the moment to look at self and be honest with who I saw, such that I could better understand how I needed to change into who I truly wanted to become.
Behind the Pen: Silent Hypocrite
Through art we speak beyond generations. While “Silent Hypocrite” isn’t one of my favorites nor one of my best creative releases, I chose to honor it because it’s the most honest and accurate reflection with how I saw self all those years ago. Similar to “My Skin” (my absolute favorite song), this poem speaks to the dark and desired sides of self – in the end bringing all to the surface to clear out what’s below.
Ironically, as I sit on the cusp of (hopefully) another decade of fruitful living, I am once again challenged by my Rubik’s cube of life. I may have done well to arrange my cube effectively for the last period, but now it needs to be rearranged for the next period. While it may be uncomfortable, that’s okay. As I’ve said before, “it is friction that ignites a fire within us to be alive and thrive.”
I’ve learned to listen. I’ve lived the questions and I’ve developed more well-rounded and fulfilling measures of success. I can only hope that I’ll be so lucky to look back in another 23 years on this very moment and speak to self through the pen to survey what I will have learned by looking deep within my skin.
To live with emotions, the soul can only describe;
The body sends no signals; can it be alive?
It sits like a bitch to write endless thoughts;
Underneath its surface, it is quite distraught.
The hurt it feels, tears can only explain;
The lips remained restricted; its speech refrained.
A silent hypocrite, it is thee;
Always preaching to others, what it wishes to be.
Remaining self-conscious and socially shy;
Always telling others to reach for the sky.
Unable to leap into the sky above;
Its heart cut open, and no chance for love.
It shall seek the truth, and let its soul be;
No longer can this persist, the pain it resist;
The emotional turmoil from this silent abyss.
In surroundings relaxed, its thoughts come back;
The words it should have spoke, the ways it should have act.
To see those free, from fear and pain;
Produce a silent hypocrite, growing emotionally insane.
It will never know, until it voices the words;
The assumptions it holds onto, may be most absurd.
It must seek the truth and gain its freedom;
It must open the doors to its emotional kingdom.
The kings and knights must perish and fall;
If this prince is to find true love at all.
Torn between kingdoms, it must decide;
To those it will confide and remain allied.
But the irony is in the choice the soul must choose;
Sheltering itself from those who abuse.
It must soar from the sky to reach its true goal;
Becoming a respected, beloved, and socially-renowned soul. – 11/21/98
The poem – Silent Hypocrite – was originally inspired by Natalie Merchant’s VH1 “Storytellers” performance televised in October 1998, as well as her songs “My Skin” and “Thick as Thieves” referenced herein. This particular creative reflection – The Rubik’s Cube of Life – was inspired by conversations in Cupertino, CA with friends during my brief return home in July 2021, the 10-year anniversary of my departure from the corporate world, as well as the Tropical MBA podcast – Episode 607 titled “The Lonely Path of the Solopreneur” and the book titled “The Fail-Safe Solopreneur” by Darren Joe.
Want More – Hit Me Up
If you find this or any of my other work showcased in the “Behind the Pen” series interesting or inspiring, feel free to leave a comment below. I’ll happily provide an electronic copy of my entire book of poetry upon request. Be sure to check back from time to time for links to future releases and life stories.