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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5.25.16
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

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

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

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