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

 

 

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