Finding Your Value – A Surprising Journey

“What is something about you that would surprise people?”

This is a basic question, yet one that is difficult to answer. This was a question that was posed as part of a staff training/orientation at work a week ago. As I thought of how to answer this question, hundreds of thoughts popped into my head – none of them the truly correct answer. As I sat with two colleagues, all I could think of were things that they already knew about me. I’m a farmer. I’m a business owner. I write lyrics and poetry. I’m a Sport Management alum and a former land surveyor. I am a sibling and a Personal Care Attendant.

What escaped me in that moment was the true answer. An answer that never came to fruition, yet was born from a spirit within me – the need, the desire to make a difference. What I should have answered with is an answer that those reading this may have heard me allude to in passing.

The answer that I should have given was that in my Senior year of college, as I was searching for jobs, I entered into a two month period where I was in contact with a United States Marine Corps recruiter and was seriously considering joining the military. Go ahead – laugh. I know that for more than a few people, the idea of Kushi – the one teachers called “church mouse” when he was younger due to his shyness – being a Marine is likely an amusing image. I’ll admit, it can be. Needless to say, that is not the path that was ultimately journeyed. And while that likely fits the bill in answering the question posed above, it does lead to another interesting discussion. Why? Why did that idea appeal to me?

Well, to start, there is this now legendary commercial:

I have watched this commercial many times. On top of the fact that there is messaging present – I have noticed something more. Look at what they are trying to portray – drive, grit, courage, selflessness, dedication. These are all virtues that we strive to have and to achieve. I know that they are virtues that I have always sought to have and be seen as having, whether I knew it or not. What can all of these virtues lead to? What does the life of a Marine have implied meaning of? MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

My whole life, I have had a need to make a difference or feel like I am making a difference. Most of us do. My problem was that I didn’t know how.  I was the one who didn’t always know which course of action to take and didn’t always have the confidence to do so when I knew how. The thing about not knowing how to do something is that you don’t know that you can do it until you do. I was a shy kid, yet I somehow found it in me to stand up for my brother. Suddenly, that shy kid who wrote for the school newspaper figured out that he could stand up for his brother who had disabilities and lead a fight again the use of the word “retard” in an offensive manner by writing an article about it. Oh, I pissed some classmates off, but I stood up and delivered for what I knew what was right. The same goes for when it was graduation time. My brother stayed in the school system until the age of 21 and that was it. No ceremony or acknowledgement like he deserved. He deserved that honor as much as his little brother did. When all was said and done and I had had a few conversations with the Principal, my brother received a certificate just as I did. These tasks were accomplished because I stood up for what I thought was right and I sought to make a difference and better the lives of a fellow person.

In my professional life, I have had to rely on these virtues as well. I have served as a town board member, a town athletics coach and started/operated my own business along with a winding career path that led to some tough lessons in my 20’s. I have had to have drive and grit to make it. Some of this drive and grit is a part of who I am and some of it has been inspired by the ideals that I value – such as the ones displayed in the Marine Corps commercial. Sometimes, I have a tendency to try and go above and beyond what may be expected of me on paper. This goes back to who I am and what I value. Maybe deep down, I want to be the personification of that Marine in that commercial. You may not expect the extra effort from me to get the job done but I do. Anything less, effort-wise on my part, is failure to do the best that can be done to get the job done.  I think that most of us have that mentality, that – when we are playing our hand – we want to be the toughest son of a gun on the field. We want to be that good co-worker that helps get the job done for our team; that person who can look in the mirror and say “I have done everything in my power to get the job done and make a difference. No one can say that I have not worked hard enough.”  We all have that in us, whether you are a natural go-getter or whether you are someone who was accused of being a timid church house. When the cards are on the table, you have the ability to do something and make a difference, so long as you work hard, are selfless and are willing to go above and beyond what is expected and what you think you can do.

The lesson to be learned here is that no matter who you are, you can make a difference. You can be an inspiration. You can be a person of honor and dignity. The road will not always be easy and there will be some rough roads that are journeyed, but you can make it. If you have grit, drive, the ability to follow your moral compass and the courage to follow your heart, you can make a difference in this world and in others lives. If you ever doubt that, just remember a line from the movie Fievel Goes West: “I don’t know what’s out there beyond those hills, but if you ride yonder, head up, eyes steady, heart open, I think one day you’ll find that you’re the hero you’ve been lookin’ for.”

To answer the question that opened this discussion, maybe the fact that I once had the idea of the Marine Corps appeal to me isn’t what the most surprising thing about me was. Maybe it’s the journey that took place within my own self that showed me that I could make a difference – no matter how small. Perhaps, this journey that each individual goes through at some point in their life in discovering their difference making value is the most surprising thing that we don’t know about a person. 

Human Exploration – Our Future and a Tribute to Apollo 11

“Twenty seconds and counting. T minus 15 seconds, guidance is internal. Twelve, 11, 10, 9, ignition sequence starts. 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, all engine running, liftoff. We have a liftoff, 32 minutes past the hour. Liftoff on Apollo 11.”

It has been fifty years – July 1969 – since Apollo 11 lifted off from Florida to not only visit the Moon but to land on it and became the first inhabitants of the human race to step foot on the Moon and into the ledgers of history. Fifty years ago, Neil Armstrong, “Buzz” Aldrin and Michael Collins departed the comforts of the land we call Earth and rocketed through grips of the atmosphere, strapped to the top of a Saturn V rocket. Armstrong and Aldrin became the first members of the human race to set foot upon our moon and to collect artifacts from the lunar surface that provided the true treasure provided by the trip – educational knowledge. Yes, a lunar landing was a political goal as well, but it accomplished so much more than that. It’s incredible when you stop and think about it. This great feat of human achievement was brought about by advances in technology, the hard work of the human mind and a dream that was based partly in the goal of advancing civilization through educational knowledge.

Lately, I have noticed an uptick of programming concentrated around our past lunar activity. Some have not realized this milestone anniversary coming up. And there are, of course, those who were glued to their TV screens, when a soft-spoken yet accomplished astronaut/engineer named Neil Armstrong stepped off of the LEM and onto the surface of the Moon.

Many found it ironic that Armstrong was the one to make history, yet fitting as well. Armstrong was certainly more than accomplished but seen as a serious man who was drawn more to the engineering and piloting aspects of being an astronaut than the hype that such an explorer tended to carry.

Why do I mention this? In a time where we see hard times are seeing both good times and bad times of the human condition here on Earth, there are many who question the worth of further human exploration. “We have enough issues here!”, some say. True – point taken. In addition to all of the good stories of human accomplishment that we bear witness to, we also bear witness to a great number of tragedies that come from a society made up of imperfect beings – war, food insecurity, poverty, crime and health epidemics to name a few.

However, that is not a reason to halt the advancement of civilization. Human civilization has always gone forward based on the advances of human achievement, accomplished through some mode of exploration. At one time in history, farming was an unknown frontier to be explored. So too were the seas that had yet to be sailed upon and the lands that were unknown to human eyes. Yes, even the skies were once an unknown world. Yet, we – the human race – explored them and found out what the fish saw in the waters and what the birds saw in the skies. We relied upon our intuitive skills and our technology on hand to gain the greatest treasure of all – educational knowledge. This knowledge was then used to make the human condition better and advance civilization forward. How can we stop this now? Are we to let the sadness of imperfections rule our future kingdoms? How do we keep advancing should we stop? No. We must continue exploring – whether that be more of the skies, space and ocean waters to other elements of this world that we are only just discovering. That is how we survive and sustain the human race and civilization.

The second reason I mention the Apollo 11 mission is in regards to the human element. There were those who questioned why mankind was doing this at all. Remember this – human accomplishment is nothing without the people who do the work. Those who have achieved much in this world and who have “made history” have been people, just like you and I. These people made a difference. So can you and I. We have many new frontiers before us, some known and some unknown. One of our new frontiers is continuing to gain educational knowledge with the aid of technology, whether that be in training others in a classroom, in a lab or by exploring in the field. The one common factor is that this work will be done by humans, whether by our hands our programmed into some form of artificial intelligence.

I make this point and this reference to a historical milestone that occurred 50 years ago for this reason – we are all capable of accomplishing something and leaving a mark in history. Whether it be in your family, by serving on a town/city committee or serving in some other capacity, we all have the ability to make a difference, just as the crew members and members of Mission Control did on the historic exploration feat that occurred 50 years ago this July.

No matter what you do in this life, do it well. Make a difference. Be the difference.

Wind In My Sail

Through the sky
Flying so high.
And across the ocean waters
Sailing on to new horizons.
I sit and watch you soar,
Flying high above it all.
Inspiration comes and inspiration goes.
What will touch us no one knows.

Do you know how much you mean to me?
To the world, you may only be one person
But you are a hero to me.
I close my eyes and feel your strength.
You inspire me and lift me up
When I stumble and falter.
You are the strength that I want to be.

Do you know how much you inspire me
And how much I look up to you?
I can fly like the eagle and reach great heights
But what does it mean if you aren’t there with me?
What would it mean without your support to guide me?
Just like a stream guiding the water to the ocean
You are the wind in my sail.

So, lay me down
As I dream of wearing my crown.
The world at my fingertips –
But what would it mean without your support
As I set sail towards my horizon?

Do you know how much you inspire me
And how much I look up to you?
I can fly like the eagle and reach great heights
But what does it mean if you aren’t there with me?
What would it mean without your support to guide me?
Just like a stream guiding the water to the ocean
You are the wind in my sail.

IMG_5156

Exploring Old Frontiers – Discovering The Keys To The Future

The vastness of the sky. The mystical aura of the Moon. The silent yet entrancingly alive depths of the ocean. What life exists in these areas? What mysteries are still to be uncovered in these frontiers? What more can humans learn of the unknown frontiers that exist before us? The sky. The Moon. The waters of our lakes and oceans. As a human race, we have seemingly explored these frontiers. Indeed, we have traveled places that seemingly no other has gone and conducted experiments to help us understand these worlds that we co-exist within yet still seek to understand. What impact and benefits can be gained from understand and, perhaps, finding new ways to live with and among these frontiers? Do you notice all of the questions here? Questions represent unanswered facts – facts that can advance our understanding of the world that we live in and how we can co-exist with it. You see, we may have seemingly explored our frontiers – the elements of the world that we live within. But, there is more to explore – more to learn. We must learn to co-exist with and respect the parts of our world and universe that we operate within along with figure out ways to utilize those frontiers in a beneficial way at the same time.

As a student of history, the motivating factors behind the exploration of what have been deemed “new frontiers” have long fascinated me. Those who made these journeys sought answers to unasked questions. They sought, whether cognizant of it or not, to help the world understand the elements and environments around them better. With this understanding comes the ability to respect that new frontier – to understand it and respect it. Along with this also comes knowledge of how to potentially co-exist within that environment and benefit from it. We must be careful, though. The unwise destroy worlds while the wise accomplish one goal while sustaining the natural environment. Either way, we still have much to learn. Our journey into what is possible has only just begun.

It seems that we still have much to benefit from in the future exploration of the frontiers that we have already explored. That is because we have explored them superficially. I see three different areas where exploration of the world around us can still be a relevant, and even a necessary, endeavor. While you can likely, and can, think of more, these are ones that stick out to me.

First, we are always expanding our knowledge based by learning new things. No one man nor woman can claim to all about any subject. That simply is not realistic or human. Though we strive for it, perfection is not attainable. Thus, if we are not perfect, we must have room to improve, grow and learn. We must learn to respect and not drastically alter the landscape of the world that we operate within in regards to its natural essence.

Nothing points to this fact more than our societal lack of the world around us. If we had no more to learn, our waters would all be clean and pure, pollution would not exist and we would not have things such as endangered species list. Clearly, we have more to learn about and from in regards to our frontiers.

Second and third, not only do we need to learn more about the environment around us – we need to learn to co-exist among these frontiers. Now, this is where the waters may seem to deviate from the standard view and become murky. As humans, we have certain needs. Our frontiers can help us obtain some of our basic needs through co-existing. Now, how does that work? Point 1 in this article mentions understanding our environment and respecting it. How does that work with utilizing our environment to benefit us? Through very careful and strategic planning. It will require social responsibility, common sense, humanity, empathy and ethical behavior.

So, how do we meet our basic needs through exploration of the frontiers of our world? The answer is through continued exploration and understanding of the world around us. As humans, we struggle with sustainable resource production – namely food security and space. We also struggle with distribution centers and deserts for resources. As we expand our horizons, we can use our frontiers in two ways – so long as it is done in a respectful, non-damaging, sustainable manner.

Think about it. We have and continue to explore outer space, new planets along with the depths of our oceans. Humans are making these journeys along with their human needs. We need to figure out how to produce food and resources to sustain them along with communities – livable to humans as well as those native to the environment. On the other hand, we are always striving to better ourselves and our society and world. Space and food/resources. Do the answers lie within exploring the vast skies of space and the depths of our waters? Can these areas support production centers or communities in a sustainable manner? How did these places come into existence to start with and how can we better understand them to answer the questions that I am asking? Future exploration is the key.

The desire to explore and the ability to learn have long been among our most endearing qualities. They are qualities that have allowed us to survive thus far, despite our darker notions attempts to reach out extinguish our own fires. Exploring new frontiers, learning from them, respecting them and understanding how to live amongst them has been how we have moved the needle forward in the past and is the answer to how we advance ourselves and sustain our world in the future.

Serving Your Community – A Higher Calling

Making a difference. Many times, it may seem that making a large difference upon the world around us is meant for other people – people more gifted than us – but most certainly not us. How wrong we are should we allow our thoughts to be shaped in that manner. We can all make a difference if we try. President John F. Kennedy once stated, “One person can make a difference, and everyone should try.”

This statement is true. We all can be destined to make a difference, no matter how small that difference may seem. Many of us carry the titles of family member, citizen, brother, sister, mother, father, son, daughter. Just by existing in this role, as long as we are trying to live a good and decent life, we are making a difference. How else can we make a difference? The answer is surprisingly simple. In our community. Be a force of good in your community. Communities are bonded and made up of people, the same as you and I. Volunteer for a committee, express interest in being appointed to a tow or city board. Run for a municipal office. To make a difference in regard to the society in which you live in and to impact policy relating to the community that you call home, you do not need to be an orator, a mighty crusader or a larger than life figure. You can be yourself and represent your community.

I know of many people who have done this in my community and in the surrounding towns where I live. These people inspire me and drive me to be better. These people impact the world, even if only in a seemingly small world. However, what may seem small and insignificant to one person may mean the world to another. I know that in my own experience, serving the public in the role of serving in town government is one way that I try to make a difference.

When I graduated from Graduate School in 2013, I felt compelled to give back to the community that had raised me. Perhaps it was the fact that I had just earned a Masters in Public Policy and Administration. Perhaps I felt the call of a higher calling. I knew that I was not going to go to Washington D.C. and make a difference. I knew that my public policy path would not lead me to being the next Kennedy or Bush and that my words would not leave a mark on society like Martin Luther King Jr. or any other great figure in history. Rather, my path was going to be distant. My path was going to follow that of my fellow towns-people in Hadley, the local storekeeper or farmer who stood up and delivered on what they believed was right and stood for the residents of the communities that they call home.

My conviction that I could make a difference in this world, no matter how small, by participating in my community, led me to some unique opportunities that I am proud of. From 2012 on, yes – this started prior to my Graduate school graduation, I have served the town of Hadley, MA in a few different roles.

From 2012-2016, I served the Hadley Park and Recreation Department as the Instructional Youth Sport Coordinator/Head Coach for T-Ball, Soccer and Basketball. The Athletic Coaching Manual that can be found on this website here is part of that legacy. That website is Matt Kushi’s Athletic Coaching Lessons at www.mattkushicoaching.com. This was a project started during my time at Hadley Park and Recreation and continues to this day, perhaps in a future role within that department.

In 2013/2014, I served on the Hopkins Academy 350th Anniversary Committee, helping celebrate Hadley’s public high school – and my high school alma mater – celebrate a milestone anniversary and promote the value of an education.

From 2014 to the present day, I have served on the Hadley Agricultural Commission.  Currently, I am the Chair of the Commission. This Commission has been a piece of work that I am extraordinarily proud of, given Hadley’s agricultural status. When I first joined, I did not realize that the Commission had been dormant for 10 years. I was quickly named the Chair and the past few years have been spent making the Commission active and bringing it back from the dead. I am proud to announce that we have completed such initiatives such as taking part in a regional Agricultural Commission educational workshop and that we are currently working on other initiatives and education opportunities, such as promoting the Right To Farm Bylaw and helping support local agricultural events.

Have I helped make difference? I would like to think so. Occasionally, I will get stopped in town and asked about Hopkins Academy or agricultural matters in town. To some, I am still known as Coach Matt from Hadley Park and Recreation. Have the committees I have worked with made a difference? Yes. Taking part in the workings of our community, whether volunteer, appointed or elected, allows you to serve your community and make a difference in your community, one life at a time.

 Robert F. Kennedy once said, “Few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.” If you want to make a difference in the lives of others, no man nor woman is too small for the task. Every person can make a difference – it is just a matter of believing that you can and making the effort. If you want to make a difference in your community, always remember that you can serve your community in many ways. My story reminds of me this. My friend’s story and experiences remind me of this.  You can make a difference. You will make a difference.

Empowering Others: Offering a Helping Hand

A young boy sits on the curbside of a filthy street, a run-down home belonging to a single mother in the background. A girl is working her third straight shift, trying to make ends meet. She is too poor to move away but yet can’t make enough money to stay. A man walks the streets. Down on his luck, he wonders when something will break his way. A woman looks at a photo of her two kids that she never sees. She works all day – all night. She hopes one day that they will understand why. In another day, another place, nothing would be out of the ordinary about these people – all good people. However, due to circumstance or just seemingly having life pass them by, they are down on their luck and they question their hope for the future.

All of these stories are fiction yet fact. They do not allude to one singular event, but rather the collective events that happen in the corners that we don’t see or do not look to find every day. What gets missed is the fundamental idea that each person has value to them. Each person is someone. They only have to believe it. By having more individuals who believe in themselves, we can perhaps better our world – even if only by a small amount. This is done through empowering people to believe in themselves and allowing our humanity to be a guiding force in larger decisions, such as policies aimed at preventing instances of inequality and unequal opportunity.

The power of self-belief and knowing that those around you care about you and see the worth in you is a powerful tonic to the human condition. While there are lost souls in this world and not all people have goodness in their hearts, there are many who do. Yet they live in a world that was depicted above. Many have become lost souls who have had their potential imprisoned under the guard of lost hope. Maybe that hope, that potential only needs to be unlocked. Maybe that person only needs an opportunity where they can see the light and look yonder to the edge of the horizon. Maybe once they see that horizon and what lies beyond it, they will see their worth and spread their wings and fly.

The person who believes in themselves and uses the power that they find within themselves is a strong person. There is a line from a movie I once saw that I feel sums this up, where one character realizes that he and those around him are stronger than they appear. In fact, he realizes that by believing in themselves, those who are oppressing them know that they are powerful as well.

The lesson to be learned here is that when others give us the opportunity to grow and we discover how to believe in ourselves, we are stronger than the force that seemingly keeps us locked within its walls. We are strong enough to break those chains and spread our wings and fly. Hopefully the course that we fly is one that leads to the world being a better place and not one of darkness, where a race – the human race – finds itself ceasing to exist, brought to its knees by the evil force of hatred.

How do we help empower people and unlock their potential? Ladies and gentlemen, we are the answer. We, by our actions that we take towards one another, dictate the course of our society – both in our personal interactions and the policies that we influence. We help empower people until they soar like the eagle or tear them down until they are reduced to the powerless dust on the sidewalk through our actions. If we want to change the picture painted in the first paragraph, we must look at ourselves in the mirror. If you want to empower people and allow them to grow and see the worth in themselves, you must believe in them. Perhaps, if we take those small steps, more people will believe in themselves and allow themselves to grow. Perhaps, if we look as to how to help the cause of all people, our policies will be more fair and impartial in regards to opportunity.

So, let us believe in one another. Let us be the shining ray of hope and be a lighthouse to those drifting in the rough sea, searching for shore. Ultimately, we are one race and the future of our society depends on us building each other up, not tearing each other down. Let us hold a hand out for our fellow man and help every man and woman reach their full potential. That is how we build a society that begins to free itself from the chains of inequality. That is how we build a better tomorrow for all.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current that can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

~ Robert F. Kennedy

Educational Entertainment – An Agricultural Idea

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
~ Nelson Mandela

 I have referenced this quote before. If you have read prior writings of mine, you will recognize this line from other writings I have done on the power of education. Our greatest and most valuable treasure is not gold. It is not power nor is it prestige. It is knowledge. How do we obtain knowledge? Through some form of educational process, whether it be formal or informal.

I want to discuss with you, in this post, about how a business can use this tool to make the world a better place. Namely, this is an idea that I have for a business that I operate. While many have heard of the crop production and value added product part of the business, there is a third part for the future – Research and Educational Development. In short, what this means is that my goal is to educate and expose people to agriculture through exposure and simulation based experiences through interactive mediums, such as interactive exhibits, writings and various forms of media. This wild idea has been dubbed by some as my Disney-esque dream. Beyond my family history and where I was raised, how did I become interested in agriculture? By being exposed to interactive exhibits at theme parks and at the Big E; by experiencing interactive rides and seeing audio-animatronic rides; by experiencing cuisines of other countries at restaurants; by readings stories and watching educational TV programming. These are all components that can be used to educate and inspire others in addition to the traditional classroom and “in-the-field” experiential learning experiences.

This idea was born from the fact that more people are born off and away from where their food resources come from – the farm. As such, there is less knowledge of how resources and food come to be and why among the public. There is also an issue of the rising age of the farmer. While many factors are responsible for this, lack of exposure to the industry contributes to this issue. How do we improve this situation? One solution is education. The model I have mentioned above can serve to educate the public and interested future farmers along with serving as a complement to a traditional education model by introducing and exposing individuals to agriculture. This can lead to potential interest and potential future study of the field and industry. Remember, our food and resources make up a few of our universal connectors in society. Much of our history of human civilization and cultures can be traced back to our agricultural roots and heritage.

Below, I would like to present a proposal that I wrote in regards to this idea as I crafted this section of my business plan:

Throughout human civilization education, whether formal or informal; taught or self-taught, education has served as the greatest tool to enable human society to achieve and accomplish. Just as other areas such as athletics can teach us about ourselves, so too can agriculture. As one of the noblest of professions and of one of the most important as our food, resources and society depend on it, people should be more connected to agriculture and what it can teach us. Agriculture and farming consists of hard work that may not seem like a fun venture to learn about but it can also be fun and rewarding. Indeed, this form of education already exists to a degree with agri-tourism and agri-tainment. What I feel could be developed more are these areas. How do you make agriculture fun to learn and educational at the same time? By presenting the material in both a fun, entertaining and educational manner that shows the reality of the business along with the fun and rewarding side of the business. This can be done through exposure and simulation based education. You create an atmosphere and you expose people to the aspect that you are trying to educate about. A long term goal of the business is to help research and develop exposure and simulation based agricultural exhibits through in person and exposure based mediums that help educate people about what agriculture does for society. Really, the impacts of agriculture go far beyond the fields and what we put on our plates – it impacts how we act and function as a society as our communities are all defined by our access to food and resources

A question I ask is, what if you create a recreational and educational type of experience for agriculture? Walt Disney once said of Disneyland, “It will be a place for people to find happiness and knowledge. It will be a place for parents and children to share pleasant times in one another’s company; a place for teachers and pupils to discover greater ways of understanding and education.” This is the atmosphere that edutainment based agricultural exhibits aim to create. We want to invite people to enter another world, even if only for a moment – the agricultural world; our world as a human society. Without agriculture and the stories that it is comprised of – of inspiration, nostalgic memories, production, hard work and manufacturing, human civilization does not amount to much. Edutainment exhibits show these stories and these experiences through different forms of medium to expose people to agriculture both through real-life exhibits and simulation based exhibits. This is the story of us. We only have to listen to our own story and to believe that our hearts want to listen so that we may learn. Whether we are young or old, if we allow the magic spirit of youthful inspiration and wonder to enter our hearts, we can open the doors to our minds and allow ourselves to have fun and learn as we did when we were innocent children. The result can be something remarkable: an inspiration to pursue a career path, a key that allows us to open a box and discover something about ourselves, further our knowledge of the world around us (one of our greatest treasures) and the opportunity to be in awe and wonder of the fascinating world that we live in.”

Life Pivots – Finding Yourself

“Hardly anybody recognizes the most significant moments of their life at the time they happen.”

― W.P. Kinsella

This line is from the book Shoeless Joe, written by W.P. Kinsella. Why does a quote about not realizing significant moments at the time they occur seem so important? Because there is a lesson to be learned from it. There is a story to be told from it. We all experience it. Think back on some of the important moments of your life. Did that moment strike you as significant? I know mine didn’t.

“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”

– Steve Jobs

Many are familiar with this quote from Steve Jobs. The idea that we don’t recognize what we are going through in the present. It is only in the past that we see how all things connect. So, I have presented two quotes. Why? What is the meaning?

A few weeks ago, I attended a work event where we listened to a panel of speakers. The speakers were talking of finding their purpose and their journey. The concept of “pivots” came up. In this case, a pivot was generally a career change or a changed outlook. As I sat and listened, I began to think of my own journey. My pivots were not fun to go through at the time and I certainly didn’t realize their significance at the time, but they helped me find my purpose of helping others, teaching others and inspiring others in an effort larger than myself. The more I thought about my journey and finding my purpose, the more that I realized that a pivot was really just another word for a sports concept that I had learned – adaptability. As I sat in that audience, I though of three “moments” that have defined my adult life and path so far.

Moment/Pivot # 1: Staying in the Valley
When I graduated from college in 2010, I graduated with a B.S. in Sport Management. I also graduated into an economy stuck in a recession. Long story short, there were not many job opportunities in the area – especially in sports. In fact, at the Career Fair, I had two job opportunities. These two jobs were the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps, the latter in which I spoke with a recruiter and answered questions for before backing off for various reasons. Now, I could have moved to a city and found a job in athletics. However, that wasn’t what I wanted. On top of that, I made a conscious decision to stay close to home to help out with my older brother, who has disabilities. I started to adapt and pivot. I started looking at a vocation that was in my blood – agriculture – and graduate school to re-train myself.

Moment/Pivot # 2: Starting a Business
After graduating from graduate school, I still had the same problem that had plagued me coming out of undergraduate – a weak job market. Public Policy was not in wide demand either. I have always been one who looks for purpose in what I do. Formalizing my agricultural business was a step towards adapting to my new situation and towards setting myself up for the future.

Moment/Pivot # 3: Higher Education
My career path has not been straightforward. There are times, still, where I wonder how my dots connect. I often joke to people to not try to connect my dots because they will get dizzy. I have worked as a cook, a para-professional, a land surveyor, a coach/sports coordinator, an insurance technician and as a higher education staff member. I have learned something from all of them, but has it been a confusing ride. Towards the end of the insurance job, I was in a bad state. Mentally, I was hurting and for the first time, I completely lost myself. I had to adapt. I had to pivot. I committed the professional cardinal sin and quit a job without having anything lined up with my self-esteem in pieces. I did a lot of soul-searching and decided that I would run my business. I had to square with myself that, professionally, I might have a low paying job to live on as I ran the business. I came to accept that. Fortunately, I had my second tour in land surveying present itself. Those four months were a defining time in my life. Land surveying allowed me to find myself and become me again.

At that time, something happened. Getting back into UMass-Amherst had always been my dream and I was applying to jobs left and right – usually minimum wage jobs. No bites. I applied for a job at my alma mater, the Isenberg School of Management. I ended up getting that job. That, too, has been a defining pivot in my life – getting into higher education. It is this job that allowed me to be present for the speakers that I listed to that night a few weeks ago.

Why do I tell these stories? Because I can help others with them. In the final analysis, we each have one purpose on this Earth – to leave the world better than when we first inhabited it. How we accomplish that objective is not a straight and narrow path. There will be times that you get lost. There will be times when the dots do not seem to connect. But always believe that you can find your way. Believe that the dots will connect. It is not always easy to believe – indeed, there were many times where I lost my way. But I have found my purpose. I try to be the best friend, employee, co-worker and teammate that I can be so that we can accomplish our goals. I hope that I have maybe even made a difference to a few people in their lives along the way in the same way that they have made a positive impact in mine. I have had to pivot and adapt to do so and so can you.

What roads have you journeyed?

My Brother’s Keeper – My Sibling Story

“It is hard to explain
So how can I help you understand
When you don’t know what I go through?
How could you?
It’s a world that is not yours
But we carry each other through it all
Until the bell tolls and we answer the final call.

If only you knew.
If only you could see the world through my eyes.
I want you to see the world through my eyes.
You don’t know what it’s like
To live the life that I do.
Let me show you the world through my eyes.”

~ Matthew Kushi – The World Through Your Eyes

What am I talking about in this lyric/poem? Would you believe me if I told you it was me? This is a reference to one of my identities – a sibling.

Many of us have siblings. Each of our family relationships are unique to us. Like many others, my family relations and my role as a sibling has helped define me. That in and of itself isn’t unique. What makes my story unique is the nature of my sibling relationship. Like some siblings, I have a sibling who has to live his life under a different set of circumstances than myself – the circumstance of disability.

Now, I have been reluctant to write a piece on this for many different reasons, including comfort level and how others receive it. So, as a disclaimer, I would like to note that I don’t perceive the story I am about to tell to be a negative. However, I feel that it would also be unreasonable to assume that the circumstances that my brother and I have gone through has not shaped us through it being a different experience. This is my story.

So, let me tell you about my big brother, Joe. Joe was born in the early 1980’s when medical technology was not what it is today. Joe was born 13 weeks premature and was quite small at birth – only 2 lbs. In order to save Joe’s life, he had to be given oxygen, which resulted in a brain bleed. As a result, Joe has had Cerebral Palsy and Intellectual/Development disabilities all of his life. However, that does not define who Joe is. I am often asked what Joe is like. Joe and I have similar temperaments. It’s just that our temperaments are expressed in different ways. You see, Joe is blind, non-ambulatory and can make vocalizations but does not speak as you and I do. He has to express himself differently. However, there is no mistaking what his intents are most of the time.

So, what is it like being a sibling? Well, in many regards, it is the same as any other sibling relationship. It is the same in that you are two humans from the same blood with distinct personalities. You fight with each other. You console each other. You have fun with each other. It is also different in many ways. In my life, growing up meant helping my folks out with Joe. It meant sometimes doing, or not doing things, differently than others. When I was younger, I would assist where I could in various small tasks. Nowadays, I help as needed in any task. This can mean lifting Joe into his chair or assisting him to the dinner table. This can mean helping with meals or helping get him situated in the bathroom.

As a sibling, you are exposed to what true love of another human is as your family tries to work out the best situation for all. You learn the values of empathy and compassion. You tend to grow up and mature faster than others, but you are the better for it.

But there is another side as well – a side that is not as storybook and that has only recently been talked about. There is a human element, as in all things, for a sibling and it can be extremely complex. There are those who judge you, your family and your sibling without meeting them. You can be bullied in school for your family being who they are. For some, it is the internal battle that is the most draining. You can feel caught between feeling things that are completely normal but that you ashamed for feeling. Suppression of feelings is common – even with the knowledge that there are SibShops out there. Sometimes, as a sibling, you don’t want to rock the boat. Sometimes, you just can’t explain what you are feeling – how you wouldn’t change a thing about someone but how you wish you could at the same time. For those who don’t understand and those you are not sure if they want to understand, it is difficult to explain the strange sense of survivor’s guilt or anger that you may feel. It is hard to explain the fear that you may feel – the fear of the future and the fear of whether your efforts will be enough. Sometimes, even if you want to talk, you are not sure how to make others understand because it is a world that is not theirs.

That lyric/poem that started this article? That was my way of expressing these thoughts. Read them again. This is an issue that I tend to talk about but not talk about as I am in this article. It is hard to explain to others because it is not their life.

So, as can be seen, much of the above applies or has applied to me. Even now, I have a strange pendulum that I balance. On one hand, I would not change a thing about my brother. This is our life. On the other, I would give anything in the world to give him the ability to walk, talk and see. I would. It is that strange world in which we live in.

So, again, is our brotherly dynamic is different due to what Joe has been through? Yes and no. All sibling relationships are unique and special. Ours just has a different scenario. Joe and I, we have our own path on which we journey due to the circumstances. In the final analysis, we are brothers and have the same bond and experiences that countless other siblings do. You see, the disability may be what people notice on the outside but it is the ability of the person as a human that defines them. You do not judge a person by their cover and by what is outwardly noticeable about them. You realize them for who they are as a person.

In Joe, I could not ask for a better brother and a better friend. I can only hope to educate, inspire and make as much of a positive difference in others’ lives as Joe has. People have told my family that they became nurses because of Joe. Was this the way that it was supposed to be? The younger brother taking care of the older brother? I don’t know but it is our life. It has been different and challenging at times. But not negative. On the contrary, I see the positive impacts. As a sibling, it is one of the defining factors in my life. This is my story.

 

A New Day – Making The World A Better Place

“This is the beginning of a new day. God has given me this day to use as I will. I can waste it or use it for good. What I do today is very important because I am exchanging a day of my life for it. When tomorrow comes, this day will be gone forever, leaving something in its place I have traded for it. I want it to be gain, not loss — good, not evil. Success, not failure in order that I shall not forget the price I paid for it.”

This short yet powerful poem was written by Heartsill Wilson. It is said that, upon his death, this simple poem was found on Hall of Fame football coach Paul “Bear” Bryant. When I first read this poem, I merely though of it as an interesting piece that a legendary sports figure carried on him. Then I read it again. And again. Eventually, something clicked. This is more than a poem carried by a sports figure. This a simple and powerful mantra of how to live life and how to make our society better.

In our lifetimes, it will seem that we have many days and many moonlights. However, this may not always be so. Time is a finite force and even if we live to the age of 100 years old, we have a limited amount of new days. None of these days are to be taken for granted, for a life can be altered in the blink of an eye – both for the better or for the worse. Many of us have seen enough of life’s undiscriminating sense of justice to know that this reality is so.

When one stops and reads Wilson’s poem again, they will realize that this is a mantra that we can strive to live up to each and every day – a challenge to rise above the storm that life can create and better ourselves and the world around us. Each and every sunrise that we awake to, each and every one of us has this reckoning. We have been granted another day of life, a day in which we will never gain back. Yet, we will leave some mark of our doing – influenced by our being – upon this day that exists in this world. What is up to us is whether we do good or do evil.

Look at the world around you. Look at your family. Look at your loved ones. Look at your community. What mark do you wish to leave upon them? What memory and action do you wish the world to leave upon them? Do we wish to burn a path that leaves the carnage of hate and anger in its wake? Or do we wish to build a future that champions love and compassion? Do we wish to build a world that provides opportunity to those born into it? Equality – of all kinds – is the great human mystery that we have sought to solve in human civilization. The future that we choose as a society begins with the choices that we make as individuals. It starts with how we answer the question of what we are going to do with the day given to us. Shall we use this day to perform an act of selfishness – one guided by the inner darkness of the heart? Or will we have the courage to leave goodness in place of the day we have been granted?

If we shall do the latter, that is how we make this world a better place. If you are a parent, look at your young child. What kind of world do you wish for them to see? How do you want them to see you in that world? If we collectively act to better ourselves and our world each and every day, the light will eventually win out over the darkness. Our world will be built into a better place. We just have to believe it and be that force of change which we seek.

How do we achieve this goal and exact a positive change with the days that we have been granted? The answer is simpler than we think. We achieve this goal being active in our society. We achieve this goal by having moral courage. We achieve this goal by being a source of hope and inspiration.

In our hearts, we each have a moral compass – a sense of what is right and wrong. If we witness a wrong, we must have the moral courage to stand and deliver and do everything within our power to correct that wrong. In our hearts, if we know that we can positively help a collective effort to achieve a goal that benefits society, we must have the commitment to help. We must have the courage to set our hearts free and follow it. By doing so, our positive impact will inspire hope in others.

While some in this world will have the opportunity to make impacts on a large stage – say in public policy or in an event that goes down as having historical significance – most of us will experience these opportunities in more grounded ways. What can you do to make a difference? Do something that makes a positive difference, no matter how small. Be a good influence on those around you. Join a town/city committee. Help someone out. Have the courage to follow your heart and dreams. Have the courage to be a positive force in this world. Have the courage to be someone’s inspiration. Have the courage to be the reason why someone goes to bed at night with a smile on their face. Be someone. We have been given a new day to achieve something each and every sunrise. Let it be good. Make it be positive. Let what you have exchanged for this day be something that leaves the world a little better than you found it. If enough of us do that enough times, we will have a beautiful world.

“Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

 ~ Robert F. Kennedy