Love, Loss, and the Awesome Power of Choice

I’ve written several times over the last few years about relationships, love, and loss. I’ve had what seemed like great lovers, only to realize they aren’t and never really were. I’ve dated women who seemed interested, only to find they weren’t willing to give as much as they take. One lover in particular has inspired this piece, and I doubt she’ll ever read it (a testament to how little she cares). If she does, maybe it will help her understand my point of view a little better. If not, so be it. This is not about her. It’s about me.

As of today, I am abstaining from the chase.

I don’t anticipate giving up on dating entirely and living a monk’s celibate life. I like intimacy and sex way too much to do that. Instead, I’m deciding not to try anymore. I’m finally taking the advice I’ve heard over and over for years: “you try too hard. just let it happen naturally.”

After all this time, I finally understand what that means. I thought for many years I could never take this advice because it felt like every fiber of my soul was screaming things like “don’t give up!” and “nothing happens when you make no effort.” While I still agree with those feelings, I must acknowledge that many of my past relationships have been unbalanced, almost one-sided. I do so much to fuel the fire that my lover stops doing anything, once they believe they no longer need to try. This is what many people refer to as “taking someone for granted,” and anyone who has experienced this will know how it feels once this line is crossed. Respect is lost, and there’s no going back.

My friends, my family, and even strangers I meet randomly in the world, when told the stories of my struggles, universally say this:

“Fuck that noise! She doesn’t know what she has. You’re ready for something real and she’s just a party girl. When she turns 40 and looks around to see the bunch of 20-somethings she has for friends, if she has that at all, she’ll see what she lost.”

My rational solution-finding brain tells me to attempt to avoid this outcome through communication and compassion. I want to talk about it, hug it out, and reach mutual understanding. The reality is simple – there is no problem to be solved. I’ve manufactured a problem because that’s the only way I can make sense of the irrational behavior I observe.

About a year ago, when I first started into a rough patch with my girlfriend, my mother gave me the following advice: “walk away at the first sign of trouble.” My natural reaction to conflict has always been to try to find middle ground. At the time, I was going through some highly stressful drama, and my girlfriend told me she couldn’t handle it and wanted a break. Basically, at the peak of my struggle, when I needed support most, she bailed.

My unbearably predictable reaction was to negotiate. I didn’t want her to leave because I loved her. I tried to find a way to understand her needs, sacrificing mine in the process, thus doubling down on my stress in a gamble for my happiness; I lost the bet. What she did was an awful thing to do, especially to someone you love. I knew it then, as I know it now. I was hurt by her casual disregard for my needs. It took the better part of a year to realize this, but now I can say with certainty she didn’t love me. It was a word she used to control my behavior to get what she wanted. I doubt she was conscious of it, but that’s exactly what it was. Like others before her, she used me to get something she wanted.

Today, I draw a line in the sand. No more of that. There is such power in choice. The act of standing up for a belief is exciting and engaging. People spend their whole lives choosing from the options in front of them instead of finding more options. When you don’t like the options, make new ones. I don’t like feeling like I’m always chasing, so I choose not to chase. As my best advice to guys who struggle with dating has always been “be the pretty girl, and let them come to you,” I’m finally taking my own advice.

Do I still love her? Yes. Did we have some great times? Absolutely. Is it worth sacrificing my needs to spend time with her? Fuck no! And this goes for everyone I’ll ever meet.

My new plan is not to have a plan; to live fully in every experience, invest emotionally and intellectually, and walk away when it’s not what I want. It’s a terrifying and brilliant future, so far outside my comfort zone that I will be forced to be comfortable. I can’t wait 🙂

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Strength in Chaos

Have you ever been so close to the edge that you no longer know how to tell whether you’ve crossed it? It’s a hard thing to live this way, yet this is all I’ve known for years. When your credit cards are maxed out and the only thing you have is the cash in your wallet, it’s a paralyzing feeling just to pay a bar tab. There’s a certain panic in spending 60% of your available wealth on two beers and a stack of potato fries. Sure, you play off the declined credit card as an oversight, but deep down, you know just how close you are to oblivion.

It’s easy to see how such a situation might cripple anyone. Still, there’s a strength to be found in all that chaos and uncertainty. If you can look past the debilitating rejection of having tens of thousands of dollars of credit, all stretched to their full extent, you find yourself in a peace known to few. I imagine it feels something like drowning. Despite the sudden onset of declined credit transactions, there’s a looming catastrophic quality to the experience, like watching the boulder from afar as it tumbles down the hillside toward your imminent demise.

I envision it like kayaking over a waterfall. Sure, I could keep a constant pulse, checking in with the sherpa shouting from the shore, waving his arms madly in a futile attempt to inspire me to paddle toward the dock. Instead, I find solace in the knowledge that there is more to learn in the quick trip over the edge than I could ever hope to encounter in the safety of knowing that there is another force dragging my boat. Whether I measure it or not, I’m going past the event horizon. I can not know the terror that awaits me, nor could I ever embrace its totality. Still, I close my eyes and sing to myself sweet songs of my inevitable victory.

You may call it foolish or even insane, and you’d be right. In describing the audacity of hope, you will inevitably find yourself questioning the basic fundamentals of what it means to live. I promise I don’t have any answers you want to hear. Frankly, there have been as many times as not that I’ve wondered how much easier it would be to flip my boat and drift away in serene aquatic asphyxiation. But I’m not interested in that death. I have far too much to contribute to this world to seek that path.

I’m not done with this life after these 36yrs. I’m doubling down. I’m ready for another 72, and I’m willing to bet that at the end of all those years, I’ll do it again, if for no other reason than to dare the universe to give me a thousand times more hardship than I’ve faced in these 36yrs. If I can survive this chaos and use it as a source of continued strength, another hundred years will only serve to anneal my heart and soul that much more. I no longer believe there is anything the universe could throw at me that I could not use to grow stronger. And that is the most peaceful feeling I could ever hope for.

Mentorship is Worth the Pay Cut

I’ve been writing a lot lately about humility and vulnerability and leadership. All of those things involve a great deal of sacrifice and a willingness to embrace the unknown. This week, I spent a few hours each day helping kids build software. Most of them had game ideas. Some had seemingly impossible goals they achieved and surpassed. A few finished early and went on to make two and even three apps. All of them showed something on a mobile device or laptop after only a week of development. We’re talking about campers age 10-12 building fully functioning games from nothing in a few days, all with original artwork.

As someone who started learning to build software at age 13, I am humbled to see what these amazing young people are doing each day. The rate at which they are able to absorb and apply the fundamentals of interactive product design is simply breathtaking. What was most astonishing to me was how much they remember. With every adult I’ve trained, they all universally needed to be shown something more than once. These aspiring engineers are routinely demonstrating their attention to detail and appreciation for the moral and ethical implications of their efforts.

As someone who has worked with intellectual property for years, I feel great pride in these intrepid young people. They recognize the right of the creator to be credited and possibly compensated for use of their work, even when discovered through Google Images. I feel embarrassed for my marginal use of such copyrighted material in my past work.

I’ve written before about the rockstar curse and what it feels like to be openly referred to as a god (still happens, still uncomfortable). My experience this week changes everything. I thought my choices were limited because I have trouble finding anyone with more skill or expertise than I have. As it turns out, I was looking the wrong way. Mentoring is the right way. I learned more this week than in the last month of client work. But it’s not about me. It’s about the brilliant young minds who will go on apply what we’ve taught them. That’s worth more than money can buy.

A Whole New You

Often, we hear the same story told again and again. People don’t change. Well, I’m here to tell you that’s a bunch of bullshit. What folks mean when they say that is “you can’t change people.” That’s some good advice and probably the purest truth I’ve ever encountered. I can’t change you. I can inspire you. I can offend you. I can even teach you new things, which seems like changing you, but it’s really just catalyzing your personal growth. And that’s the crux – personal growth. Growth is good, and I encourage it. There is something more powerful, though, that is the topic of tonight’s musings. That is making a whole new you.

When I first started to make sense of this concept, I found myself gravitating toward common metaphors. Rebirth, reincarnation, and the cycle of the phoenix all came to the forefront of my mind. I latched onto this idea of being deconstructed and reassembled in an improved way. That, also, is a bunch of bullshit, stagnant and unchanging. Sure, it looks like change, what with the flaming death and subsequent rebirth. As I ponder on this, I encounter a challenge identifying how this is actually change. It’s no different from conservation of matter or energy. But this is spirituality, not causality. There is no law of conservation of soul.

I also don’t mean to say that this form of “new” involves the destruction of your soul, nor its subsequent reintegration into corporeal form. This kind of “new” is about how you view the world. It has taken me the better part of 18 months to realize this, but I died. Well, the parts of me I didn’t like died. And they didn’t come back from that. I don’t want them anymore. It wasn’t a conscious choice, like which flavor of cream cheese to put on my bagel. It was the natural culmination of years of self-denial. My beautiful truth was beaten down by self-abusive doubt and eggshell walking. Eventually, something snapped, and my world ended. And it needed to end.

It hasn’t been easy. In so many ways, I feel like a baby, just born and still figuring out what those wobbly blurry things are that keep waving in front of me. I’ve only recently started to appreciate that those are indeed my arms and legs. More interestingly, I’m starting to see the other things in my new life, things I didn’t have before. I’m genuinely kind now where I was once kurt and brutally honest. I feel a strong need to connect with people, and not just to lecture them on how to be better humans. I listen more than I ever have, and for the first time I’m actually hearing things I never heard before. It’s almost overwhelming, almost.

So, how do you achieve this new you? Simple. Say to yourself this sentence and be ready for the complete and utter shit-your-pants confrontational truth, when you realize you’ve never actually tried to define yourself before:

<your name> is a person who <fill in the blank>

Now’s your chance to be amazing. All it takes is a bit of focus, and you can change your entire world, everything you ever thought possible. Aubrey is a guy who will show you how beautiful your truth can be.

Breaking Personal Patterns

Years ago, I wrote a post about one-sided relationships. This morning, I went back and read that post again. It rings as true now as it did then, but with different context. As I read it again, I felt myself resonating with my own words, but in a different light. This week, another relationship ended. As I’ve spent the last few days trying to make sense of things and find closure, I’ve thought back on all the moments we shared together. My goal was to truly identify moments in the past where I put rose-colored glasses on. I wanted to understand better the situations that trigger my ostrich dance, the one where I close my eyes and ignore key aspects of the world around me in favor of my own world view. This is a crippling pattern I must stop.

As with the last time, I am open, able, and ready to nurture a deep spiritual bond. I am hopeful to build a strong emotional connection with another sacred soul. I am inspired to explore a rich intellectual attraction with another open mind. I am excited to play and seek new experiences and adventure with another sexual creature. All these things I feel for my love. All these things I see resonate in her when my heart shines on hers. Still, something holds her back from fully expressing her true self. It’s time for me to accept that she needs time to address her own hurdles. There is simply nothing more I can do. As I swallow my stomach and wipe tears from my eyes, I know this doesn’t need to hurt. There’s no script that says she will never call me again. That’s a script from an old and tired story. This time, we write a new story.

This time, I don’t hide behind fear or pain. Yes, it hurts, but what I lost this week was not my love. I will always have that. Even with all the betrayal from my last great love, I still miss her. I still want the best for her, and I believe maybe one day she will reach out to reconnect. This great love is different. With the last one, I lost hope of even having a friendship. Her betrayal was so painful that it took years to forgive her and move on. With this one, I lost only my rose-colored glasses. I lost the feeling that she and I share a common goal of building a life together. I lost the future I had planned, a future in which I was really happy with her and our children. The glasses had convinced me that she shared that dream. In truth, I never actually asked her what her dream was. It’s time to change that.

So this is my new story. I will not allow her actions to dictate mine. She does not have the tools to express her true self in a way I hear clearly. That means we can not be together romantically, but it doesn’t mean I must say goodbye forever. As I said in the post years ago, I seek vulnerability. I wanted this, so I could grow stronger. Her hurtful words could have inspired me to twist my love into hate. Instead, I choose to further invest in love. I will continue to reach out to her, to be the friend she needs, to help her when she needs help, and to expect nothing in return. It will take time for me to be ready again to seek a new great love. From now on, I follow my new path, and I see the world as it truly is. Most importantly, I know now to stop myself when I feel rosy.

Face The Bear Or Die In Obscurity

Most of our lives, we coast through, thinking how great we have it. Occasionally, we hit a bump. Some of us react to bumps with panic, grasping for the first opportunity to seek solace in the barely-certain. Some react with grace, bending in the wind of inevitability. Those folks who seek graceful ends certainly survive, whether through terror- or courage- or maybe foolish-driven courage. Still, there is a place for the resolute. It isn’t for the faint of heart. Weak-willed folks should seek an early exit, as this road is fraught with treachery and doubt. If you can not survive the uncertainty of everyday life, you will not reach the summit. You will not defeat the bear. And you must if you’re to defeat the avalanche. If you’re unprepared, you’ll beg to trade the unrelenting avalanche for a chance to tango with a yeti. His company lends much better company than the embarrassment of dying like a bitch.

This may seem like a negative way of looking at the world, but I offer you this perspective. At the right time, overwhelming confidence can be exactly what the world needs. Without leaders willing to risk everything they are, everything they have, we are lost. We rally behind the unrelenting commitment to glory our leaders show us. And with that direction, with that vision, we find ourselves willing to leap over certain death to strike at the bear, even when everything we know says we’re doomed to that death. We find some way to trounce the bear. It’s never something we plan to encounter. We don’t sit in a conference room and define a strategy for this. It jumps over the wall and stabs your brother in the neck, and you’re left to command your forces while he bleeds out in your arms. Still, you must make the choice. Will you honor his memory with glory or hide in anonymity? What will you say to the bear when it threatens you? Will you draw your blade or your running shoes? Make your mark.

48hrs in San Francisco

Thursday 4:30am, wake up. Shower. Dress. Feed cat. Prepare for shuttle service, scheduled for pick-up between 4:50 and 5:10. Lock front door. Walk out to curb. Wait for shuttle.

5:15am, answer phone. Shuttle driver hoping to arrive in 10mins. Wait some more. Six vehicles pass.

5:25am, see shuttle turn the wrong way down my street. Sigh. Watch as shuttle proceeds down two blocks. Answer phone. “I can see your van. I’m across from the Publix two blocks west of you.” Shuttle stops in middle of street to load my bag and my sleepy self. Driver awkwardly attempts to open door for me. Door locked. Driver walks hurriedly back around to unlock. I help myself into the van. Drive to airport, not a direct route. Sigh again.

6:50am, flight departs TPA. Sleep.

8:30ish, land in Charlotte. Change planes. Board plane to SFO. Pilot claims 30-45min early arrival. Bonus. Meditate 3hrs. OM. Take out laptop, do some minor repairs to an app, while neighbor snores loudly. Land early. Meet Tom, ride to hotel. Thank Tom.

3:30ish, check into hotel. Shower. Dress. California club for lunch. Delicious. Remark to bartender that a beer would be great, but probably not a good idea for an interview.

4:20pm, cab to interview. Cab driver is a musician. Tells me about his endeavors training an 18yr old singer with “magnificent pipes.”

4:30pm, interview begins. Programming puzzles. Problem solving exercises. Design pattern discussion. Best practices. Pitfalls. Best and worst parts of working with iOS. Smart people. Great synergy.

9:30pm, interview ends. Drive to restaurant. Town Hall. First things first. Imperial IPA. Delicious. Conversation about location services. Demo app I built last month. More synergy. Best prosciutto I’ve ever had. Flounder Ă©touffĂ©. Biggest shrimp I’ve ever seen. Okra looks curiously like jalapeño. Excellent flavor. Almost spicy enough. Bill delivered in old book. Nice touch.

11:30pm, dinner ends. Goodbye to potential co-workers. Txt ex-wife to express lack of time or bandwidth for video chat with son. Sigh. Walk five blocks to hotel. Street smells of urine. Surprisingly chilly. Walk faster.

12am, arrive at hotel. Meeting with venture partner over bourbon. Still no investors. Bummer. New prospects for funding. I’ll believe it when I see it.

1am, drunk. Tweet about long fucking day. Feel like rock star. Search for code example. Send email to interviewer. “Thanks for an awesome day. Here’s that code I mentioned.” Gratitude. Sleep.

Friday 8am, wake. Back to sleep. Fucked up dreams. Spiked bat across the face.

8:30am, wake again. Shower. Relax. Wait for friends to wake. Twitter. Email. More twitter. More minor updates to app.

10:15am, friends awake. Negotiate breakfast venue. Wait. Confirm breakfast spot. Dottie’s True Blue CafĂ©. Rejoice.

11:30am, check out of hotel. Walk toward Dottie’s. Street smells of worse things than urine, but indeterminate. Consider taking up cigarettes to kill sense of smell.

11:45am, arrive at cafĂ©. Line out the door. Twenty people at least. Report to friends. Consider alternative venue. Bill is still 30mins out. Get in line. Line moves quickly. Agree to stick with Dottie’s.

11:55am, Tom arrives. Bullshit about sights and smells of the Tenderloin. Tom remarks that folks in line are upwardly mobile, yet passersby are ancient hippies and unsavory types. Common for the Tenderloin. Line moves.

12:10pm, front of line. Host says “all parties must be present to seat you.” We counter “we’ll order for him.” 4-top at the back. Lovely artwork on the walls. Surly waitress. “Can we substitute pancake for toast?” “NO.” Chuckle. Tea, Earl Gray, Hot. Tom remarks “tastes like dishwater.” Order. Three egg omelette with jack cheddar and andouille. Pancakes and bacon for Bill. Omelette with ham and cheddar for Tom.

12:30pm, Bill’s food arrives. Bill arrives seconds later. Surly waitress pours coffee into half full tea cup, narrates her action ironically. Tom says “not a problem. tastes like dishwater anyway.” Omelettes arrive. Delicious. So much cheese. Bill comments “it was cheesy the first time you said it.”

1pm, drive back to interview location. Quick follow-up with Sammy. First time meeting her. She is totally cute. Unexpected parting gift. Toys to play with when I get home. Minor employment application mixup. Ironically, will resolve email snafu via email. “Nice to meet you! We’ll be in touch.” Gratitude.

1:05pm, search for Tom’s car. Notice used condom on street. Obviously been there a while. Chuckle. Flight is delayed. Drive to Tom’s house. Conference call in the car. Tom handles it like a pro.

2ish, fix some test code while Tom has conference call. Tom puts out fires, resolves project drama. Build app with new changes. Distribute build to team. Broken. Derp. Txt from Marvin. Build is borked. Rebuild. Redistribute. Win. Notice weird behavior. More test code. Shit. Forgot to check in to flight. Will have shitty seats. Confirmation number doesn’t work.

2:55pm, start to wind down and tidy up. Drive to airport. Thanks Tom!

3:15pm, try to checkin via kiosk. Wrong information. Flight info is weird. Wait for customer service. Surly attendant. Flight delay will cause me to miss connecting flight. Reassigned without telling me about it. Grumble. Instructed to see supervisor. Surly supervisor says “this is the first class line. Talk to that guy.” Less surly supervisor says “no flights available.” Rerouted through Phoenix. First class upgrade for that leg. Win. Red eye from Phoenix to Tampa. Lose. Net neutral. Tweet about it.

3:45pm, wait. Send update to friend who is picking me up in Tampa. “Arriving 6:15am tomorrow”

4pm, people watching. Hilarious twitter conversations. Even funnier IM conversations. These are definitely going in my coffee table book of hilarious IM threads. Happy. Unexpected delay is opportunity to relax and write this post.

4:54pm, find random banana in a bamboo planter next to my seat. Tweet about it.

5pm, cute chick with limp and cane sits next to me. Adjusts ankle braces. Waves cane at red cap. Threatens to make a scene. I half-jokingly advise her not to make a scene in an airport. Red caps see to her needs.

5:03pm, cute chick rides past me in wheelchair, pushed by red cap, says to me “don’t be jealous.” Winks. Nice touch. More people watching. More writing. Smile at pretty girls who walk past me. Some smile back.

7:41pm, kids playing next to me on the bench. Older sister pulls younger brother off seat by his legs, both giggling. Adorable.

7:54pm, random laughter of passersby makes me happy. So many cute girls in this town!

8pm, yawn. Already starting to feel tired, but still hours to go

8:20pm, Japanese business men sit next to me. They laugh. Wish my Japanese was better. I don’t get the joke.

9pm, a group of French travelers adjusting the contents of their bags, apologizes in English for putting bags next to me. I reply in French, and we bond briefly as I explain that I speak very little French and haven’t spoken it in 10yrs. Inspired to practice more.

11:30pm, board flight. First time flying first class. Constant supply of scotch. Short flight to Phoenix. Chat with 60-something microwave sat com engineer who built a few startups. We bond. I hope he writes a book about his experience. Unexpected synchronicity. Drink more scotch.

1:50am, board flight to Tampa. Full flight. Not much rest, despite the scotch.

Saturday 6:35am, land in Tampa. Txt Marvin.

6:50am, my chariot arrives. Exhausted. Delirious smalltalk. Marvin has a wicked hangover, but weathered it to pick me up. He’s a saint. Supreme gratitude.

7:00am, finally home. Say hi to Oscar. Bed. Oscar paws at my face. He’s happy to see me. Stellar trip, but let’s make it a while before I do this again. And no more red eyes.