Tag Archives | Life

The Finish Line

Right now I am in an airplane flying back from Saratoga Springs, New York. I took a 5 day trip to visit my Uncle Nick who, a few weeks back, was diagnosed with stage 4 liver cancer. Needless to say this was a surprise to the entire extended family. Fortunately this extended family is quite strong and supportive. Being in the presence of the love, kindness, and humor of my uncle and family these past few days has left a lasting impression with me.

I’ve known my Uncle Nick for well over 20 years. He is a “one-of-a-kind” person and personality. Always kind and giving, with firmness and one of the best sense’s of humor I know. He is a solid man, a presence in the room, but as he would say he’s “just a simple country boy.”

There are many long-standing jokes and mythologies he not only created but helps to maintain up to this day. For example, he has the unwavering belief that my father has numerous coffee can’s filled with money buried throughout his backyard. My Uncle thinks my father’s claims of not having money are B.S. and that he keeps putting money in cans, and burying them. Over the years any time the topic of money would come up, Uncle Nick would be sure to mention to my father that he needs to stop being so stingy and dig up some of the coffee cans and “give the kid some money.” Of course this drove my father nuts, and everyone would have a good laugh.

I visited with my uncle 3 times over this week. Each visit he seemed to be a little better than the last primarily because he has decided to stop radiation and chemotherapy.  Being at stage 4 with his type of cancer, combined with his age (77) puts him in a situation of either enjoying what time he has left as best he can, or to poison himself and be in pain for his remaining time on Earth. He has come to terms with the idea that the finish line of life is near. He is blessed in that people that love him can come and say their goodbyes as I did. His passing is imminent but he has time left and has decided to live it as best and comfortably as he can and for that I admire him as I always have.

This visit to see my uncle for the last time has reminded me that money and work, while nice to have, is not the end-all be-all of our daily existence. Having strong connections with friends and family is very important and those people show up in your life when you need them.

The TIME you have to spend in life, doing whatever it is you do, is the most valuable and important thing we all have other than life itself.

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Where have I been?

I have been busy on many projects recently. What is great is I am ready to share them and the new things I’ve learned with Thesis and WordPress. My two most recent projects made me push my personal envelope of what I thought was possible within the WordPress/Thesis environment. Not that I’ve ever had any doubts, rather just plain figuring out “how the h*ll are you going to do this?“—and then doing it. So much fun.

Over the next few weeks I am going to share the projects, their scope, the questions presented, and their solutions. Not every project will go into minute detail, but I will give you enough info to maybe help you figure out how to do your own solutions to your own WordPress/Thesis challenges. I’ve noticed in the time that I’ve been using Thesis there are more and more people trying it out, and trying to do-it-yourself, which is great. I have found that its not a perfect fit for everyone but if you’re like me the fit is great and learning never ends. So stay tuned to see the projects.

Also, I’ll let the cat out of the bag and now state that I have a new website design for berchman.com coming soon (design is done and now in CSS) along with a custom portfolio solution rolled right into WordPress/Thesis. There is a fair amount of setup and labor in this process (basing things off an open-source solution), but I think the end result is clean and attractive. Thinking about doing a detailed tutorial and maybe releasing everything into the open. We’ll see what my time looks like. I’ve had very little time to write tutorials, or anything for that matter. But believe me there is lots to share and I’m hoping time will cooperate with me.

That’s it for now. Summer is here and I hope yours is going well.

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Time to Reflect. You’re soaking in it.

Madge. "You're soaking in it"

In today’s information overloaded, fast paced, digital lifestyle there can be little opportunity to pause and reflect. The mindset of “just have to keep up” can dominate one’s thinking if your are not careful. Every once and a while I get present to the fact that I spend too little time “reflecting” on things be they family, work, and life in general.

I’m soaking in it.

Like the image above, (I am showing my age and if you know ‘Madge’ you are too), sometimes you may find yourself “soaking in it” and not knowing what is going on, or the benefits of what you are in the middle of doing. Being a married, father of  3 boys, self employed business owner/pixel pusher can impose virtual blinders that, if I let it, will limit what I know, see, and what is possible.

So why am I rambling on about this? Recently I became aware of just how much I am soaking in it. My ‘inner Madge‘ woke up and reminded me of what was going on. And sharing this with others might remind them to stop, look around, and take stock.

I set some measurable goals at the end of 2009. These were goals I mentally planned on completing by the end of  the first quarter of 2010. Well guess what? Today is the start of the second quarter of 2010. And those three goals? Not met. I went through piles of paperwork over the weekend and found them written down. I got them out of my head not just as ideas and things to do, but completely out of my head. I was soaking in it so completely that I lost track of these goals.

What are, or were, the goals?

  • Publish new WordPress/Thesis tutorials based on recently completed projects
  • Design, develop, and publish a visual overhaul to berchman.com
  • Release a free Thesis portfolio theme

I had planned on these three things to be completed yesterday.

So what’s the lesson in all this?

Two things:

  1. Use your systems. These three goals were never put into project tracking systems I use and broken down into smaller, manageable tasks (basic productivity, duh). I am remedying that THIS quarter.
  2. Reflect more often. I failed to check in with myself on personal projects. All things in the client and family world are moving along quite well. I dropped the ball on myself.

Reflection time is over. I will now return to my regularly scheduled program.

Get back to work.

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Make Lemonade from the Lemons

I knew about this video a while back when it was in production. I had read about it somewhere in an RSS feed, or was it Twitter?, or Facebook?, or LinkedIn?… anyhow I did know that this video was being created. Day before yesterday Seth Godin brought it to back to my attention. I took some time to watch the entire video and was really struck by these people who were handed the “pink slip” and in turn made something come of it. Each person has their own story, and you have the power to write the ending.

Watch this. If anything it will get you thinking.

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Signpost in the road. Turning 40.

40

May first. May Day. Today is my birthday and you can tell by the sign above that it’s a round number of some notariety. It is an age that to some is a milestone, a turning-point, for others it is a sign of dread. As for me I am actually stepping back and not assigning any meaning to it. Yes it’s a birthday, which is reason to celebrate for anyone, but the specific number to me—at least this time—is not overwhelming. Funny because every year since 35 has caused me more and more dread but now that the day has come I say “big deal.” 40 after all is just a number and the signifigance you place on it is what goes on in the gray matter between your ears.

I do have much to be thankful for at the time in my life. I have a healthy and happy family, a roof over my head, food to eat, clean water to drink, modern conveniences, I am self-employed and (knock-on-wood) have remained busy despite the present doom-and-gloom reported in the media about the US economy. All things reviewed I have it pretty damn good so really there is no “dread” for me to be the age I am. Age is just a number, and a state of mind, after all.

A few observations at this time in my life:

  • Time does indeed fly. Time has the feeling of moving much faster. Days fly by and the weeks are fast now. When I was a kid an hour seemed like forever and now its a blink of an eye.
  • Use it or lose it. You need to move your body and exercise. After 35 you start to feel your body in ways you never have. The solution is to use it. You want to end up in a walker? Get your ass off the couch and get in motion!
  • Kids are zen. They are always living life in the moment. No worries about the past or the future. Its all about “whats happening NOW!” Being around them and their ability to stay present is a gift.
  • Don’t be so hard on yourself. We all do it. We let the internal critic tell us we’re not good enough, smart enough, or that people don’t like us. That’s all bullshit. You need to get present to reality and what is really true, not what you “think” is true. Take a deep breath, let it go, and lighten up.
  • Worrying solves nothing. All it does is give you gray hairs, ulcers, and wrinkles, and who wants those?
  • I am grateful. The older I get the more grateful I become for everything in life.

OK, that’s enough for now. My life is calling…

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Get Perspective On Your Stress

My wonderful wife is a teacher at The Thacher School. One week every school year each teacher is required to take on the responsibilities of the T.O.A.D. (Teacher On Active Duty). One of the duties is to give what is called a “TOAD Talk” Monday morning to a full assembly of the school; students, faculty and staff. Her talk last Monday on stress was addressed to the lives of the students but as I listened to the talk it was apparent that she was speaking to everyone. Here is her talk. My hope is that this talk will speak to you.

Good Morning…

  • Stress affects our physical and mental health
  • Negative effects of stress on the cardiovascular system, the immune system, the endocrine system, and the muscular system, are measurable
  • Depression, one reaction to stress, is predicted to be the leading occupational disease of the 21st century
  • 54% of Americans are concerned about the level of stress in their everyday lives

During any given day at Thacher you hear people talk about how stressed they are. We are always busy and have a lot going on. As students you have tests, papers, pages and pages of reading, and little free time. There are complaints of endless work, worry about getting into college, not feeling good enough or adequate compared to your peers. Life seems too much to handle. Slowly we become conditioned to accept stress as a normal part of life. We learn to live with it but in reality it depletes us. If not dealt with in an effective manner, it literally kills us. Learn to live with it long enough and you won’t know what to do without it. We grow into adults who don’t know how to slow down and take time to enjoy life. We equate “down” time with wasted time. Of the myriad of ways there are to cope with stress, one is perspective—taking a look at the big picture—because, in reality, at Thacher, ours are the stresses of the privileged.

Don’t get me wrong. Stress is stress and very real to the person experiencing it whatever the cause. But most of the world would be pleased if a term paper was their biggest stress, or failing a class was their worst worry.

  • Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation
  • 1 in 3 children in the developing world lack adequate shelter
  • Approximately 790 million people in the developing world are still chronically undernourished
  • Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes—about one child every five seconds

In comparison to what life has to offer some, the stresses of a day in the life at Thacher seem almost welcome.

Think about it the next time you complain about being stressed out or complain about your life in general. Tell it to the mother of five from a poor country who walks 40 miles with her young children to gather a gallon of water you wouldn’t give to your dog.

Again, our stress is real and has power to wreak havoc on our being, but perspective can give us a new way to look at our situation and give us a much needed reality check.

Ironically, the things we tend to stress about most often are the stuff of life that is ultimately the least important.
I promise you at your 20 year reunion, the “D” Mr. Perry gave you in English won’t matter even when in the moment it may have been the end of the world or at least your immediate future.

On your deathbed, surrounded friends and family, the fact you didn’t get into Stanford, Yale or Brown won’t matter at all as you say your goodbyes. Your salary won’t matter. The grades you earned, both good and bad, won’t matter at all.

What will matter?

It’s not about the college, the grades, the money – it’s about you and what you bring to the table. What you decide to create of yourself from your experiences.  You will be all you have in the end. It will matter that you lived examined life — one of integrity, responsibility, curiosity and passion. It will matter to be able to look back on your life having enjoyed it all –the good the bad, the highs and the lows and maybe having learned something about the complexities of the human condition.

So that D on a paper? The rejection from your first choice college? Not being as good as you would like to be at any given endeavor? Not being the best? The grade, the college, being the best is irrelevant and stressing about your situation won’t help. A good education is available to anyone willing to work for it regardless of the institution. If you enjoy doing something you will get better at it with practice and patience. There will always be those who are more accomplished than you and those less accomplished. It could be argued that there is as much to be learned, if not more, from receiving a D on a paper as there is from an A.

When it comes time for you to graduate, your Thacher diploma shouldn’t be emblematic of the college you got into, your grades or your prowess on the athletic field – if that is the case we haven’t done our job.

Your diploma should represent friends made over your years here that will be some of the dearest of your life. It should represent hard work doing things you enjoyed and even those things you didn’t enjoy doing. It should hold the memories of having met challenges that would have never been asked of you anywhere else – walking long miles with a heavy pack at high altitudes, a stubborn horse that frustrates you daily, teachers that expected your best work day in and day out. It should represent your intellectual and personal growth as a human being.

So while some amount of stress in life is inevitable and maybe even needed at times, don’t let it control you or become a way of being. Stop and try to get perspective on your life. It is yours alone to design and develop.

As Anna Quindlen wisely said:

“Whether you are sixteen or sixty, begin today to say no to the Greek chorus that thinks it knows the parameters of a happy life when all it knows is the homogenization of human experience.”

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You will not end your life wanting more time on the computer.

Image of guy sleeping at computer

I have been in a slump as of late.

I have been busy and working (thank goodness in light of economic uncertainties). However, I have not taken time off in what is approaching a year. Feeling the burnout? Mmm… yeah maybe a touch. I have been here in this space before—to pre-burnout, then burnout and back that is—a few times. Sometimes I drive myself mad with the incessant desire to keep going, do a little bit more, forgo taking care of myself, and for what? Some imaginary idyllic computing nirvana where all my random downloads are in the trash, my email in-box is empty, and there is not an errant file sitting on my desktop? Did I just hear someone say “pipe dream?”

This ‘nirvana’ may be possible. But to think turning into ‘Jabba the Hut’ eating crap food and sitting in front of the keyboard for endless hours trying to achieve it? For what? I’m the only person that sees what is on my desktop. What kind of satisfaction do I think, that by doing this, it will somehow massage my pineal gland and make me feel complete? I enjoy working on the computer, but at what cost?

Sir? “Put down the mouse and step away from the computer.”

In this era of information overload, rss feeds, social media, email, it is easy to get sucked in if your job is to sit in front of a computer doing any type of job. What is worse is if you have a propensity to be a work-a-holic (ahem), and your career as a digital gun-for-hire also happens to be your hobby as well.

I’ve been reminded of late that at the end of my life I will not want more time on the computer. I will not think about how “I wish I had cleaned my desktop of all those files…” Or will I think “Gee, if I only got that email inbox to zero…” I will think of the people that mean the most to me, of the places I have travelled to and the things that I have seen. I highly doubt I will think of a YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, or Flickr (unless its pictures of my kids 🙂

So this is a little “note to self” posted on the Interwebz…

Put down the mouse, turn off the monitor, get up, go outside, and do something with other people. Do something other than compute.

OK, that was a bit theraputic. Now back to my email…

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New headset.

rsz_706856_60394712

I have a new headset (thanks Kristin!).  And I finally took some time to recite the hours of text into NaturallySpeaking.  So that I can sit with my headset, and now type out what I’m saying is I’m doing right now.  The beauty of this is that there are small typos and errors in the text.  This is not to to my mispronunciation, but rather to the misinterpretation via the software.

So, I have not posted to the blog in a while.  I’ve been a bit busy as of late.  I am starting a new enterprise with a like-minded businessman, and that has kept me pretty busy.  I also have continuing work with my web communications firm.  And most importantly, my family is the busiest thing in my life.   Life is very busy right now, plenty of work and projects and family activities.  I really would have it no other way.  And in light of the current economic climate in the United States and the world at large I am a lucky guy.

So it’s kind of cool now, to be able to sit here and speak and have the words show up on the screen so that I don’t have to type.  As is said, the hand is quicker than the eye, but the hand is not quicker than your mouth. who knows.  I’ve actually might be able to post more frequently as, and on more topics.  Now that I have the ability just to talk and have word show up on the screen.  I do have to work on the accuracy of some of the words ‘has’ and ‘is’ sometimes swapped out for each other. 

So I will be posting shortly about official announcement regarding the new business venture that looks quite promising. We are not reinventing the wheel, rather we are using current best practices and best technologies in a way that makes them affordable to people that want to tap in to their power. 2009 looks to be a busy working here, but the fruits of all labor should pan out in the years to come.

That’s enough rambling for now.  Time to turn the headset off and get back to work.

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The Good versus The Perfect

rocks-460

Something I constantly strive for is perfection. I’ll admit it I am a perfectionist. I have written about this before. I have recently found myself editing, and re-editing just about everything in pursuit of some sort of non-existent pixelated nirvana.

While this quality can be seen as admirable it can also be seen as a pain in the ass. I tend to lean toward the latter. Trying to get things perfect can and will make people happy. Who would not be pleased with perfection? What is better than perfect? It’s nothing but positive when you have perfection. The underlying question is, what cost does one have to pay to get there?

When I work I do try to get things perfect and it costs me, big. It costs me time and what is more valuable than that? The difference in going from good, which is perfectly acceptable 95% of the time, to perfection is very high. It takes much more time to go from “good” to “perfect” in my experience. For example the change in time invested can go from 2 hours to get things “good” and then another 8 hours for “perfection.” To help out I will use a simple visual example.

Take a look at the image of rocks at the top of this post. The tower of rocks on the left are stacked well. Its an acceptable stack of rocks. The tower of rocks on the right are stacked perfectly. What if I told you that it took 15 minutes to find and stack the rocks on the left. But it took over an hour to find and stack the rocks on the right. To find the right rocks that presented themselves horizontally in a perfect vertical column takes time. These are both perfectly acceptable towers of rocks that look good. But is that extra cost in time really worth it to get the stack on the right? I would say no. its just a damn stack of rocks.

Are there times where perfection is required and the investment in time is worth it? Unquestionably yes. If I was getting open heart surgery I would want perfect, not just good, work performed. But does that simple web site you are working on need perfection? Not really. If it were to come easily then sure, why not? But does perfection ever come easily? 

Is the benefit of perfection worth the cost?

I say no, but it depends on the scenario (pay me big bucks and I can make a stack of perfect rocks for you).

I am perfectly happy with the good.

What about you?

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Some thoughts on the first day of 2009

Photo I took of the sun setting where I live on New Years Day 2009.

Photo of sunset on New Years Day 2009. Ojai Valley, California.

As the sun sets on this the first day of 2009 I have had some time to reflect.

Many people look at New Years Day as a time to initiate their resolutions. In years past I have concocted my own list of resolutions only to find that 3 weeks later they were nice ideas and that was about it. Now every year I like to reflect on the year that has passed and take stock of my overall experience, strengths, and weaknesses from the past year. From this reflection I develop some overall areas of focus  in the coming year. This is not a hardcore set of resolutions like “I will lose 15 pounds,” or “I will stop smoking” (although I can add that to my belt—non smoker for 15 years). Rather they are ideas that I will spend mental energy on in hopes of making my life, and the lives of those around me, just a little bit better.

When I look back on my reflections from 2007 I can see just how far I have come during 2008. 2008 was a very good year for me professionally but more importantly I made great strides personally.

Time, time, time what has become of me.

2008 was a very busy year that presented a great many challenges for me. The biggest challenge of 2008 was time management. Using time well and effectively are so important to achieving goals and feeling accomplished. In 2008 this issue came up for me time and time again (pun intended). I continue to refine my approach to managing my time as no one tool or technique is the silver bullet.

Work, work, and work. But not necessarily in that order.

I am fortunate to be self-employed, learning new things, and been able to make a bit of money while doing both. It has been a great experience thus far. However, I basically make my money one way, actively. I do not derive any income from passive resources. An active source is like what I do. Trade your time and expertise for money. A very simple transaction. The passive model involves me building something (think e-book, etc.) that is created once and sold again and again without having to recreate it every time. In 2009 I am working on ideas of generating passive income and have some things in motion already. Lets just say that this year will prove to be a very busy working year to provide fruits of the labor afterward.

The suitcase and the onion.

Personally I have been working on myself quite a bit. We all have our suitcases of issues that we drag along with us through life whether we want to or not. Sometimes we open them up and deal with the issues inside, others may keep them shut and carry their weight with them all their lives. For me it was a year to open all the suitcases and lighten my load. Suffice it to say that I have opened all my suitcases, processed and discarded many heavy items, and I continue to find new items in the cases when discarding others—like the layers of an onion. I peeled much of the onion back in 2008—more than I have than at any other time in my life. I continue the work and discovery of self improvement with a much better toolkit going out of 2008 than when I went into it.

It looks like I will be spending mental energy (and time) on using time more wisely and effectively, working on passive income streams, and peeling back more of the onion. So here is to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

So what has your attention for the next 12 months?

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