The Value of Difficulty

Yesterday, my wife shared a post with her personal network about the challenges that she identifies with as a young mother and working professional.  In it, the article delves into the many aspects by which a mother, which I will expand here to be any parent, experiences guilt over the many economical choices one must make with their time.

As parents we’ve made a clear decision to accept responsibility for the sustenance, formation, education and guidance of one, two, three or more children.  There’s an incredible burden there.  No one else is going to do it for you.  Not without a lot of paperwork and the loss of custody, anyway.  They won’t get to where you want them to be by intuition.  Every guiding principle requires hours of reinforcement to stick.  I’m not even talking about right vs wrong.  I’m talking about how to hold a spoon so the peas don’t go sliding off before it can make the 2′ trek from plate to mouth.  I’m talking about valuing the discipline required to put the toy down outside and willingly use the toilet.

Even at the ages of 4, 3 and 2 mos old, many of their skills have yet to level up even once.  Don’t get me wrong, scores of those skills have exceeded expectations, but the ones that have yet to stick in their minds certainly stick in ours whenever we think about that burden.  Whenever we think about that guilt.

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The article then discusses what a mother needs, in order to survive this stage.  This is the portion of the article I read through with a fine-tooth comb.  I want to know what advice my wife receives from strangers.  I want to know what time of positive reinforcement she receives from the world; or whether I need to combat what I perceive to be misinformation.  I was pleasantly surprised to see the list include topics like personal time, practicing contentment, prayer, open dialogue with one’s mother.  But the last piece was by far and away I was hoping I was going to see:

“….this stage of life is beautiful, too. Like, really really beautiful. This is the stage of life where every single older person you ever meet tells you, “you’re going to miss this”. And you already know it’s true. It’s the stage where your kids love you more than they are EVER going to love you again, for the whole rest of your life. It’s the stage where they can fit their entire selves into your lap to snuggle…and they want to. It’s the stage where their biggest problems ARE ear infections and teething and stomach viruses, and you’re not having to deal yet with things like broken hearts or addiction or bullying. It’s the stage where you are learning to love your spouse in an entirely different….harder…..better…. way. The stage where you are learning together, being stretched together, shedding your selfishness together, and TRULY being made into “one”. It’s the stage where you get to see Christmas, Halloween and the Fourth of July through your kids eyes, and it’s so much more fun and magical than it would be just through your own eyes. It’s the stage where you get to watch your parents be grandparents…and they’re really good at it. It’s the stage of life filled with field trips, class parties, costumes, swim lessons, bubble baths, dance parties, loose teeth, and first steps. And those things are so fun. It’s the stage where you are young enough to have fun, and old enough to have obtained at least SOME wisdom. It’s SUCH a great stage.” – http://austin.citymomsblog.com/2016/04/20/stage-life-hard/

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Perspective on difficulty is the most critical ingredient in prevailing against it.  Because what we are talking about here is growth.  To a person, there is not a parent I know, dedicated to the daily betterment of their family, that doesn’t consider themselves exponentially better for having children.  Moments of weakness exist for all of us, there is no getting around that.  But possessing guilt over that fact speaks more to the nature of our fallen humanity than to our individual shortcomings.  Eclipsing the pain of growth and understanding its full effect on our ability to navigate more precisely our future sets our compass by the stars.  On cloudy days we’ll lose site of our heading against our compass, but that too shall pass.  Charting our course by the successes, and pitfalls, of our parents, friends and loved ones allows for the compass to reveal itself in proper time.  Building our foundation on the bedrock of balance; between work and home, marriage and children, work and play assures us we will not go too far astray between the moments of clarity – when we can see the night sky and be reminded there is always the next day to correct for any variance.  Sharing articles, feelings, dreams and goals between lovers, friends and family provides the support to others when they might not be able to chart their course by the stars at the moment.  In time, they too will provide us our own corrections.

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Because there is not a thing I have that I value that I did not gain through trial.  Some things I gained I lost because I did not value them properly at the time.  It only made it the sweeter to get back in touch with those elusive goals.  Harmony is found in balance, through difficulty – because of trials successfully endured.  Especially if it comes at the cost of great energy.  Between that perspective, our family and loved ones – if we keep it all as close to our clutches as we possibly can – we’ll have all we’ll ever need to find happiness – one difficult stage of life at a time.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

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Will O’Connor

 

 

Anniversary Edition: We’ve Decided on Forever

Waking in a king-size bed, alone for the last time in my life, I stretched beneath the sheets and cautiously opened my eyes to the morning light.  The previous four years had led me to this moment; a moment I knew then, and certainly know now, I did not grasp the full weight of.  By now the bridal party would have been gathered for hours preparing under hairspray and powdery makeup to greet the photographers’ constant shutter-flash.  It was 9:30.

There’d be breakfast for me and my family down in the hotel lobby.  I’d grown up in this town, and the thought of staying in a hotel was humorous to me.  Such are the the requests of the mother-of-the-groom.  On a day where very little is about the parents of the groom, I figured I’d grant that one request to be in close proximity to one another.  Continental with aunts and uncles, cousins, a brother, a sister, friends from out of town.  In all the excitement, I spent some time with my godmother and her husband, a few cousins and kept the conversation light.  I ate a bowl of cereal on the morning of my wedding.  Golden Grahams.  Breakfast of husband-champions.

First to polish off my vows, which I came to understand were woefully less complex and touching than my bride’s would be.  Then to gather with my groomsmen; a collection of two of my closest friends, my brother, and the two brothers I’d be gaining during the day.  College football was in week 3; probably the worst of all the weeks.  Most teams schedule cupcake games in week 3.  They’ve impressed  the national media with their first 2 out of conference games and are taking it easy the week prior to starting conference play.

When you’re getting dressed for your wedding, there’s this lingering question of whether or not you’re doing it right.  Is the shirt supposed to be bloused? Double-Windsor for the special occasion? Should I lean back against the couch as we’re ribbing each other about football match-ups, the good old days and what the future holds? Am I supposed to be overcome with emotion, or is the steady approach that got me to this moment sufficient? What is going to rock me about our big day? In all our history as a couple, is this truly the biggest day? Or were the scores of encounters between us, that could have gone this way or that, but ended up going positively, more significant in leading us to this moment?

My brother, the best man, drove me to the church in my car.  I’ll always remember he played for me Alicia Keys’ This Girl is on Fire.  It had just come out.  The first time I heard it.  He offered it up as homage to Carolyn’s soon-to-be presence that day.   A quick ten minute ride, and we were there.  On time.  Dressed to the nines.  Is this really how all grooms feel?

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As the groomsmen, the priest, a few friends, my father and I gathered in the sacristy to await our guests, this beauty was stepping out of her carriage into her fairy-tale destination.  I like to think that when I go to heaven, this moment will be what greets me.  As I waited in that sacristy, I had no idea I was about to watch this beautiful woman, who’d transformed my heart and my life walk toward me in such a meaningful ceremony.  I’d thought forever about what getting married would look and feel like, but I’d never envisioned her in such exquisite detail.

We chose the church we did in part because of our ties to it.  We both grew up attending this particular church, had family as parishioners there since the beginning of its existence.  What was most beautiful about the church were the faces filled within it.  As I looked down the aisle, on both sides were memories of happiness and love, of support and constant presence.  I would not describe myself as a traveler.  I do not have wanderlust.  I do not want it.  What I want are those people to remain in my life as readily and constantly as possible.  What I wanted in that moment, and want every day is to come home to my wife, my family, and create a home filled with that same happiness and love.  That same readiness and dependability.

The reception venue was as perfect on that day as it had ever been.  A labor of love, Union Mill was not just where we had our reception, it was where I had shaped my professional identity.  A historic renovation undertaken by my former company, Union Mill was, at its time, the largest sail cloth fabricator in the world.  It went on to house LifeLike products, a company that hit it big when they realized they could take their train garden product and create low-cost Styrofoam coolers.  The Mill was then redeveloped to be a mixed-use facility housing 56 one and two bedroom apartments and 11 tenant spaces for Maryland-based non-profit agencies.  The entire project was dedicated to education.  Teachers got a rent reduction for living there and the NPOs were all in some way affiliated with education.  Its beauty and value resonated with me on every level.  It is one of those buildings in Baltimore I will treasure from a myriad of perspectives.  We built a 4-tiered courtyard within the space the building enveloped.  Our reception was held there.

As the sun set, the lights of the interior courtyard illuminated beautifully and set an ambiance of intimacy and liveliness. It was the perfect combination.  Music, food and drinks abounded.  It was the perfect celebration to begin the formal marriage my wife and I had casually adopted essentially since the beginning of our relationship.

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Five years later and I’m more in love with my beautiful wife.  I thought it would be hard to envision, but on nearly every level, I love her more deeply.  We’ve added so many layers to our marriage for me to love about her.  Children, careers, relocation.  We try and talk more about substance and have fought through the traps that lay for so many newly-wedded couples.  I am by no means a perfect person.  I post about the best of my experiences in hopes to replicate them in my life, and to see them reflected in others.  My most recent post generated a conversation after a disagreement my wife and I had.  We talked about authenticity.  About whether or not I was challenging myself to more constantly live the values I describe in my blog.  This conversation, while hard, is exactly why God gave me my wife.  I am reminded by my wife, that in my efforts to write about and achieve momentary and lasting happiness, I have to approach all of my roles through that filter.  I’ll be working on that until I die.  Its probably God’s actual, ntended purpose for the  Edison Project in my life; to be authentic, focused and driven towards happiness, even in the most stressful of circumstances.  Even with all of my faults, I am an infinitely better person because of her presence in my life.

My wife was the first person I dated who made me feel like I was home around her.  She made me feel like I was home within myself.  Without ever having to verbalize it, she inspired me to make changes in my life that have benefited me the world over.  She has pushed me to stay reflective of myself, has blessed me with three beautiful children, has challenged herself to fulfill a myriad of roles in life, regardless of the lifestyle changes they’d require.  After dating my wife for nine years, I am an entirely different person.  She’s saved me in every way you could save someone.  She’s given me strength and confidence to carry our family when she couldn’t and has picked us up when I grow weary.  There’s not another person alive who could do all of those things for me.  We’ve grown in our faith and understanding of where God has called us together.  We’ll continue to build our lives, a home and fulfill dreams together.  After five years, I’ve come to realize that all of those momentary questions I had of myself, of my wedding day, and of my wife have been answered by the Grace of God, and by the loving partnership I’ve developed with my wife.

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Here’s to another five years of realizing together all of the wonderful joys of life God has in store for us.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Igniting the Fire: Creation of Joy Through My Son’s Eyes

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On Wednesday, September 3rd, 2014, my son Xavier Slade O’Connor was born into this world.  Weighing all of 10 lbs 8 oz, forcing his mother through three hours of intense pushing, my son has been willful since his arrival.  In that, he is like his father.  Now three years old and having witnessed his mother, father and sister exert themselves, he is undoubtedly a little boy filled with passion.  More than anything, Xavier loves to laugh.  He loves to make his sister laugh.  He loves to make his parents laugh.  He’s overwhelmingly successful.  What Xavier doesn’t know, can’t know, won’t know until he is a father himself is the powerful effect his boyish devil-may-care approach has on his father.

September Uploads 034I’ve captioned this photo on this page before, but there is no better photographic evidence of the fire Xavier ignites within my heart.  During the moments under his captivating exuberance, I am reminded of my own boyishness, and I feel alive in ways manhood does not create on its own.  Windblown hair on open water on a sunny day with your son is how I wish for every day to be.  On top of all of that, having to constantly check my teaching style in order to creatively administer a lesson to a willing pupil has made me sharper, more patient and more reflective on my psychology, and my son’s.  His beauty is in his joy.  Also, in the indelible marks he’s left on my heart.  I have not the words to adequately express the unique happiness that arises from the bonding of father and son.  I’ve been a beneficiary of it my whole life, with my father.  I only hope that my efforts will meet with similar joy and success.

Over the weekend, we spent our time with family, back in Maryland.  It was our first opportunity since Christmas to see all of my wife’s family and we had so many joyous achievements and special days to celebrate.  Since last we all gathered, my wife’s youngest sibling had taken another step in realizing his dream; as he was drafted in the 5th round of the amateur professional baseball draft by the Atlanta Braves.  Both of my sisters-in-law have successfully created niches in careers up in New York City, my brother-in-law and his wife are expecting their second child right before Christmas and my wife and I have welcomed our third child into the world.  My son and his Godmother share a birthday, so we celebrated all of that together in a gathering on Saturday.  We played games, ate excessively and caught up on the details we often don’t have time to delve into during the busy course of life and long-distance communicating.  On Sunday we went back to the church where my wife and I were married nearly five years ago.  While there we saw friends and even more family.  We returned back to my in-laws’ to open presents for my son and to get in a game of baseball my son desperately wanted to play with his uncle.  When my brother-in-law makes it to the big show, that will be a memory he’ll be proud to have.  Hopefully it happens frequently.  We wrapped it all up with a crab feast at my wife’s Uncle’s place.  It was a perfect afternoon filled with people who love each other, and the best cuisine God ever created.

I’m so grateful I had the chance to celebrate in the way.  So often we are in a rush to jam events in between items that have to happen, and happen successfully, in order for our growing family to have what we need to get by.  Work is pressing for both of us and there’s always the opportunity to seek the excuse in favor of less labor-intensive events.  Driving 3 hours in the remnants of a hurricane, then having that same system follow you up to Baltimore for one of the two days could have been reason enough to stay home.  My wife being 3 weeks postpartum via a C-Section could have been reason enough to stay home.  Several members of our family encouraged us to take it easy, that there’d be no harm done in remaining at home.  Probably true.  What we would have missed would have cost us more than we were willing to part with.  So glad we didn’t miss the opportunity to celebrate my son’s 3rd birthday with a great portion of the people who matter most to us.

And if he wasn’t already willful, he’s now 3, so we’ll have the blessing of experiencing that wonderful phase while praying the trips to the doctor’s is minimal.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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The Travel Down the Mountain

EdisonProject35More frequently than I write, I think about writing.  I suppose that is the same with any passion, but more and more I think about writing my book.  Behind story delivery, plot, character development, scenery, poetry/prose refinement, I am constantly searching for the answer to one looming question; What is it about my voice that is unique? My fantasy is that I’d be read like Salinger or Fitzgerald or Thoreau.  That I’d make an impact like Vance or Kalanithi or Albom.  Those are huge aspirations and provide attitude and a horizon line along my attempt at flight; but those are not my goals.

I have three baseline goals:

To publish a book

To carefully unearth and convey my message

To utilize my voice in a way that only I possibly am able

The rest of the shopping lists are only wants for me.  These three are needs.  If I can accomplish this, I hope the rest will follow in succession.

I had the opportunity to speak with an old mentor of mine yesterday.  The intent of the body of the conversation was entirely unrelated to writing.  But the advice I received and the path forward I saw as we were speaking carries over quite nicely to my goals in the world of pen and keyboard. As my brain often wants to do, I began today to review my Rolodex of analogies.  The more I thought about it, the more I envisioned myself as a drop of water; those around me as drops themselves.  What we have most in common is that we fell from the same system at the same time in history.  We’ve all fallen at the peak of the mountain.  We have no idea what journeys lie ahead.  Some of us will freeze at points, only to melt and resume our trek down the mountainside.  Some of us will filter through plants or trees, others may pass through the gills of a fresh-water brook trout or latch on to the fur of a grizzly bear.  EdisonProject41We’ll start and stop, turn and tumble, ebb and flow down the mountain, part of the greater river, dash against the rapid, cascade down the waterfall.  At the top of the mountain, there’s no telling when we’ll surge and when we’ll get swallowed up.  Even if we knew the path we could never predict the effect the water level would have on us as a drop; never be able to envision which organism, desperate for our nourishment, would require our vitality along their own separate journey within the shadow of the mountain.  All the while, those other drops we started with may reach the gorge for sooner or later than we.  Some may never make it.  Some may toil ceaselessly while others, buffered by more exposed droplets, seem to endlessly emerge as victims of unforeseen obstacles.

EdisonProject42So too, is it with us.  We all journey down the same path.  We all were born within a time-frame of history that allows us to experience the same, or similar, events.  What creates a message, what builds the unrepeatable cadence of our voice is the manner by which we rebound from those unforeseen obstacles.  There’s never a way to know what’s around the bend.  That’s not our role.  Our role is to filter our experience through our passions and create something worth leaving behind for those who might also find themselves searching for a map, or at least a few tools to manage the overwhelming landscape through which we are about to, or are in the midst of careening.  The daunting concept that eludes me more frequently than not is that the system; the world, the mountain, history, the river, your family — those affected by your footprint, need your journey, your droplet, your cover, your protection — in order to be in the physical place they need to be at the time they need to be in order to fill the role they were created for.

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That thought, errant or not, has been vital to the most recent fever-pitch igniting my passion, fueling my search for my voice, pushing me down the line along my way towards publication, and to help me carefully uncover and deliver my message, utilizing the tools and the maps I’ve managed to acquire for myself.

Yours In the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

 

With Whom We Walk The Path

I woke to a cacophony of beeps, compressions and shuffled steps.  Peppered among them were the short, frightful breathes of a woman desperate for the end of this particular journey; freely ready to trade it for the next.  The room was dimly lit; a light over my wife, while all others had been snuffed out.  I found myself under a sheet and what only the most disadvantaged would refer to as a blanket.  Underneath of barely anything, but on top of even less – a twin mattress, unhindered, may have been all of two inches thick.  With my frame, I could easily feel it’s.  There’d be a sterile procedure in a few minutes, I had overheard one of the nurses say to my wife.  Best get your husband up.  He’s not permitted in the room during the administration.  Leave it to me to be the one sleeping through the beginning stages of labor…

I unraveled myself from the linen and put on my shoes; a quick kiss on the head to my wife prior to heading for the door.  It was just past 4:00 AM and there was nothing open.  A jaunt around the perimeter of the hospital took just ten minutes.  I’d have to improvise.  In my rush to leave, I’d separated myself from my phone.  I’d have to go it alone, sans social media for the remainder of the time.  Fortunately, I’d brought my book.  On three hours of sleep, in the wee hours of the morning, its impossibly difficult to read.  The time passed, slowly.  Eventually, I re-entered our labor and delivery room.  Not quite sure of what I’d find, or if I’d be permitted to sleep by the woman who, minutes before, had kindly explained to me that my sleep, or lack thereof, wasn’t really an issue worthy of making the list at that moment.  My brain objected.  My tongue held steady in the moment.  I’d passed that small test.  Upon re-entry, I found a subdued, if not relaxed spouse.  Our doctor was due back around 7:00 AM.  Hopefully with answers, maybe insight is the better word.

As time wants to do in moments of anticipation, the big hand seemed to slow to a crawl at times, leap to a sprint at others.  All the while the little hand was curiously disconnected from its usual concerted efforts with its longer, less important comrade.  Yes, under such a watchful eye I was convinced both of the lazy lot were Bolsheviks.  Lunchtime came.  Nothing.  No pushing.  No sustenance.  No baby.

Finally, as we made the lap around 2:00 PM the word came out of the doctor’s mouth like manna from heaven; it was time to push.  Again, not having any real responsibility, and knowing even less what to do, I was assigned the left side of the bed as part of the delivery team.  30 seconds.  Push for ten.  Breathe for 20.  Do it again.  And again. And again. Between frequent ice chip retrievals and leg support sessions, my wife began to complain of the heat of the room.  After adjusting a few times, the nurse began to realize that the temperature readings they’d been taking orally were compromised by the ice chip habit, or addiction, that had been forming.  A test under the arm revealed an elevated temperature, that coincided with the baby’s elevated heart rate.

Chorioamnionitis also known as intra-amniotic infection, resulting from a burst amniotic sack for too long, had developed as a delivery complication.  As we could see the baby’s head, the doctor quickly assessed that potentially a vacuum (terribly misnamed instrument by the way, its more like a plunger head with a string attached) could be implemented to avoid a C-Section.  Immediately at least 3 more people entered the room.  The bed manipulated in such a way as to rival the brigade of Transformers – lights turned way up from places I didn’t know existed. Still more people entered. The din got louder.  There was an explanation from the labor and delivery person for each new inhabitant. My focus both broad and narrow.  I began to forget the reasons for each persons presence. I had not the time to wonder, either.  The doctor totally overwhelming me in the best sense of the world with  efficient word choice, movement and action.

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What seemed like only a moment, but must have been several minutes, resulted in the successful delivery of Quinn Teresa O’Connor to the world at 3:42 PM, tipping the scales at 8 lbs 9oz, and 21 1/2″ long.  At the very first sight of my daughter, my world expanded.  There was never a thought of “I can’t do this” or, “What do I do here?”  I felt totally prepared for being a father.  What never occurred to me was the total change of perspective, as if I’d just zoomed out on my life twenty-fold and was now staring at a much bigger expanse of area, now filled with a beautiful girl that I had played a part in breathing life into.  What a mental exercise that was, and still is!

In the days, months, and now four years that have followed, there’s not been a day I was paying attention where I haven’t been totally sideways at the thought that this little girl is my little girl.  That this little girl has gone from that moment, which I’ll never forget, to this one.  That I just spent the last few hours of daylight teaching her how to ride a bike! How did we arrive at this moment? How am I going to deal with first dances, graduations, engagements, and on down the line when no gap of time permits that first moment may ever recede from my memory?

While I’ll never fully grasp that concept, I am eternally grateful to God, my wife, and the host of angels, living and en memoriam that have provided the wisdom, grace and providence to bless me with such a captivating little spirit.  I’m completely biased, but there’s not another soul on this earth I’d choose to be the one to make me a daddy.  Four years later and my course through time has altered dramatically.  I’m also told that this is just the tip of the iceberg.  That thought is as unfathomable as any I had, prior to my daughter’s arrival, about the impact fatherhood, my children, my daughter would have on me.  I’m strapped in for the ride, not quite sure what I will encounter, praying it all remains just as magical.

Happy Birthday, Quinn.  We love you so.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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Legacy of a Builder: My Sean Scott Story

Certain topics I wish I could kiss with fire.  I wish my passion and my wholehearted-ness could jump off the page and lick the reader in the face with the fire that burns in my heart.  Such is the case for the following.

I first met Sean Scott on February 26th, 2011.  I know that because I memorialized it in a note on Facebook.  Here’s what I had to say:

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I’ve told Sean several times, but I’ll probably tell him several more if I’m lucky enough, but that day, and the subsequent nine months following was probably the single most important encounter of my professional career.  If I ever have a more important one, I’ll have risen to heights I’ve only envisioned in the fantasy world of being a mogul billionaire developer.  That is not the point.  I came to Sean as a “clerk,” having just finished trade school.  I knew less than I thought I knew, and I didn’t think I knew very much.  Sean was the Superintendent at Union Mill, a place I’ll always consider a part of my soul’s home, for many reasons, of which I hope to one day detail.  The specifics are of little importance here, but suffice it to say that Union Mill was a “monument” job for any Superintendent, and had neither the support from the office, nor from the field subcontractors to adequately run itself.  It survived purely on Sean’s will, and his leadership ability to get others to buy into his vision, work ethic and refusal to fail.  In that, Sean instilled in me core principles that I’ll never be able to undo.  Sean is a teacher, a mentor, a motivational speaker and a very valued friend.  I don’t talk to him often enough, but that is something I intend on fixing here and now.

EdisonProject33Pictured to the left is Sean at my wedding.  I married my wife 18 months after I met Sean, and in that time, he left such an indelible mark on my heart and my mind that there could be no better a selection for a groomsman.  Seen here with his trademark smile, Sean reminded me of the man I wanted to be from the onset.  He’s an onion in the best way a man can be.  Layered with sophistication, you can talk to Sean about construction, God, sports, wives, and on down the line.  He’ll pull you out of the depths of your frustration or stress with the right words, followed by a joke, a slab on the shoulder and the smile in a way that made me view him as a boss, friend, brother and father figure in whatever way was most helpful at the time.  I owe my mental approach and determination to Sean.  Yes, I believe I’ve always possessed it, but Sean empowered it.  The memory of those days at Union Mill still empowers it.  In all, we completed two difficult projects together.  The last one wrapped about four-and-a-half years ago.  His drive and mentor-ship propel me to this day, and are responsible for taking me out of my shadows, including my most recent grapple professionally.

Being a young father, with one on the way, and being at the helm of a twelve week schedule where deadlines cannot be extended, even with the most legitimate of reasons, of which we have many, I became sultry over my plight as a one-man-band out here for my company.  Justifiably, the job does not merit more than one team member on-site, but the prospect of twelve-hour days, seven days a week with a nearly full-term pregnant wife at home and two little ones I would do anything to be around will test the mettle of any man.  For stumbling through that I am not ashamed.  I am only ashamed of the fact it took me so long to revisit the challenge we went through together; well him mostly with me trying to provide whatever assistance I was capable of at the time.  Upon revisiting the test of endurance and will that was Union Mill and my job with Sean, I awoke this morning with a new outlook on my charge.  Suddenly there was light at the end of the tunnel; even if that light was only the example set by my mentor.  If I am to exhibit the qualities of leadership, perseverance, strength and capability, what better place than here? What better time than now?

I’m writing this blog today as much as a “Thank-You” to Sean as a reminder to myself.  I intend to re-read this when I grow weary, for it is bound to happen again.  I’ll strap in some Eric Thomas (that guy is an amazing motivator, by the way), refill my coffee cup, and remember the time I watched the most impossible deadlines get hit; the most challenging tasks get achieved.  I’ll remember going to work until I had to go to sleep, waking up, no matter the time of day, and getting dressed to do it again.  I’ll remember when our office walked in and told us it was in our best interest not to hit the date.  I’ll remember Sean telling me “Fuck what they say.  This is our baby.”  I’ll remember the elation of that certificate of occupancy and I’ll remember the fantastic feeling of holding my wedding reception in its courtyard.

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Regardless of what credit he may give me, regardless of what I may build or what level of happiness I may reach to sustain myself against the forces of the outside world, Sean is an integral member of my Pantheon of parents, teachers, mentors and role models that have provided the type of foundation required for anyone seeking to reach their goals.  He’s a great friend and an awesome man and I’m proud to have been through the gauntlet with him and even more inspired by the continual reminder he serves in my life that I can do anything I determine worthy of my efforts.  Through channeling that dedication and resolve, I am reminded and bolstered by his spirit.  We should all be so lucky.

Thank you, Sean.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

 

The Music of Your Life

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I wrote the below piece about 16 months ago.  Given the expected addition to our family in the coming weeks, I thought I’d pull this from my archives and send it out there to any who’d wish to read it.
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I have a spoiler to share with you all.  I haven’t mentioned this publicly on this blog, or anywhere else really, but when Carolyn and I found out we were having our first child (Quinn, now almost 3), I decided to create an opportunity to speak to her in adult fashion in real-time, using my most creative outlet, writing.  I began to keep a journal for her.  Ideally, she’d be rolling around the floor, or running around a soccer field, pick a scene, and I’d get my writing itch and pull out the journal and tell her whatever it was with which I was so inspired.  I had always watched parents speak to their children like children and wanted to find a way to bestow my parental advice through more sophisticated terms.  At some point, this was to become a gift to her.
Then, when Quinn was just 4 months old, we found out we were expecting another bundle of joy.  Except that with the financial strain of providing for a new child, daycare, formula, diapers, yada-yada-yada it wasn’t quite so joyful.  Don’t get me wrong, we were floored that God had given us another chance to raise a child, but we didn’t feel equipped to handle the material and financial obligations of a second child so quickly.  I resolved to buy another journal.  This one for “baby dos”, but it took me a while to got around actually following through on it.  To be honest, there’s a blank space in my journal to Quinn where a gap of time between entries occurred.  Stress gives me writer’s block.  Its only when I’m in tune with the world around me that the words spring out of my brain, onto the page.  Frequently, my fingers can barely keep up with my mind.  It’s exhilarating to flurry through 2, 3, 4 pages of text, stopping only to un-cramp my hand.
Eventually, however, I recovered from my haze and I began to write.  This year has been really good for my writing.  I try to write to each of them twice a month, and am keeping a separate journal (typed) for myself.  I never thought I’d ever explain this publicly, and am only doing so now because its imperative to the context of the entry I decided to share from yesterday (below).  This one is from Xavier’s notebook, although I’ll probably type it up for Quinn and put it in the back of her journal, where I keep other loose letters, photos, etc.  Selfishly, I dream of this being a prized possession one day.  For both of them.  Who knows.  So to set the stage, this entry’s original is found in Xavier’s journal, in the early portion of what I hope will one day become a multi-volume work.  We’ll see.  I wasn’t really sure I even wanted to share it, but those who’ve instilled music within my soul deserve to know I’m passing it on.  I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I did writing it.
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Xavier,
I’m writing to you from work today.  There’s asbestos abatement going on in the building, therefore I cannot go in.  It’s a beautiful day and I’m listening to music.  As you may someday find, music is the strongest conduit to our memories of the past.  A song comes on and “Boom!”, there you are, smack-dab in the middle of a moment you’ve already lived, watching old scenes, remembering former exhilaration and heartache.
Such is my inspiration for entering this passage today.  The saddest part of these memories, this musical voyage, is that we cannot fully go back to that time.  Not to change anything, anyway.  Then the thought struck me, “Xavier will live through this same problem.  Maybe I can pass to him the importance of REALLY living.  When he’s 16 and in love with a girl, or at a concert with friends, or playing baseball in the backyard, whatever it is.”  So here I am, telling you, begging you to lay it all out there, to go for it.  You won’t get it back and you can’t take it with you.  The worst possible outcome of this trip down memory lane is you encounter a scenario where you wish you’d done it differently.  Listen to me, Xavier.  So much of this book will be special moments we’ve shared or I’ve witnessed.  They are special.  While you are young, please don’t miss opportunities to be on fire for the things you know you yearn for.  Chasing down your dreams, while prioritizing faith, family and friends is our mission in life.  There will be a time for responsibility and providing for others.  That is a separate phase we can only be truly ready for when we can successfully say we’ve discovered enough of life to know what we need, compared against what we don’t.
In the meantime, keep track of the soundtrack of your life.  Play music often and loudly and in the company of those who help you come alive.  It will sustain your days both in the present, and then later on down the line.  It will revive green grass in winter moments.  It will help you feel the sun on your back, hear pure laughter, recall innocent bliss.  You’ll recall your first kiss, the beginnings of a best friendship, the loss of a loved one; heartache and euphoria.  Live in that music so that, one day, when you are old and tired, and a song comes on from the spring of your life, you’ll look back at how alive you were and smile.  And hopefully, take pride in how much of that flame you’ve kept burning.
I love you with all of my heart, no matter what the season.  Here’s to hopefully being a part of your soundtrack.
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– Dad
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Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,
Will O’Connor

Love Me Now

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John Legend has been one of, if not my favorite artist of my adult life.  From the start of my freshman year, he has featured dozens of songs that capture the essence of love, passion and happiness.  There has been perhaps no one better in this generation, especially given the tendency for most other artists to focus on the more banal needs of life.  At the end of last year, or the beginning of this, I can’t remember; John Legend released Love Me Now.  At first, the song seemed to rub me the wrong way.  Don’t get me wrong, its composition is beautiful, but something in the message seemed off to me.  Recently, I’ve had the occasion to listen to the song under my new perspective of Me.Now.  The title of the song and the mantra of the Me.Now.Movement are directly compatible to one another; and the message is resounding in an alternative fashion.  That’s the beauty of music.  The notes and lyrics don’t change, but in time, as our perspective changes, the message evolves within our own minds.

Here’s what I didn’t like about it when I first heard it:

I was raised Catholic and retain that identity to this day.  Being Catholic, and married myself, the idea that he wasn’t sure if his wife (I’m assuming he wrote this song about Chrissy Teigan, especially since she features in the video) wasn’t assuredly going to be in his life forever.  He talks about not knowing who is going to kiss her when he’s gone.  Why would you question that? Do what you have to do to stay with your wife! It’s clear that you love your wife at the moment, so why would you envision the moment when she might be gone? He then goes on to explain that he doesn’t want to think about it, and that he just wishes for love right now.  Again, the immediate gratification that pervades our culture from all angles infringed upon my perspective.  Why would he be solely focused on right now? You have to plan your life for the long-term, and to do that, the best course of action is conservative growth, or so I thought.

Love isn’t money.  We shouldn’t approach it the same way.  He’s not saying he’s going to leave her or that she’s going to leave him.  He’s saying he doesn’t want to think about it.

Here’s how the message changed for me under the context of the Me.Now.Movement:

If the listener focuses on the “I don’t want to think about it. I just want to love you now,” portion of the chorus; if we admit we don’t know whats in the stars, but that we know what’s in our hearts, we can begin to separate our strategy of long-term financial growth from the urgency and immediacy with which we must live our lives.  John Legend isn’t saying his wife is going to leave him.  He’s not implying I should be thinking about my wife leaving me.  He’s urging me, reminding himself, that what’s important is abandoning the future plan that we might live for Right Now.  What a powerful idea! We mustn’t think about how the years will go down.  It will be alright.  And has he follows, let’s make the most of every moment, tonight!

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If we’re lucky, we’ll find someone who mirrors our hearts.  If we’re attentive to that symmetry, we’ll maintain that love.  The relationship is built on blocks, day by day.  Love is conducted like electricity.  It’s there when we energize ourselves in the moment.  When we cut that circuit, it still has the capacity to conduct energy, but we won’t be able to see it or feel it.  John Legend has the right side of the coin showing here.  I’m hoping I can bare that in mind more frequently.

John Legend, and his work, has long been a source of relaxation, contemplation and happiness for me.  I’m glad I revisited this particular song with the idea of happiness and presence in the now on my heart.  This most recent revelation is just another in a long string of recent thoughts that help me magnify my focus and gain new appreciation for What Happiness Means to Me.

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Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Keeping Myself Young – Shared Experiences of Happiness

I was flipping through some images online today at my lunch break.  Not looking for anything in particular, I came across a few that made me stop in wonder.  In that moment, I felt such a wave of gratitude for the gifts and responsibilities bestowed upon me that I felt compared to share.  The first picture listed below is of my son, Xavier.  Xavier is two years old.  He’s a brilliant, creative, burst of energy and will.  Nearing his third birthday, he’s got an idea for how every moment should go and will tell you when you aren’t acting according to the plan.  Xavier is the boy I needed but never envisioned.  He’s more perfect than I could have ever expected.  In the photo, you can see we are on a boat.  The boat belongs to my parents.  We try to get out on the water as frequently as possible, and some of Xavier’s favorite moments on the boat are when the throttle is slammed against the dash, propelling us as fast as possible to our destination.  There’s something magical about the wind pulling at your cheeks, flailing through your hair as you anticipate swimming at your favorite beach.  All the more magical, for me, is the opportunity to watch him full of excitement as he rests against me.  The sense of security and belonging we have to and for one another is a unique bond I hope to foster forever.

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There’s a growing sentiment among our friends and family that my daughter is my wife’s mini-me.  While it is true that I am glad she doesn’t have her father’s looks, Quinn has always reminded me of myself, without the inhibition surfacing when new to a public scene or a gathering of large people.  I love this photo because it incorporates Quinn’s personality to a “T”.  Pictured below, we sit on the Brown’s Island Bridge above the James River on my birthday this past March.  My daughter has her Elsa jacket on; something she rarely braved public spaces without, shouting her excitement towards the photographer.  From the day Quinn was born she felt like she fit right beside me.  I rarely experienced feelings of doubt or apprehension of what to do with her.  She’s grown into the most amazing 3-year-old.  She’s on the brink of learning to read, has an amazingly giving heart, and loses her s#*! when I leave for work in the morning before she wakes up.  To say my daughter is precocious would be an understatement.  She’s wildly curious about information, and feels several years older than her birth certificate would reveal.  She’s a blessing of the highest order and I can’t wait to watch her be a big sister to a baby girl.  That’s going to be both a wonderful, and tiresome process; as I am sure we’ll have to reinforce the fact that she is not, in fact, the baby’s mommy.

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As I moved though my photographs, I stumbled upon this one.  Richmond saw one measurable snowfall this year.  Quite a departure from the 3-5 we averaged in Baltimore the years prior to this one.  The snowstorm coincided with my plans to put the fire pit I was gifted for Christmas together.  As soon as I busted out that first screwdriver, Xav had to be out there with me.  My wife stepped out in the snow briefly to take some pictures, apparently.  I didn’t notice until after this one, and its candid-ness is brilliant.  You might notice the pink gloves.  Those are his sisters.  He had not a care in the world for the color of the mittens – they were the ones at the door and that was the stipulation for coming out into the snow with me.  My favorite part of this picture is the emotions our eyes transmit to the viewer.  My son, looking adoring at me, so happy to be building something with his Dad.  My eyes reflect the same pride I see in old photos of my dad and myself.  There’s a partnership forming there; a feeling I love sharing with my father.  Whether we are splitting wood, starting a fire, watching a baseball game or prepping for a less frequently occurring activity, I love that my father always included me in his tasks.  It’s absolutely something I want to transfer along as a father to my children.

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I don’t think I have a more favorite photo in my album than the one pictured below.  Taken by my sister at the Baltimore City Train Museum as we waited for our train ride with Santa Claus two winters ago, I was joking with her about something small.  Had to have been because I don’t remember its reason.  I also had no clue that my sister was taking a picture.  The profile shot of my daughter’s smile is the most perfect capture of the life within my daughter, and the life within me when I am with her.  There are so many things I’m not very good at.  But there’s rarely a moment I get to experience something new with my children where I am not as eager to reach that experience than they are.  My children bring out the very best in me.  Being their dad is the most important thing in my life.  I have to opportunity to shape the worldview of two, soon to be three, little people.  That’s a very serious charge.  In the short time I’ll have with them, I’ll need to impress upon them the need for ethic, empathy, integrity, accountability, compassion and love.  I’ll have to expose them to the raw nature of the world at varying lengths of time.  I’ll need to prepare them for the course they are to chart for themselves and I’ll need to do all of this knowing I’ll have to take my hand off the wheel at some point.  I’m always thinking about this line.  The amount of time between here and adulthood; where they’ll stretch out and form their own plans and perspectives.  Just as my parents did, and still do; I’ll have to help them find their purpose, watch from alongside, allowing for their own discoveries while instilling the reminder that my presence will always be there.  In the meantime, I have this picture to remind myself of the beauty of being a parent.

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The O’Connor’s are inside of our one-month count-down to Baby O #3’s expected arrival to this world.  Switching from man-to-man to zone defense will be a new challenge for my wife and myself, but I’m beyond ecstatic to welcome a new timeline of anticipating experiences together to our crazy schedule.  We’ve been blessed with so much, and can only hope to continue praying for God’s assistance in forming the hearts of our beautiful children.  Alongside my wife, my children are the purest form of reminding me of my happiness and helping me clearly recognize What Happiness Means to Me.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Providing My Own Authorization: My Journey To and Through Writing

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As a child, I spent as much time getting lost in a good book as I did getting lost in the woods.  Whether leading an expedition against the greatest odds with my creatively imagined friends along the Patapsco River, or reading about the many actual fearless warriors within my books, my dreams were derived from the imagination that the woods and my books cloaked me in.  Time would prove to diminish the frequency with which I ventured into the woods.  School, studies and competing interests made my epic sagas intermittent at best.  But every time I found myself back there – every time I find myself back there, no time has elapsed at all.  It is as though I am a boy reunited with my first love.  Books however, have grown from the vehicle for my dreams, to the method by which I’d like to express my own.  Authorship is the milestone I’ve set for myself while striving to live for me; to live for now.  This goal was not hatched out of a desire to find something to measure my progress; it was something I’ve wanted for myself since the first time someone ever asked me what I wanted to work of my life to be.

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I was with my parents and my siblings on the Metro, travelling into DC for the day to watch a Georgetown basketball game and see a museum or two.  My father likes to throw out questions that require thought prior to response.  I’m not sure how my brother, sister and mother feel about the game but I always loved it.  When he asked the question, I didn’t need to think about it.  Writing a novel had been a goal on my heart for as long as I could remember.  Realistically, reading books for school like Johnny Tremain or Enders Game or Catcher in the Rye always made me question the method of the writer just as much as the tale of the plot, or the character’s challenge or triumph.  I always envisioned F. Scott Fitzgerald coming to his “A-Hah!” moment or Hemingway massaging his scenery as part of the journey I was on.  I wanted to be like them.

I want to be like them.  In so many ways, my happiness project is about creating processes, habits and content that will guide me to the place I need to be to write that book.  I want my book to speak for my generation, or a block of us, much like Hillbilly Elegy recently has for so many.  I want my book to move people, to break something open in the world of others.  I want my book to make some people’s’ lives richer – while for others more of a call to action.  I want my book to represent the woods and the adventures I went on through streams and pages.  I want my book to discuss the trepidation I felt as I was coming into my own, and then the false sense of self I encountered in my teens and early twenties, before finally moving back into my soul to find the greatest journey I’ve encountered thus far – starting a family.  I want to cover all of these journeys through a unique adventure that could only be travelled and then written by myself.  Knowing all of this, I feel I’ve started down my road in earnest.  While I continue to discover the soul of my content I intend to keep writing about what makes me happy, and writing about that process and those feelings are excellent ways for me to convey What Happiness Means to Me!

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I’ve recently focused more frequently on my goal, which is the only major difference in the level of my production.  There are days I know what I want to write when I wake up.  For some reason the topic was on my heart, or greeted me with my morning coffee.  Others have to be crafted during the day between tasks, while others still are penned after my kids go to bed and I’ve waded through a few brainstorming sessions.  While work and family occupy the A slot of my brain, I’m working toward sneaking writing into that space.  When I’m writing, I am the most natural version of me; creatively shaping my thoughts and feelings into a single page of text.  There is nothing that has ever been more innate within me.  I hope to transform that feeling into real progress in the weeks, months and years to follow.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Every-Day Absentia: Combating Malaise with Forceful Wonder

There’s a general malaise one gets when they’ve forced themselves into the world of lofty goals.  For anyone having a “5-Year Plan”, or anything of that variety, the tiny miracles that exist in the passing moments often get missed.  As humans, our brains can only devote energy to so many things.  When we devote our active energy to our difficult goals, we’re placing our priorities in the future.  This is important! Anyone striving to build for themselves something larger than they previously had imagined should place priority on these goals.  It just should not be the only priority.  How do we go about administering priority to our various goals – short, mid-term, and long?

I like to look at these ideals as a “confidence poll” – very similar to what you would see passed out in the office during football season.  It goes like this: There are a dozen match-ups on the slate.  For each match-up, you must select the winner and assign a number to each.  The team you are most confident in gets the highest number.  You don’t need to pay much attention to this game because its some behemoth team versus a puny or under-performing one.  You put down the number 12, giving it the highest value towards your total, but it is actually the game you are least stressed about.  You move on down the line until you find the match-up against the two teams that are both play-off-bound and you meekly circle one (the home team), and place a one in that blank column to the left.  At the end of the weekend, you tally your points and weigh them against the rest of the players in the office pool.  You accumulate points and the winner gets a gift card, or whatever small prize your office has selected for the victor.

I look at the breakdown that way.  My biggest goals are assigned value based upon not just their importance to me, but the needs I have in attending to them.  If my goal is, lets say, to write a blog post every day, I assign that total to be just under performing my job that day.  Performing my job has a big total.  There’s a lot riding on it.  But I also know that the habits I’ve formed over the years create conditions where I do them implicitly.  This is not to say that I stress any less about it, or that there won’t be items that pop up during the course of the day or week that require my uninterrupted attention.  At those times, my brain is in hyper-drive and I’m working only on that.  Personal calls aren’t answered – hell, sometimes even the other aspects of the job have to be momentarily suspended until I get this thing right.  But when I’m done with that, I move down the line to my other priorities, in the order in which I’ve placed the most value.  This gives me an opportunity to attend to most, if not all, of my priorities during the day.

Playing with my kids has a high value on my daily “confidence poll.”  There are three main reasons.  First, they’re my kids, and they’re only going to be young and that type of adorable for so long.  There’s an expiration date on the terms of their play and the level to which they offer me engagement in that play.  Second, it’s a de-stresser.  When I am teaching my son how to hit or catch a baseball, or helping my daughter learn how to pump her legs to propel the swing by herself, I’m solely focused on that aspect of my life.  Sometimes, maybe most times, happiness is derived from simplicity of an event.  The closer that event brings me to my childhood memories, or to witnessing their belly laughs, the happier I am.  Third, and most importantly, my children stop in wonder on a regular basis.

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They’re truly amazed when they unlock a new piece of information, or figure out how one idea fits in with another.  They find ants to be fascinating.  At the lake last weekend, my daughter caught a small ring snake because it was upside down and she thought it was a worm! I mean, how thought-provoking and satisfying a process! To watch her transfer knowledge that if a worm is harmless and an animal looks like a worm, maybe it is harmless, too.  I promise you that I took the time to educate her on the difference between certain snakes, but we did that after we marveled at the miracle of the variation of animals in the world! My son has a book called The Mighty, Might Construction Site.  There are ten different pieces of equipment in the book (two of them are mis-labeled, but we took care of that) and the book provides context into how each one is used.  My son stares at that book every single night, as I read it to him, and studies the differences in form before he lists them off to me.  He knows each of them, two months before turning three.  He can tell you the difference between a front-end loader and backhoe; between a pump truck and a crane.  These things in isolation aren’t going to gain him admission into Harvard – but they are building blocks in the process to studiously differentiating different things.  The byproduct is all of these minor miracles being noted and categorized into various departments of information.

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All of this to say that happiness is found in balancing the big, burdensome plans we’ve devised for ourselves while taking the time to smell the roses.  I rarely smell actual roses, however.  My roses take the form of my children, my wife, baseball, reading, writing, Saturday’s with the Boys (had to), my parents and siblings, and all of the minor miracles and tidbits of information the unveil to me and unlock for me along the way.  I take happiness from being a part of their processes, and hope that they derive the same from mine.  It is my hope to keep gauging these confidence polls, to take the time to rearrange which I value most, and to keep my mental and spiritual direction moving in positive directions – to achieve goals – both grand and minute in scale.  For sometimes it is the smallest thing that unveils the greatest pleasure.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

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Will O’Connor

Happiness as a Pensieve

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My wife and I decided a few months back to re-watch the Harry Potter series.  Aside from the fact that kids and a job make watching 7 movies a massively long undertaking, there have been various discussions that have arisen as a result of watching the movies again.  Everything from the plot and characters to the over-arching themes.

Last night we watched Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.  Aside from this sixth installment being my favorite, there’s a few scenes in this movie where Harry and Professor Dumbledore are standing over Dumbledore’s Pensieve.  The Pensieve, for those who’ve “magically” never seen the Harry Potter movies or read the books, is a vessel by which one can insert a captured memory, and by placing their face in the solution, revisit said captured memory.  I love the visual aspect of revisiting memories.  I often do so in my own life.  Music happens to be my vessel for such an adventure.  I pop on a song, and my mind’s eye is back in whatever moment most strongly shared with the associated song.  It’s actually my favorite thing about music.  It takes me back, as I’m sure it does for so many.

During the first scene featuring the Pensieve, my wife turned to me and said, “I feel like that is something you’d really like the ability to do.” To which I answered in the affirmative.  She then asked me “If you could go back and revisit your memories in this way, which memory would you visit first?” Both an excellent and an awesome question to ponder.  I didn’t provide an answer.  She pushed me for what my gut said and I again deferred.  Nearly the entire remainder of the movie, I was thinking about what movie I’d go back and revisit.  I want to answer that question now.  There are two answers.  The first is what my gut told me, and the second is what I would revisit since I’ve really thought about it.

My gut answer is to be back in the room when I first convinced my wife to kiss me.  It was July 5th, 2008.  To set the scene, my wife had been babysitting for a family out in Pikesville that day and was texting me about being very good at playing hide and seek.  We’d been working together for about two months and had a friendly relationship, but there wasn’t anything specifically “there” prior to this string of texts.  I playfully responded, while sitting on my couch, hanging out with my parents for their 28th Wedding Anniversary, with how good I was at hide and seek and that I’d beat her in a game (as though such a thing could be measured).  Needless to say, the text string led to questions of plans later.  I had plans to meet some friends later at a bar.  One of these friends had an apartment that was located directly above the bar.  It was a nice setup.  this bar also had a rather expansive deck bar that spread out behind the building.  It was a really cool spot to hang out in the summer.  I was able to convince her to head to me after her babysitting gig was up, even though I honestly had no designs on anything beyond hanging out.  That night was filled with general debauchery.  I consumed way too much alcohol and at last call the four of us headed back to my friend’s place, just a few dozen steps from the cash register.  There, in a combination of my drunkest and most eloquent forms, began to explain to my wife about how I’d really like to take her out to dinner some time.  I really have no idea what I said, but I recall her laughing at me with a greater intensity than the intensity with which she said she would say yes to such an invitation.

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Later that night, somehow I was able to parlay that date request into a kiss, which turned into several.  The rest, as they say, is history.  It was the single-most important moment in getting me from then to now.  My life, without my wife, would like starkly different from the one I have.  Certainly my world isn’t perfect.  I am probably more flawed than the average person.  But I have a life far more blessed than I’d imagined hours before that fateful July 5th night.  My gut pulls me back to that place when I think of her asking “Which Memory Would You Visit First?”

Second, and no less important, takes place about 30 days later.  My wife and I had established that we were serious about pursuing a relationship together, and were spending a lot of time together.  That August, we had an O’Connor family vacation down to the Outer Banks.  I had just taken a new job as a manager of a restaurant, and felt uneasy about taking that vacation with my new responsibilities, so I declined the vacation.  Seeing the fun they were having via social media and phone calls, etc, I decided to talk to my boss.  He graciously granted my leave and out the door I went, sans girlfriend, but very much wishing she was coming.  I made it down to North Carolina without incident, and the next day was able to convince my wife to drive down the next day, and come meet my whole family.  During the period of time when she was preparing to leave, and the time in which she arrived, I had an opportunity to speak to my grandfather alone.  He asked me about my new girlfriend, and relationship, and further pressed me about how long it would be until he had a great-grandchild with the last name of O’Connor.  To which I responded “Five Years.”  His response, “I can hold on that long.”  My wife arrived and met my family.  We had a great couple of days celebrating our love for one another, and it was a seamless introduction into our family.  We left and went home at the end of the weekend.  It was the last time I’d ever see my grandfather.  Eerily enough, my daughter was born five years and just a few days after that conversation took place.  Quinn Teresa O’Connor, while his fifth great-grandchild, was the first to bear the last name he was so intensely proud of.

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I say I’d go back to that memory, not because it all turned out to be true, but because we both failed to recognize that it was the last time we’d ever speak to one another on earth.  Just less than a month ago, we arrived at the 8th Anniversary of his death.  A week or so ago, I was driving home, praying for my grandfather to intercede on behalf on my prayers, thinking about how much I missed him and wanted to see him, when I arrived at the startling reality that I will always miss him this much.  That for the rest of my life, I’ll miss my grandfather.  9 years after our last conversation, I don’t regret not knowing.  Knowing that it’d be the last time we would speak may have prevented the question about great-grandchildren and a different conversation may have taken place.  I’m proud of my response and blessed I was able to see it come to fruition.  I just wish I could have supplemented my response with reassurance to my grandfather that, on countless times already, and probably even more going forward, I’d be faced with a difficult scenario and have the presence of mind to ask myself “What would my grandpa do here?”  Whether its raising kids, pushing to a difficult deadline, placing family above all else or simply challenging myself to grow as a person, I often find myself in a position where I reflect on what my grandfather would do.  This is not to say that he’d actually do what I chose to do.  Sometimes I react in ways that maybe my grandfather would not have thought to do.  But the mere question of what a titan in my life would do pushes me to fight though my obstacle and learn from my mistakes or accomplishments.  I’d go back to that memory to be able to tell him that for however long I live, I won’t just keep his memory on my heart, but his legacy.  That I’m going to work my entire life to use his example to exceed the expectations I once held for myself.

Those two memories share that common bond; they force me to remind myself that what I once thought was impossible now needs to be reflected on what I now think is impossible.  That I can set my sights higher as I gain sure footing on the place I once thought unattainable.  That makes me feel awesome! I makes me feel motivated, strong, capable and blessed to have had such a great family to be borne into, and to have such an amazing family from which I now can draw support and strength.

These and many more memories would I gladly place in my own personal Pensieve.  I cannot wait to collect more, and hope to continue to place importance on memories as a way to continue to grow.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

 

Editor’s Note: This post first appeared on a former blog of mine, but as the anniversary of my first “date” with my wife just passed two days ago, I felt it appropriate to share.

The Power of “Why Not”

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Time and time again I battle the question of why I’m writing, or taking pictures, or pushing my thoughts on happiness, hoping to start a discussion – wanting to see where it leads.  “Why start something if you don’t know where you want to go with it?” “Why do you think that what you have to say is so special?” “Why not just stick to construction?” “Why aren’t you focused on dreams or goals that are actually achievable?”  I don’t even need to be asked these questions by others, although I have recently begun receiving them.  The inertia within me asks them every day.  And yet every day, here I am, pecking away.  Each day there’s a different reason to take on Newton’s First Law of Motion.  I’m doing this to realize my childhood dream of being published.  I’m doing this to show my children that I took it upon myself to find happiness and positivity, every day, in the world.  I’m doing this to expand my understanding of happiness, and on the list will, and can, go.  Today, I’m doing this because, “Why Not?”

Why can’t I be a happier version of me? What happiness, energy or grand plan am I stealing from others by pursuing my own? Why can’t I realize my dream of publishing the next great American novel? And why can’t that path to there start right here, every day, day-by-day forming habits that will lead to the my highest calling – no matter what that ultimately ends up being?

When I made the decision to attend trade school – before I ever knew where it would lead me – I expressed my concern over my long-standing pattern of abandoning my studies to the enrollment advisor at the school to which I ended attending.  His response was that my fear of failing may have finally become a push towards success, if I could define my problem.  During the first eight week section of courses at North American Trade School, we started every day with a one hour video-guided, called PX2, lead by the Pacific Institute, focusing on positive self-talk.  I think I may have set the record for getting more out of that than anyone else ever had.  I began to speak to myself in a manner that encouraged perseverance, positivity and persistence.  The results, over the past seven years, have been the most consistently positive of any such period of time in my life.

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Something broke free in me when I began to give myself permission to ask “Why Not?” As an assistant, I asked myself the same question in pursuit of establishing myself as a professional capable of managing a large-scale construction project on my own.  Three-and-a-half years later, I have laid down a track-record of success and quality in my work.  I have gained the experience I badly wanted to achieve, and here I am now, asking the same question again.  I have so far to go to establish myself in the way I desire with regard to my stated dreams.  I still notice myself caring more about the reception of my message than I know I ought to.  I still need to refine that approach.  In order to do my best work it needs to come from the most authentic place within me – and that place does not have room for external forces.  It is locked up tightly enough without weighting those factors, and I’m not disciplined enough to unlock that space amidst competing reasons.

As I look back at the content I have created over the past few weeks, I am reminded that asking “Why Not” is an expression of happiness and self-love. It promotes my creative juices, provides me with a clearer sense of my goals, and pushes me to attain them.  I am made more happy by recognizing this pattern of thought and self-motivation.  I hope it continues to spur my courage and inspires growth exponentially along my journey. Here’s to hoping it creates the same drive and purpose within you, and hopefully bolsters the courage to reclaim your dreams and pursue them again.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Outward Statement on Inner Goals: An Extended Testimonial of the Me.Now.Movement

I wrote the following nearly a month ago as a testimonial to a group I am a part of.  I didn’t send it over because I  wasn’t sure where I wanted to go with it.  And then I realized this testimonial works as an expression of happiness, and might be beneficial for me to talk about and for others to see.  So here goes:

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My name is Will O’Connor.  I’m a 32-year-old husband, father of 2, soon to be 3, son, friend, avid reader and aspiring writer.  I’m a fanatic of baseball, and a total junkie for numbers and statistics, although I’m not very competent at higher disciplines of math.  I’m a construction superintendent, and work for a general contractor generally providing supervision and oversight on multi-family projects and light commercial work.  I’ve built apartment buildings as large in scale as 74 units to as small in scale as 3.  I’ve built restaurants.  Most recently I’ve built a pre-engineered metal building housing an expanding indoor soccer facility.  I work in Richmond, Virginia.  I have been here for just over a year, after spending my first 31 in and around Baltimore, Maryland.  I was turned on to the Me.Now.Movement in December of last year by an old friend who aired a podcast with Andrew.  In listening to Andrew and Garrett speak about the movement, I felt the words slide into place in my heart, overlaying on top of what I already knew I wanted but didn’t have the presence of mind to focus on achieving.  Prior to December, I was all of the things I mentioned above.  I loved every single facet of those attributes and labels.  I just didn’t have the vision to structure those components in ways that helped me maximize my potential within each of them.  Primarily, my frustration lied in the competing beliefs that I had to stress my opportunity for growth and advancement professionally, while also knowing that I did not want only one thing to become of me.  I did not, and never have, wanted to round-out skills out in only one arena.  I am intrigued by so many things.  Building is certainly one of them, but it cannot be all that I am.

I like to think in stories and metaphors; to draw the parallels between something easily understood between something far more complex on the surface, yet inherently structurally the same.  I am currently working on my twelfth project as either an assistant superintendent, or superintendent.  Four of those projects have been what are called “gut-rehabs”.  That is to say, we demolish the interior guts of the building, often even items such as the roof, windows and siding, and build back a new system that can further withstand the elements surrounding it.  We upgrade the interior and when all is said and done, a “brand new building” feel is what we strive to provide our clients.  The Me.Now.Movement feels the same way.  It may even go further, to re-frame the interior.  To change the rooms around, maximize the space, provide a new feel to an established building.  Much like the gut-rehabs I sometimes am charged with, The Me.Now.Movement has turned my attention inward; to building new rooms and fresh spaces to explore the passions that lie within me.  To dust off the old plans and revisit them.  To see if they still have a flame, or if relighting that flame will provide a new light by which I can revise old plans and passions into new.

I’m nearly complete with the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman.  I’ve taken in much of the lessons in this book through the Me.Now.Movement lens.  Most notably, I remember feeling moved at Kahneman’s explanation of the availability heuristic.  I’ll paraphrase, but essentially, we have a far greater memory for remembering all of the instances/people we know who have fallen ill or had bad turns of luck than we do for those who moved the jumbled pieces of life around to create something along the lines of the Me.Now.Movement mission.  In so doing, we create an availability heuristic that suggests the construct of the world around us is dark and foreboding.  We perceive that bad things are far more probable to happen than they actually are, simply because our brain stresses the frequency of these sub-optimal outcomes against the non-headline-making news of all the positive forces in our world.  In recognizing this mental flaw we all seem to all possess. I want to combat that heuristic.  I want to create an availability in the memory of my children that reminds them of why we push forward.  I want to create something, in as grand a scale I can muster, that stands against evil acts, and cancer, and tragedy.  I want to nurture that effort and provide a place for discussion as to how each of us can best enforce the real fact that far frequently, good happens in our world than bad.  I want to make it a tangible, living thought, that happiness and living in the Now is not just about occasionally consciously thinking about these abstract ideas.  It’s about creating those moments with purpose.

Much of the tangible product on my journey through the Me.Now.Movement has yet to be defined.  I am only in the brainstorming phase of my journey.  I am still framing the walls, revising the window openings, checking to see which doors need to go where, and which ceilings I can blow out to obtain higher goals.  This revelation is joyful to me, as I can only speculate how passionate I will feel about the movement when I begin to churn out a product that can be witnessed by my family and loved ones.  I would invite anyone who similarly wishes to bring about their best self through happiness and conscientiousness of the value of the present to explore with Andrew, and the community he has built, the potential they have to affect the Me.Now.Movement and the communities to which you belong.  I am confident that, through diligence and commitment, the Me.Now.Movement will help you to reach your old goals, refine the rusty ones into new and improved ideas, and re-frame the interior of your life into bigger, and more purposeful spaces.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Me.Now.Member since December 2016

Memories To Last a Lifetime

I recently read a book by Daniel Kahneman entitled “Thinking Fast and Slow”.  Among various other topics, Kahneman discussed prospect theory and highlighted several times over the benefit of understanding someone’s reference point, which his theory incorporates, over utility theory, which does not take into account the subject’s position when selecting their choice between a sure thing and a gamble.  Essentially, those who are faced between a sure thing and a gamble, elect the sure thing when both outcomes are good; while those faced between a sure thing and a gamble elect the gamble when both outcomes are bad.  Essentially, we hedge our bets so as not to be disappointed with nothing when we could improve our situation, while we gamble on the risk when we have everything to lose.  It has proven true time and time again in economics; and so too does it hold true with behavioral economics.  Kahneman looked closer at how people elect to utilize money and time.  Shockingly, or maybe not so shockingly, a great number of people tested in his analysis over many generations have reported the greatest utility of their time and money is derived from creating memories.  That memory creation creates a lasting impression that goes a great way towards improving our happiness.

As this is a blog about achieving happiness, I find this to be vital information.  I also found myself shaking my head in agreement when he made these points.  Through my own experiences, it is in making of memories that we are able to recall our happiness and utilize it as a means towards furthering that pursuit.  That is to say, memories are fuel for the engine of our lives.  We can use them when our tank is empty to continue forward.  Likewise, when we are at leisure, when we are not necessarily on empty, but just relaxing, we can funnel those memories back into ourselves and reinforce the investments of time and money that we are making.  We receive a hefty return on that investment, because those memories serve as reminders of why we are doing what we are doing; why we push ourselves to success and why we endure stress and strain.  We do it so we can direct ourselves to places where we can enjoy ourselves, and our loved ones, most fully.

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Over the past month, I’ve had the opportunity to collect memories with my family and friends in Charlotte, NC, over father’s day with my family and my brother-in-law, and again at the lake and our house in Richmond with a party of 13, comprising grandparents, parents, siblings, children and friends.  We saw fireworks, grilled, went boating, swimming and rested together.  It wasn’t always perfect, but we left each other with a greater since of pride in belonging to one another.  I’ll draw on those memories in various periods of reflection, reference and re-fueling to encourage my inner self to push for the next opportunity to be so fortunate.  My favorite thing about this past month is that I’ve had an opportunity to enrich my life with the presence of each one of these people; those whom I’ve already come to love are endearingly more so beloved.  I hope I am seen in the same light in each of their eyes.  For that is what is truly important.

These are my people.  They are my tribe.  I love so many others, but I am in love with only them.  They accept me for who I am, support me in who I want to be, and push me to keep a tether between those two things.  Spending time with them is my reference for gauging happiness.  They are my sure things and I’d choose them over anything else I ever had to consider before me.  My month of June was a drastic juxtaposition between being a ball of stress at work and a husband, dad, son and brother outside of it.  I tried hard to be my best self for each of them.  I’m not sure I succeeded, but I gave it my honest best effort.  Hopefully, I’ll be more capable this month than last at achieving that goal, but each and every one of them created a better sense of self within me, and for that I am eternally grateful for the memories we shared and built in June of 2017.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness

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Will O’Connor

Vacation Happiness: From Planning to Action

 

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Greetings, all and Happy 4th of July Weekend! Hopefully it is a time for everyone to take an opportunity to rest from the intense heat, spend time with loved ones, cook and eat, drink and visit.  Most of all, I hope it is a time for everyone to reflect on the amazing benefit we have all had of living in the United States.  We are truly blessed.  I’ll be headed up to the Lake to see a whole slew of family.  At the house will be: my grandmother, my parents, my brother, my sister, my wife and our two (three when you count the baby in her belly) children, my sister-in-law and her boyfriend.  Its going to be a full house! So full, in fact, that half of us will be driving to and from Richmond and Lake Anna on a daily basis as my parents house cannot fit the whole group of us.  I’m so excited to be around all of the people I love so dearly, yet rarely get the opportunity to spend time with.  My parents live in Fairfax, Va.  My sister and brother live in Charlotte.  My sister-in-law and her boyfriend live in New York City and my grandmother lives up near Appleton, Wisconsin.  Having known of this plan for some time, I’ve had plenty of opportunity to envision the fun we’ll have.  Boating, fireworks, the jet ski, crabs, and lounging on the dock.  The anticipation of the event is killing me!

That got me to thinking about my quotient of happiness.  It seems, at times, that I’m happier in the anticipation than I am at the event.  Almost as though anything that crosses wires with the image I had constructed in my head brings my happiness down a notch or two.  I think I’ve always faced this challenge.  I’ve always had problems dealing with events not matching my intentions for them.  It has created issues in the past, and I’ve resolved not to let that happen in the future.  What are some of the ways I plan on doing this? I’ve thought about that.  Here are a few of them.  First, I am going to start by not disturbing myself from dreaming of the endless possibilities we’ll encounter.  I’m not going to sap my happiness of anticipation by not setting hopes for myself.  Second, when I get to the lake, I am going to wipe my goals away through positive thought and earnest investment in the present.  I want to allow for the happiness to unfold before me.  I want for speedbumps to be just that; speedbumps.  I want to interact with those I rarely see with the best me I can possibly muster.  Most importantly, I want to look back on the weekend and recall how awesome that time was, even if it wasn’t necessarily what I had envisioned.

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Although it carries with it many advantages, one of my challenges can be my strong personality.  It steers me well in much of my life.  I am a focused and passionate individual, and I can articulate my wants and plans, but the ability I have to positively influence matters seems to be tethered to an absolute zero value.  That is to say that my personality has the potential to steer things in the exact opposite way, with the same degree of intensity or impact.  Understanding that about myself, my plan is to check in with myself more frequently during the weekend.  To gauge my emotions, determine what corrective action I need to take, and do so within myself, prior to taking others down that road with me.  This plan gives me great happiness! I can already feel a different vibe within myself than I have in similar events in the past.  I am grateful for the frame of mind the Edison Project has provided me.  It has pushed me to search for my means of happiness; and in so doing has highlighted the ways I might increase that feeling across the board.  Many times, simply by removing the negative, we can experience more of the positive.  That is my goal for happiness this weekend; to experience happiness as presently as I can by setting my often minute desires aside, checking in with myself, and removing the negative.  The rest of the trip will take care of itself.  I look forward to touching base on my success with this plan at the Holiday’s end!

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

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Grinding Through the Tough Days

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Today’s post comes with difficulty.  As with other days, I woke up today and have scanned my surroundings, topics that are of interest to me and events that lay ahead.  I’m in a decent mood; not too high and not too low.  But for whatever reason, the agent of happiness within me has alluded my attempt to creatively capture a niche of happiness to allow it to be transformed onto the page.  Having anticipated this event occurring at some point, I began to rifle through my mental Rolodex of places and times I was most happy.  Not being able to effectively conjure any particular story that felt organic or lesson that felt unique, I had to continue to strive towards something that made sense to my overall objective of attaining happiness, a bit at a time.  Finally, it dawned on me: success in happiness is often not a straight line because of these types of days.  Most often, the best thing we can do when we feel droll and dreary is to persevere until we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  And that’s where I found it! My happiness came from my persistence in chipping away at the roadblock in front of me.  Today may not be the best day.  Those days are numbered as we all know.  What gets us from one “best day” to the next “best day” is a series of days in between, whereby we strive to remain positive and look for the break in the clouds

In my last post I talked a bit about my novice stature.  My wife and I spoke about that at length last night.  It was liberating to explain to her that my perspective intentionally comes not as a professional at this happiness thing.  I’m not the world’s best person.  I’m not magical and I don’t live in fairy land.  What makes this project special for me is the practice of it.  Being happy and staying positive is a challenge.  Writing about it is even harder.  There exists quite a list of things that make me happy without having to work up the energy to be so.  There exists also a list nearly as long, filled with items I need to be more positive and happier about.  Or at least complain less therein.  That conversation led me to brainstorm the areas of my life that I’m not as happy about.  Its led me to resolve to post about my progress in those areas nearly as frequently as the areas of my life that are naturally happy and positive.  I think that’s a great thing! I think if I, if we, chose to acknowledge the areas I, we, allow ourselves to be brought down in, we might be more willing to display areas where we’ve shown growth, strength and resolve.  Seems to me that is just as important.

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I always wonder how alone I am in these thoughts.  Are there areas of your life that take extra energy to get up for; to find happiness in? What are some of the best ways you break that dreary streak? How do you acknowledge your imperfections and set goals for their improvements? Where has that taken your journey?

I’m as anxious to learn about your habits and challenges, triumphs and setbacks as I am to communicate mine.  I want to foster an environment of happiness as my penultimate goal, but I also want to discuss the accountability that comes with that effort.  I’d love to hear of recent stories or conversations that left you more resolved and better equipped to achieve your goals.  I’d love to hear how your goals were refined or expanded based on the entrapment you encountered along the way.  Please feel free to leave your comments about that here, or to write to me directly about it.  My contact information is listed and I’m reachable in a manner of different media.  Good luck with your journey forward and thank you for reading more about mine.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Taste And See: The Devotion to Happiness

Several years ago my mother gave me a devotional entitled Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace In His Presence.  It had sat in a bedside table for quite some time.  Not that I wasn’t interested – I just had a devotional that I liked.  Then I determined that it may be time to change it up, go for a different brand of simple thoughts.  I put the devotional in my work bag and brought it out to my job.  It sits on my desk and I take 5 minutes, at no structured point in time, every day to read through it and reflect on the wisdom it espouses.  Today’s was directly in line with the Me.Now.Movement I am involved in, and provides me both peaceful thoughts to implement throughout my day, and reminds me of the importance of living in the present.  Particularly, this passage jumped out at me, “Taste and See That I Am Good.  This command contains an invitation to experience My Living Presence.  It also contains a promise.  The more you experience Me, the more convinced you become of My goodness.  When adversities strike, the human instinct is to doubt My goodness.  Do not try to fathom My ways.  Instead, spend time enjoying Me and experiencing My goodness.”

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I battle with the struggle of perseverance through my own effort while at the same time maintaining my faith that God has a plan for me.  It is difficult to properly balance the two competing thoughts, and is taxing on my happiness.  What does God require of us, in order for us to fulfill His plan for us?  That’s a question that keeps me up at night more than any other.  What helps me to sleep, is that at some point I understand, and its only ever momentarily, that my persistence in holding up my end of the bargain puts me on the path to meeting His plan for me.  That provides me with great happiness and sustenance.  It is only when I encounter my next hurdle where I seem to lose that synergy with God.  And then I am reminded again of it.  In truth, sometimes it takes days, weeks, months – its even taken years, at times, for me to understand that my persistence is the key ingredient to finding my way to His path.  Every day I divert from His plan.  Sometimes it is only momentary.  At other times it is severe.  I don’t post about my devotional to claim my moral and spiritual superiority to others.  Far from it.  I actually believe that my human nature requires my daily devotion to God.  Reading a small passage is but a single step along that line of requirement.  It frames my day for me and instill within me positive thought and a manner by which I can attain happiness.  For as much as we might like to think we can govern our happiness, our true grace and salvation, and therefore our happiness, can come only from God.

Faith has been at times an active, and at others a latent pursuit.  It has always been a medium through which I moved, but was not always something met with my open heart.  There are days it still is not.  Those are the days I need faith, and devotion, all the more.  Those are the days I need my wife and my children to be witnesses of God’s love for me, so that the love I feel in their presence reminds me of something greater.  That is the true gift of God’s love; it can inspire us to remember Him when we are least thinking of Him.

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Today I am thankful for the foundation in faith that my family and friends helped to instill within me.  I am grateful for the walk I am taking through life and through God with my wife.  I am hopeful that I am doing, and will continue to do, the same for my children.  I am happy that Jesus Christ, the Bible and little devotionals like this one came for me, and are provided to me, on a daily basis.  I pray that God’s plan for me has been instilled within me on some level; that the goals and visions I have for myself and my family will be part of God’s plan for me.  These thoughts, and the actions they inspire help me to be reminded of all that I have; through which I can pursue and achieve happiness.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

 

Will O’Connor

Anniversary Edition: Celebrating Happiness Through New Employment Opportunities

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On June 27, 2016, I began my journey from Baltimore, Maryland down to Glen Allen, Virginia to fill out my employment paperwork with The Capstone Contracting Company.  I drove the three hours from the dead of night, knowing I first had to go there before then being assigned to my first post as a Capstone Employee: Williamsburg, Virginia for a week.  By week’s end I would be headed back up to Baltimore to pack up our house and officially move down to Midlothian, Virginia.  Midlothian is a wonderful little suburb that reminds me of home in its construct and has more than enough green space to grow into whatever it will become.

My experience with Capstone Contracting has been a prosperous one.  I made the decision to begin my Virginia tenure with Capstone because I saw in their outfit the same talent and desire for growth that I saw in my former firm when making that selection.  I was as lucky then as I am now, having moved from one place of support and family culture to the next.  There were a dozen places I could have landed.  I feel lucky I was able to have a choice, and even more lucky to have gone with my gut in making the decision I made.

In my time with Capstone I have been on five projects.  Only three of whom would actually go on my resume, for the other two were quick-stint assignments to fill in for other superintendents on vacation, before my final landing place opened up.  They have largely been multi-family, although my last one was a light commercial expansion project with a pre-engineered metal building to encompass two large soccer fields, with a smaller one against it.  I have been fortunate to be surrounded by some of the kindest professionals I have ever met.  They have welcomed me into the fold, shared the ins and outs of the local jurisdictions, eateries and events in and around the city.  I have formulated professional relationships with many, and friendships with more than I expected.  Most recently I have been tasked with my company’s first project on campus at the University of Richmond in some time.  We are growing together and I am excited by the growth opportunities I have seen, both for myself, and for Capstone as a whole.

I have been given the freedom to succeed and the support to fall back on when subcontractors proved difficult, or family events needed tending to.  As the first of hopefully many years to come, I intend on understanding the limits of my drive and capabilities, and hope to continue to have their trust.  On my one year anniversary, I am grateful to include the Capstone Contracting Company on my ever-growing list of What Happiness Means to Me.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’ConnorEdisonProject4

For Love of the Game

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The simplest way for me to immediately realize happiness is to walk through the turnstiles of a baseball stadium.  From an early age, baseball was not just a beautiful game played between two lines and a wall with dirt paths and bases; it was a way for me to bond with my father, a way for simple excitement to meet athleticism and strategy.

The first baseball game I ever attended was an Orioles game at Memorial Stadium in the late 1980s.  While I don’t remember that game, I do remember one or two games at Memorial Stadium was closed.  My first memory brings me great happiness.  It was the 1991 season, the last at Memorial Stadium.  In that game, I remember Cal Ripken Jr. hitting a 3-run Home Run.  It was an MVP season for Cal – his second of his career.  What I remember more is watching my father pump his fist in a circular motion, chanting “Woo-Woo-Woo-Woo!!,” while doing it.  It was the first of many times I would emulate my father on or around the diamond.  I can remember, clear as day, the look on his face when he watched me do the same motion, albeit most likely in a severely inferior way. The smile and laughter he shared with me that night is the perfect illustration of my love for baseball.  Baseball is pure.  Simple.  Yet ultra complicated. A man stands on a mound of dirt 60’6″ from a man holding a bat.  The pitcher has learned to throw the ball in a manner of different ways that make the ball move in different trajectories.  He has an invisible box he must put that ball in, and the batter must choose, very quickly, whether or not the pitch being offered is worthy of a swing.  When he swings, he can hit the ball with all of his might and still be unsuccessful.  He might also swing and miss.  He might even still swing and barely hit the ball, and still be successful.  Every pitch presents a myriad of variables resulting in unique plays and situations where the victor is often the team that handles the situations presented them with the better combination of skill and preparation.  Baseball can be played on the most pristine of fields, or in a parking lot.  As we see in photographs around the world, it is played with all manner of adaptations to balls, sticks and gloves.  But that is all you need to play.  A ball, a stick, and 9 gloves.

 Baseball gives us amazing venues, stars and highlight reel plays to visit, gawk over and spend countless hours debating at the water cooler.  It also gives us tee-ball, Memorial Day All-Star game tournaments, reasons to see friends and loved ones.  Baseball gives more than it takes, which is why it is affectionately dubbed America’s past-time.  Its been played since Reconstruction and unites more people to a common passion than at anytime before.  Only soccer and cricket eclipse it on the chart of world’s most popular sport.  Baseball is the unspoken bond between father and son, brother and brother, and groups of boys everywhere just hoping to one day actually hit that bases loaded, full count, two out Grand Slam with a three-run deficit in the bottom of the ninth, with the crowd going wild.  Baseball is a real-life event that translates miraculously into fantasy with very little coaxing or prodding.  And for each of these things, it is a bottomless well of happiness for all who seek to be immersed in the present, playing games of the past.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

 

 

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The Edison Project: Stepping Onto the Road

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Happiness as a Journey: The Comings and Goings to Home

I’ve been scanning the far reaches of my brain, and the internet today in preparation for my preliminary launch of The Edison Project.  Determined to start my journey today, I looked at a “On This Date in History” page and was delighted to see that, (Fictionally) on this date, in 1342, Bilbo Baggins returned to Bag-End after his epic journey through middle earth to rid the world of the terror of Smaug.  The Hobbit was one of my favorite books as a child.  It provided me with adventure, intrigue, just the right amount of fear, and happiness in the end that Bilbo and the rest of his company was successful in their mission.  Bilbo is a lesson to all the hidden blessings that can be found in being disadvantaged.  Dismissed at first for his stature, Bilbo was a critical component of this story.  He was utilized on missions where others would not have been capable and succeeded not in spite of his size; often it was because of it.

So too, are we the disadvantaged.  Be it in one way or another; we are counted out of contention in pursuit of our goals for one attribute or another that disqualifies us from being the ideal candidate.  Our resume, our schedule demands, our intelligence against the perceived minimum required IQ to accomplish such lofty goals.  No matter what they are, none of us are alone in the feeling that we are battling not just our challenges, but the odds others have stacked against us.  But it is in the pursuit of these goals that we find we are able to analyze our challenges and surmount them in various ways.  Diligence, persistence, resourcefulness – these are among only a few of the many talents we can hone just through effort that can propel us beyond the limits we initially set for ourselves.  There is no doubt that Bilbo saw many of these attributes sharpened along the way.  It is in his return to the Shire that he can finally come apart and recuperate from his taxing journey – but we also see something else after the culmination of his trek.  We find Bilbo, years later, to be spiteful of the lack of further adventure in his life.  He jokes about wanting to be left alone; but it is to brood about, not to rest and relax.  Happiness, for many of us, is directly tied to the continuation of experiencing life on the edge.  For each of us, that edge is different.  Some create an edge that is very literally untraveled by those before them.  Others prefer slightly less rare, but equally new adventures, that require growth, perseverance, spiritual interconnectedness and reliance upon community, or family.  These are accomplished in various ways, with mixed results, often requiring we start back again from the beginning, or to resume the journey after its been too long since last we honestly put forth the effort.

Happiness, for me, is an intersection of numerous variables.  My project is about the multitude of ways I’ve been able to find happiness, in hopes its conjures new ways, and provides sustenance to my soul at a depth I’ve never before encountered.  In the experiments to come, I hope to write about my family, my faith, my country, my friends, my work, my hobbies and my dreams.  I hope to come across new topics to determine more fully from where I derive my happiness, in hopes that I can manufacture those opportunities with greater frequency.  I hope to sponsor a space where others can spend some time to think and challenge themselves, and in turn, me.  I hope to foster discussion in a positive direction and I hope to sustain this project with new and innovative measures towards the end of creating and maintaining the happiest life I could possible experience.  I hope to have you join me on this quest.  May we return home together – but only for as long as we need to recover before beginning our next adventure.

Yours in Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

An August Whirlwind

Welcome back! To both you and me.  I’ve been absent from my blog, among many other things, this month, due to a confluence of things.  A windfall of blessings has come my way over the course of the past few weeks.  Several I thought I would share; intended on sharing at the time(s) but the extra effort necessary to install them here properly required my attention might be diverted elsewhere.  So here I am, back now, with the time, energy and perspective to share:

Personally: August is filled with incredible moments for me.  Landmark events that are keystones to the perception I have of myself.  August 7th marked the 8th Anniversary of my sobriety and abstinence from alcohol.  Those who know me know that for the years usually earmarked for social drinking, my habits ranged from average among my peer group: recreational yet qualifying in the binge-drinking category, to excessive with respect to the dream and goals I said I had for myself.  From 16 to 24 years of age, I put more energy into fulfilling my weekend (or even weeknight) plans than I do into fulfilling my long-term plans.  I was upside-down on life.  I was mortgaging my future with a present I didn’t have the planning funds to defer.  When I finally realized it, I found myself standing in the middle of my childhood bedroom, a 24-year-old man, knowing with ever fiber of my being that I’d undoubtedly push away everyone I ever loved, or that ever loved me, should I continue down the path I was on.  Under the only epiphany I’ve ever experienced, I vowed then and there to my girlfriend, now wife, that I was done with alcohol.  I did this under a considerably high level of intoxication, unprovoked, while certainly not unwarranted, and my wife tells me often of the skepticism with which she approached the topic the following day – uncertain of the level of commitment, or even the level of memory, I had to my statement.  The result has been the single most stable era of my life.  While there have been considerable valleys, they are attributable to other, more common deficiencies among humans.  The peaks have been exponentially more resounding within my soul than the lows.  This fact serves to propel me further; to ask myself what more I can tackle – where else is there room on my plate?  I’m far from efficient in carrying these items to their fruition, but the my sobriety has brought me to closer relationships and a greater level of achievement in my endeavors.

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Since the first week of December of last year, I’ve been eagerly anticipating the birth of my third child.  On August 9th, Eve Corinne O’Connor entered the world a very pink and healthy baby.  We’re in love with Eve and eager to get to know her.  We believe Eve will settle in perfectly with our young family and her big brother and sister have already fallen for her.  Eve was also born via C-Section, a first for our family.  We had to make that decision rather quickly, as it was discovered that my wife had contracted Chorioamnionitis during labor, the same infection that forced my first daughter to be born with the aid of a vacuum.  My wife was not as far along with Eve as she was with Quinn by the time the infection was noted, which reduced our options to either waiting an hour and having no choice but to have a C-Section, or to schedule one immediately.  We chose the latter, and at 10:00 PM sharp, we became parents for a third time.  I’ve never had the experience of incorporating a new family member while also nursing my wife back to health.  Both of our previous babies left my wife sore, but surgery had never been a requirement.  While my daughter is essentially exclusively dependent on my wife, my wife and my older two kids are essentially exclusively dependent upon me.  My blessings and my requirements multiply.  In the end, I’m in love with another beautiful, healthy girl and I’ve now tacked the 9th onto a growing list of circled dates in the month of August.

Professionally: The past 12 weeks have been a blur, without the added content above.  I was assigned to a project at the University of Richmond, starting May 15th.  While not a complicated job, having only 12 weeks to renovate 14 apartments is challenging.  When the permitting process takes two weeks longer than you anticipated, it really becomes more like 10.  What results is the necessity to open the job for all possible hours of the week.  Twelve hour days become the norm and seven days a week become the only way you are going to steal back that time; because the University has students coming and they’ve hired your firm to deal with the speed-bumps along the way.  Typically, from the time drywall is first hung in a unit, there is 45-60 days before it can be turned over.  We did it in 28.  It was grueling, especially given my wife’s pregnancy and the attention two toddlers need at home.  How my wife was able to stick out her end of this deal is as impressive as the feat we pulled off.  On August 8th, the day prior to my wife’s scheduled induction, we obtained our Certificate of Occupancy and met our goal.  It wasn’t an epic trail because it wasn’t long enough to be, but those six weeks where I spent half of the time existing in a week at my project was a test I was proud to measure up to.

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Culturally:  I made the decision to spend what free time I did have not stuck in front of a TV, but inside of a book.  Over the past two weeks I’ve read two books, together completely opposite on the spectrum from one another, increasing their yield ten-fold: Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell and When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi.  1984 hardly needs an interlude.  I read this book this year, for the first time, in part because of the political allusions many on the left made to this book with the incoming Presidency of Donald Trump.  While I can’t personally draw any parallels to this presidency that don’t uniquely reside within his administration, there are countless specific pieces of information that certainly create internal dialogue about our awareness of ourselves as it relates to what we can verify along international comparisons, roles of various agencies within our government, etc.  I found it to be excellently written and Orwell is doubtless prophetic in his analysis of how powerful people retain their power.  Kalanithi and When Breath Becomes Air is perhaps the most moving, powerful memoir I’ve ever read.  Granted I’m on maternity leave, but I devoured this book in two days and am currently grieving a loss I never knew I experienced until I picked up the book.  I haven’t determined an exact means of expanding his legacy in my own right, but the phrase he borrowed from Samuel Beckett “I can’t go on, I’ll go on,” is sure to be at the heart of my effort.

Taken as a whole, the first half of August has been an excellent few weeks.  I’ve been afforded the opportunity, in countless avenues of my life to stop and reflect on What Happiness Means to Me.  I’ve been able to add to my understanding of what makes a life worth living, and how to live those values in the moment. Moreover, I’ve gained more clarity as to how my values can vary from those dearest to me without their values being in direct conflict with mine.  As I’ve known, but strengthened my knowledge in, one’s values creates their identity and provides them with a guide as how to best live their life going forward in the most beneficial way to the world possible.  While there are, and will always be, those who act counter to the best interests of the world, it is our charge to filter those actions through our values and respond in the most effective way possible.  Not just to shout down hatred and violence and bigotry and regression.  But to reinforce the hopefully expanding trend of creating as much freedom and opportunity for the most amount of people possible; so that happiness can be found and meaning explored by all who wish to pursue it.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor

Current Events: A Break from My Standard

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I created this blog not to comment on social or political matters, but rather to share experiences which, I hope, can be shared by others and lead to a more positive overall approach to this world.  Occasionally I will break from that stride to address matters I believe to be of great importance.  Some of these will be conservative stances, others more moderate.  I do not subscribe to a particular party line.  I believe each person ought to formulate for themselves the most logical set of beliefs and incorporate how these beliefs affect the world as a whole, prior to solidifying them.

The President, and the military, are front and center this week.  After decades of specifically banning trans-gendered people from serving in the military, President Obama passed into law a bill that provided protection for, and even medical treatment to, people in the military who believe themselves to be trans-gendered.  Just yesterday, President Trump reinstated the ban on the trans-gendered entering, or continuing to serve in the military.

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The American Psychological Association holds that gender dysphoria is a mental illness.  This is an important distinction, because the same Association is held as the standard-bearer for other ailments, diseases and illnesses that would disqualify an applicant from serving in the military.  Given the vast amount of research the individuals belonging to this Association have put into the work that they publish, it raises a very fair question about how we are to approach the trans-gendered in the military; Should a person affected with an illness be allowed to bypass the application process on the grounds that it is discriminatory to do so?  The follow-up questions are:

  • Does the nature of the physical, mental and emotional requirements of the military provide a need for the military to restrict admission to the military based on affliction of diseases, ailments and illnesses?
  • Does the military, as a government entity, have the right to be discriminatory if they believe that such afflictions negatively impact performance in such a high-stress field?

I believe that both questions need to be properly answered before we, as a populous, bring forth a suit against the government, and the President specifically.  I’ve seen people in droves, on both sides of the aisle, publish their feelings on this most recent ban.  I believe all of these defenses and outcries are premature.  My general feeling is complicated, because there are multiple layers of privilege and benefits that are bestowed upon our military, and multiple layers of privilege and benefits that are heretofore to be revoked from a specific demographic of the United States population.  Namely, the distinction of having served in the defense of our great nation, being chiefly among them.  Secondly, items such as the GI Bill, bestowed upon all, and sex-change operations, bestowed upon the trans-gendered, are privileges set to be revoked from a certain group of people.  These people have done nothing specifically to deserve this revocation, but stand in possession of a form of disorder, no matter which way you slice it, that is akin to color blindness, AIDS, amputation and a myriad of other disabilities or illnesses that preclude one from serving.

Initially, I believe the assessment to bar those possessing gender dysphoria from the military to be a wise one.  I’ve searched my feelings on this since the announcement was made.  Am I making this determination based upon hatred of a group that I seek, even subconsciously, to marginalize? Am I uninformed on the challenges that a trans-gendered person might face in the wake of a sex-change operation with regards to their capacity to discharge their duties? Am I making this decision based upon pre-formed opinions? I’m still grappling with those questions.  I don’t have a solidified set of answers.  But I do believe that until we address the first three questions I posed at the top of this blog, that we have a duty as citizens to uphold and support this ban.  Should there be data to prove the ability of a trans-gendered person capable of discharging said duties on a level consistent with those not trans-gendered, then I believe that there ought to be some capacity in which this group of people ought to be included.

This would then raise the question about whether or not medical benefits bestowed upon armed service members or veterans should include sex-change operations.  On this topic I am decidedly more conservative.  I do not believe that the taxpayers of the United States ought to foot the bill for such a procedure.  On this, I don’t believe data ought to be the prevailing factor.  Sure, a total value should be presented to the legislature so that a quantitative value can be placed when making the decision, but I think that the government paying for sex-change operations, hormonal replacement procedures, and all other associated forms of medical services is not a wise decision.

I am trying to fathom a medical procedure that is provided for armed services members or veterans at the cost of the public treasury, but to date cannot find one.  If a combat veteran is wounded in the line of fire, skin graphs, plastic surgery, prosthesis, general surgery etc. may be required in order to provide that serviceman or woman a semblance of their former selves, but this is caused by combat, not by a mental illness.  There are no other mental illnesses which are treated by the government, at cost to the tax-payer, without being inflicted during battle, to my knowledge.  Unless that basis of knowledge is amended by proof of pre-existing mental illnesses being treated by the government, at cost to the tax-payer, I believe we have precedent to uphold this ban and continue forward searching for the best and most capable citizens to serve our great nation.  I continue to believe we have the freedoms and privileges we do as a direct result of the courage, bravery and sacrifices bestowed upon us by our incomparable military.

I look forward to getting back to topics of observed and experienced happiness, and hope we all do the same as often as humanly possible.

Yours in the Pursuit of Happiness,

Will O’Connor