Yesterday I was reminded my body has an expiration date. I know I will die someday, but the dreamer who drives my soul doesn’t like to think of such things. The statistician in charge of my brain, on the other hand, does expiration mitigation calculations thousands of times per day. I just don’t like the reminders from the outside world.

While I remain hopeful for at least fifty-one more years of life, I recognize living to be 100 with a sound mind and body is an unlikely possibility, especially since both are already questionable. Despite the fact I aggressively manage my health, there are hundreds of non-health related reasons that could end my life well before my planned expiration date. This is troubling to me because I still have things to do, people to see, places to go, and trouble to cause. I don’t want to run out of time before I’ve accomplished it all.

My arrival at middle age a few years ago came with a piece of baggage labeled, “oppressive sense of mortality.” The luggage is scuffed, tattered, and covered with stickers from travels around the world. Its hinges are worn from the constant opening and closing. Bungee cords hook together over latches that no longer have the strength to hold the baggage closed. It’s ugly, this baggage, and still I’m compelled to look inside for whatever answers it might hold.

I’ve learned from my far too frequent peeks inside that my first twenty-four years of life were for learning the basics for living, and my last twenty-five years were for creating a life. The baggage shows my future, too, swirling amongst all of my hopes, dreams, and plans—those I’ve accomplished and those I now wonder if I ever will accomplish— without a clear direction or any certainty of duration.

Perhaps the most important thing the baggage has shown me is while the past is clear, the future is always uncertain. I’m reminded that although I am not now, who I will become, I am also no longer who I once was—the big dreamer with a lifetime of opportunities. The luxury of time is no longer on my side.

I still dream the big dreams and I still have things to do, people to see, places to go, and of course, trouble to cause. I’ve just realized the dreams I had then—the dreams of a young man—are no longer the dreams I need, or frankly want. The seconds of life are far more precious now and I don’t want to waste them on aspirations I know are completely unrealistic or unattainable.

I have many unfinished castles in the sky today. The construction stopped some time ago and the workers have gone home for good. What remains of those castles was mortgaged to pay for the daily happiness I get from living more of my life in the moment and much less of it with my head in the clouds.

I’ve often attributed the way my brain works for my life’s successes. It’s also the most significant contributor to my failures. This is especially true in difficult life situations when instead of fostering deliberate thought, my brain allows me to fall easily into old habits of coping, or thinking without effort. It may appear as if this is a conscious decision on my part, but often it is not. From time-to-time, my brain just puts itself automatically into this “default mode” of thinking so it can help me find a mental place of safety and security. My brain does not like me to feel insecure or unsafe.

This default mode is when my brain says to itself, “Hey! I don’t like this situation. How can I change it? Hmmm….this looks sort of like that time when we…No. This is not really the same, but…..What the heck, it’s close enough. It will make us feel a little more secure. So…recall pattern. Check. Engage default operations mode. Check. And….warp speed ahead!”

When my brain calculates a success rate of at least 45% while in default mode, I assuredly will hear a voice inside my head say, “This is clearly the approach to use, dude. Go!” My brain is not naturally risk adverse.

Whether you realize it or not, this probably happens to you, too. Our brains know there are differences in every life situation, yet they work overtime to find enough parallels between some past situation and a current one to weigh the odds of a positive outcome, and then take the necessary steps to give the illusion we’re in control of the whole situation. They do all of this within a fraction of a second. That’s just how our brains roll.

We’re rarely in control and our brains are keenly aware of this fact. Our brains also know we have survived similar situations in the past and odds are good we’ll survive this one, too. It takes a lot less effort for our brains to gear down into default mode, than it does for them to power-on to figure out a better approach to the situation. Our brains can be quite lazy, too.

Our brains have adapted to these patterns and routines over a lifetime. The designated approach worked for us the first time, and then we reinforced the approach each time we let our brain move into default mode. We became comfortable with the rules and patterns our brains create while in default, so we gave them the authority and the responsibility they desires. For their parts, our brains simply see a process for a successfully resolved situation that must be stored until needed again. Our brains are big on self-defined measures of success.

My attorney friends are fond of the phrase, “It depends,” meaning even though two situations appear significantly similar, the facts of each may dictate a different approach for resolution. This is the problem with our brains in default mode—they see two highly similar situations and simply forget, or chose not to, consider all of the facts. Our brains, in default mode, rarely consider the concept of “it depends.”

Life events of the last few years have forced me to stop letting my brain go into default mode as much as before. I discovered my  brain’s margin of error on successful decision making was hovering at +/- 30 points and with a 50% success rate trigger, my odds of making any smart decisions in default mode were, let’s just say, far less than desirable.

I still consider myself a creative thinker. I still make connections with bits of unconnected information, and I still trust my intuition. The difference now is I force myself to slow down and become more deliberate in my thinking, and with my resulting actions.  My brain is working harder now, but I can tell it aches for an easier life.

Sometimes, very late at night, I can hear my brain whispering, “Dude….there’s a 47% —wait, make that 51%—chance this is the right thing to do. Want to do it?”

I listen, but I don’t respond. I no longer take such low probabilities seriously. At least, not before dawn.


Photo Credit::okay, this is, like bad? by Robert Couse-Baker

I began losing my desire to accumulate the “stuff” of life when I moved to South Carolina. It was the third interstate move in ten years and I realized I had been hauling stuff from place-to-place with the idea I might someday need it, or want it, and not have it available. I was wrong.

Many of those boxes began their journey in West Virginia in 1995 and traveled to Florida, then to Illinois, and finally to South Carolina still unopened. It was in South Carolina that I found the courage to open the boxes, verify the contents marked on the outside, and then toss, shred, or donate what I found.

Most of the boxes held old business papers and outdated clothing. Three boxes served as the home to a complete Merlin® Phone system I once thought would have some future use. There was a box of glass, too, which might have been dishes somewhere along its travels.  There was nothing of sentimental value in those boxes. It was just stuff.

I am sentimental, though. In fact, my children often wager on how quickly a movie scene or a home video will bring that misty look to my eyes. They know me well. They know I treasure memories and not collections of trinkets or other physical things that serve no purpose other than to collect dust.

This is not to say that I don’t treasure some physical things. Old pictures—snapshots from my life—hold value for me because they connect me with my history visually, and I am a visual person. The same goes for family movies filmed on my dad’s old 8mm camera, or those videos holding captured moments of my kids in their childhood.

There are several other things I find meaningful, too, including, a few written recollections from my mom’s childhood, which she made time to write at my request before she died. Then there’s the antique secretary desk now sitting in my den, which once sat inside my maternal grandparent’s bedroom, to the left of the door, and was the place my grandfather once sat to pay his bills.

I’m quite fond of my maternal grandfather’s pocket watch, his pocketknife, and the Jaeger-LeCoultre Atmos Clock he received in recognition of 25-years of service to Union Carbide Corporation. I also have my paternal grandfather’s Assistant Sergeant at Arms medals from the 1956 and 1964 Republican National Conventions, and that 8mm camera used to capture some of my childhood on film. Of course, there’s a rock here, a pressed flower there, and a few drawings from my children, too.

These things are small in number, but the memories they hold for me are quite large. While these things are important to me, I probably don’t need to hang on to them either. They’re just physical triggers for my memories. I would have a hard time parting with them, nonetheless.

Most everything else I possess, assuming it serves little or no functional purpose in my life, I no longer need. I’ve made up my mind to be more aggressive in purging these last remaining and unnecessary things I’m still hauling from place to place.

I will start by donating most of the many long-since read and some severely outdated books that line my bookshelves. I’ll move on to the clothes I’ll never wear again, the CD’s that have outlived their usefulness, and those few trinkets passed along to me whose meaning and importance died with their original owners. I’ll keep going until I get through all of the useless possessions, and then I’ll end, or at least I’ll try to end, by letting go of any remaining emotional baggage I have carried with me through the years. It’s time to let go of all of these things. It’s time to simplify the remainder of my life.

Parkinson’s Law says, “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion.” I believe the corollary to the Law, “Stuff expands to fill the space you have available,” is also true. If you don’t believe me, look in your closet, your attic, or your basement and ask yourself just how much stuff you have stored there you still need.

I’ve taken a hard look at all my stuff, and I’ve come to this conclusion: I would rather new life experiences and memories become the “stuff” that expands to fill the time I have left on this earth. The accumulation of these experiences and the memories they create are the only “things” worth keeping or passing on.

I try to be a “glass is half-full” kind of guy. Some days, I’m successful; other days, not so much.

Still, I wake up each morning feeling grateful that I have the opportunity another day provides. My feet hit the floor with one thing in mind: Find the things that make you happy.

Happiness surrounds us, but most of us walk through each day with blinders on our eyes. We see what we want to see, not always, what is before us.

It sounds corny, I know. I just don’t believe there’s any point in me adding to all the sadness in the world. I think it’s better to look for the happiness, and if I’m lucky, maybe I can help others find a little of it, too.

I understand some people have legitimate reasons to be sad or unhappy, even for extended periods. For most of us, though, I think being unhappy is a choice we make each day.

I choose to be happy. How about you? 

Almost twenty years ago, I left West Virginia to take a job that launched my career.

I’ve lived in several states and had many different jobs with different companies. My career has had its ups and downs, but I’ve had the privilege of working with amazing people on fantastic projects.

None of this would have happened if I hadn’t had the courage to leave. Yet, I know the things I learned growing up in West Virginia helped to give me the foundation for who I am and what I have achieved in life.

Now I’m back, in a manner of speaking. I’m putting my knowledge and experience to work to help make a difference in West Virginia.  I play a very, very, tiny part in all of this; nonetheless, I’m quite proud be a part of it.

Supporting this project, even in a small way, is something I can do to give back to the place and the people who, by their actions, helped to teach me the real meaning of service to others, why to fight for what’s right, when it’s time to swallow my pride, or how to muster the courage to follow my own calling.

I no longer live in West Virginia, but West Virginia will forever live in me.



Photo Credit:: Holding Daddy's Hand by Roger's Wife

It’s a difficult road from being the dad of a teenage girl to becoming the friend/dad of a young woman.  My desire to protect her and save her too often gets in the way of my desire that she discover for herself who she is becoming.  I regularly forget that she no longer needs me to remind her to fasten her safety belt or to check the oil; she only needs me to let her get behind the wheel. Truthfully, I have never been very comfortable as a passenger on any journey.

Unfortunately, the subtleties of this changing landscape elude me and my navigational skills are proving to be of limited use when I am no longer at the wheel.  In fact, the view from the back seat is much different, and my ability to successfully provide guidance, direction, and support is seemingly lost somewhere in this translation.  It probably doesn’t help that I’m prone to yell, “car…Car….CAR!!!” when she’s stopped paying attention instead of simply encouraging her to keep her eyes on the road ahead.

As hard as it is to do, I know that I need to let her navigate for herself, and acknowledge to myself that a backseat driver really doesn’t make the road any safer.  I often forget that the noise from the back seat makes it harder for the driver to concentrate on the road ahead.  I so clearly fail to recognize when her actions represent, “I will turn this car around, mister!” even when she’s not entirely comfortable saying those words.  Whether she says them or not, I do understand that I am only a passenger on this new journey at the driver’s request.

She is becoming a good driver. I am so very proud of her and her initiative in mapping out the path ahead.  While she may choose different roads on this journey than I would have chosen, this is her journey, and I am confident that she will get to the destination of her choosing.  She has her own GPS device now, and I suppose I should be comforted that it may be powered, in some very small part, by a few simple maps she downloaded from me.

It just doesn’t make it any easier to let go of the wheel


So I will dance with Cinderella

While she is here in my arms

‘Cause I know something the prince never knew

Oh, I will dance with Cinderella

I don’t want to miss even one song

‘Cause all too soon the clock will strike midnight

And she’ll be gone

~Steven Curtis Chapman, Cinderella


Photo Credit: Holding Daddy’s Hand by Roger’s Wife

I’ve even come to grips with the fact that super human speed exceeds my physical ability. Though it has taken me a long time to understand and accept it, I also know this: I can be a “hero” to someone...

The summer between my fourth and fifth grade was unbearably hot, but it did not prevent my friends and me from playing together outside. We welcomed the freedom summer brought to our lives and were out from morning to night, often taking a break from our activities to sit under the tree we had just climbed, or to chase the ever-present lightning bugs at dusk in the in hopes of capturing enough in a jar to light the way home. We were prone to occasional role-playing, engaging in a game of “Army” or “Cowboys and Indians.” This particular summer brought on a new game, though. It was the summer of the superheroes.

Superfriends, a Saturday morning cartoon about a team of superheroes, had launched the fall before, and my friends and I were hooked on the idea of having some special power and secret identity behind which we could hide. While we had read the comic books, the cartoon brought the characters to life for us. It also didn’t hurt that the Superfriends had a couple of kids and a dog as sidekicks. It gave us hope, I suppose, that we could do something extraordinary in our lives.

We didn’t confine ourselves just to the superheroes that appeared in the cartoon. That summer we became any superhero we chose. Sometimes I was Thor, other times I was the Flash. Once in a while, I became Captain America or Aquaman. Everyone had his favorite superhero, but no one ever really wanted to be the Batman.

“He’s useless as a superhero,” my friends would say. “He doesn’t have any superpowers at all! Sure, he has gadgets, but he can still die from being shot or from falling off a building. Who wants to be a superhero that can die? Who wants to be a superhero that’s SO normal?! He’s not even a superhero, you know? He’s just a man!”

Occasionally a new kid would join us and be such a Batman fanatic that he would suffer the barbs and crazy talk to assume the role. Unfortunately, the Batman was always the first one “killed” by whichever arch nemesis we were fighting that day. He was first to die because he was human and the most vulnerable of us all, but mostly, we just needed to make that point. I always felt a little sorry for the Batman and that new kid whose faith in the character couldn’t be swayed by the thought of early death.

Although I secretly wanted to be the Batman, I didn’t have the conviction of character, or frankly, the desire to endure the taunts of choosing to be him that summer. The Batman died at least 100 times that summer. He kept coming back. Not once did I take on the role.

As an adult, I know that we each selected characters to be that summer to provide a needed distraction from our own shortcomings and fears. We were on the verge of our teenage years but still wanted to hold on to our childhood belief that we could be someone—anyone–powerful and important, but not who we really were that summer. I know now that I wanted to be Thor because he was strong and in control, neither of which I could quite manage as one of the smallest of my friends. The Flash appealed to me because he was very fast and I was not fast at all. Aquaman controlled the water, and then the water controlled me. Captain America was my favorite because Steve Rogers, his alter ego, was a sickly young man who became a perfect human specimen with the help of an experimental serum. I longed for an experimental serum of my own.

Of all the characters we played that summer,  I think I learned the most from Batman; the superhero that no one aspired to be. You see, the Batman was just a regular guy trying to make a difference. There’s nothing easy about being a superhero.  But, the man who was most vulnerable even with all of his wits and gadgets working for him, and the occasional kid who took on the role, taught me this. Superheroes can come from all walks of life, and we should never be afraid to do the right thing even when some early death, speaking metaphorically, is sure to result from our actions.

Today, I am no longer sickly or afraid of water. At 6′ 3″, I’m bigger than most of my friends, but I know now that I will never really be in control of things.  I’ve even come to grips with the fact that superhuman speed exceeds my physical ability. Though it has taken me a long time to understand and accept it, I also know this: I can be a “hero” to someone just by being a regular guy who tries to make a difference. This is what I strive to do every day.

So, yeah, I can finally admit it. I’m the Batman.

I hope you are, too.


Inspired in part by Five for Fighting’s “Superman.