Don’t Forget to Look Back

Writing and remembering.

A couple years ago, I built a website. Though I knew next to nothing about web design, I was too cheap to hire someone. So I did it myself. I spent hours experimenting with layouts and color schemes. I spent days tweaking and editing the look and feel of the site. And when I was done, it looked terrible. But it was good enough to start with.

I began by posting about energy because that’s what you’re supposed to write about when you’re in the energy business. At the time, I worked at an engineering firm designing large electric power plants. The website was an opportunity to learn about new technology and become an expert in my industry.

But as I wrote, I ran into a problem. Despite my initial goals, I wasn’t interested in writing about technology. Underneath my care for energy was a care for the people affected by it. So I shifted. My writing moved toward issues of sustainability, energy access, and government policies.

That wasn’t quite what I cared about either. Energy was only a subset of a broader concern for people. So I shifted again. My writing moved to discussions of valuing others and living a life of humanity.

By some measures, that site could be called a failure. I posted irregularly and changed topics every month. But the lessons I gained set the stage for my next project. When I launched the Bright Army, I knew why I was writing.

***

some threads may be black
but those challenging times are
part of the pattern

But the story of the Bright Army did not begin with that first website. It goes farther back.

Two and half years ago, I felt stuck at my job. So I filed an application for an MBA program. Another degree seemed like a decent way to move closer to the work I wanted to do. At least it might have been had I got in.

I took the rejection hard. I felt I didn’t have any options left. I was lost. It took me several months to find hope again. But as difficult as that time was, I gained a lot from the experience.

Through the application I discovered the craft of writing. I labored for hours on the essays. And after all my work, I still thought they were rubbish. But for some strange reason, people told me the opposite. They were impressed with my essays.

I didn’t believe them at first. I was an engineer, not a writer. Sure, I did a decent enough job at writing papers in college. Sure, I made a reasonable effort at putting together reports and studies at work. But I wasn’t exceptional at it.

People kept complimenting me on my essays though. Since they couldn’t all be wrong, I decided to write more. And I found it to be fun. It became a source of passion.

Facing the pain of the rejection gave me the ability to understand the hopeless. I gained an appreciation for their suffering. I felt for them. And that drove me to show them beauty and hope for life.

Not going to graduate school gave me freedom. I’ve had opportunities that I may not have had otherwise.

By not going to classes or doing schoolwork, I’ve had the time to read about and learn from great thinkers and heroes. I’ve had time to explore the craft of writing. I’ve had the time to walk outside and notice the world around me.

By not paying tuition or taking on loans, I’ve been able to travel to France, Slovenia, and Portland – broadening my view of the world. I was able to save enough money to to leave my job last year – giving me space to focus on what I value.

My MBA application was unsuccessful, but it was far from a failure.

***

so many threads
form the tapestry of life
weaving together

But even that is not the beginning of the story. My entire life has led me to this point. Studying engineering in college taught me how to reason and problem solve. Growing up in Kenya – and witnessing the beauty of humanity there – gave me a heart for people. I am where I am because of all the experiences I’ve been through.

It’s amazing to look back and see it all.

***

the tapestry’s top
has a different appearance
than the bottom side

As you go through life, be sure to look back every now and then. See how the choices you’ve made and the circumstances you’ve been through shape who and where you are today.

Marvel at how seemingly insignificant decisions can have unexpected and powerful impact.

Wonder at how failures and challenging situations can provide learning you would never have gained otherwise.

Appreciate how calm and peaceful times can give rest and strength for difficulties to come.

Looking back shifts your perspective. You become aware of the greater story – the marvelous tapestry that is your life. It’s easy to get caught up in staring at the underside. You focus the details – the mess of threads that don’t seem to weave together in any particular pattern. Reflecting on the past gives you a glimpse at the top of the tapestry. It helps you see the brilliant patterns and colors of your life.

And as you look at all that has happened – as you see how the threads weave together – you are left with gratitude.

***

the tiniest threads
can add to the tapestry
in impressive ways

The design of my website took a lot of time. But two years later, those skills provide me with a living. I now help other people by designing their websites. Besides having fun with the work itself, I get to use what I’ve gained to help others. I’m grateful for the opportunity.

***

What about you? What are some of the events that you look back on?

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PHOTO: Writing and remembering.

PS: My thanks to my Uncle Scott for inspiring these reflections.

A Letter to My Daughter

At the beginning of a good day.

To my beloved daughter, welcome to this place we call earth. Welcome to the land of a thousand hopes and ten thousand beauties. Welcome to the world of boundless love and overflowing joy. Welcome to this marvelous journey of life.

I offer these words in hope that they will be of value to you as you embark on this journey. I give them as a glimpse into the understanding and wisdom I have gained over my years of living. They serve me well, and I suspect they will do the same for you. They are my gift to you – a gift from the depths of my love.

***

dew falls unfairly
abundant on barren soil
sparse on desert plants

Let me be the first to tell you, life is not fair. This great unfairness manifests itself in the foundation of your life. You will experience it every single day. So you will have to live with it.

It is not fair that you are born into a rich and noble heritage. As you walk through this world, you will find that the legacies of your grandfather and great-grandfather are not universal. You are fortunate to have men as these to look up to. They will be your heroes if you let them.

It is not fair that you do not want for the basic necessities of life. You shall receive food in abundance – delicious and full of nutrition. You shall not want for water – pure and drinkable. You shall not fear for being cast out upon the street – without shelter or warmth.

It is not fair that in moments of difficulty, you shall have support. You shall have a network of people who love and care for you – who will provide in your time of need.

It is not fair that you have a passport that allows freedom. You shall be able to travel to nearly any country in the world without difficult applications or unjust imprisonment. You shall have the opportunity to broaden and expand your understanding of the world – to see that people are more alike than different.

It is not fair that you shall have an education that challenges and grows you. You shall have access to the world’s greatest of thinkers and wisest of heroes – all with no more effort than a visit to the library. You shall have mentors and councilors to take you on journeys of learning – far beyond where you could go on your own.

It is not fair that you will be encouraged to thrive. You shall be surrounded by people who want the best for you – beyond what you may even see for yourself.

It is not fair that you live. On your first day, you outlived thousands. By your first month, millions.

You did nothing to deserve or earn these accounts of unfairness. They are gifts. They are gifts that can never be repaid. Treat them as such.

To these blessings there are two appropriate responses.

the grass of the field
sparkles in sweet gratitude
for the morning dew

The first response is gratitude. In all things find gratefulness. Let it overwhelm you. Let it bring you to your knees in tears.

When you wake, be thankful. When you walk, be thankful. When you breath, be thankful. When you eat, be thankful. When you go, be thankful. When you come, be thankful. When you sleep, be thankful.

It is in this posture of gratefulness that you will find many of life’s greatest joys. For to be thankful is to appreciate the present. And though you always carry the past with you, it is only in the present, in this single moment, that you live. It’s all you have right now. Gratitude keeps you grounded in the present.

watered by the dew
the flowers of the field
add beauty to all

The second response is service. I mentioned earlier that the gifts given to you cannot be repaid. That is true. But you can spread them. You can take what you have and turn it into a blessing to others.

Serve by listening. Every person has a story to tell – a story of who they are and a story of who they could yet be. These stories are magnificent. They are beautiful and wondrous. Be silent and hear them.

Serve with extravagance. You will soon discover that there is a minimum amount you can do to help someone – a baseline level of acceptable assistance. Ignore that amount. Shatter expectations.

Serve with your story. The way you see the world is uniquely yours. That means you have understanding that others don’t have. Share that perspective. It’s valuable.

Serve by receiving blessings. As a wise friend once told me, the nicest thing you can give someone is to graciously accept the gift they give you. People love to be a blessing. Give them the opportunity.

And through your service, each blessing you receive will multiply in abundance.

***

there are times the dew
falls trapped on the spider’s web
and not a flower
but it sparkles nonetheless
webs of beauty in the sun

Much of this life before you is what you make of it. You cannot control your circumstances, but you can control how you respond to them.

When the moments of hardship and difficulty come, you may feel that there is no hope. But there is always hope. Even in the face of death itself, there is life. Look for the good in all things.

The world will be beautiful if you let it. If you notice, it will dazzle you. It will leave you breathless and filled with wonder.

Feel the touch of the wind passing over your face. Watch the array of colors and patterns in the morning sky. Hear the sound of the waves rushing in to greet the shoreline. Smell the fragrance of a spring rose. Taste the sweetness of a ripe, juicy mango.

People will be friendly if you let them. If you choose to see the good in them, you will find it. They will respond in kindness.

Cherish the smile of the old man on the street corner when you stop to say hello. Delight in the assistance of the woman who gives you directions in an unfamiliar city. Rest in the encouragement of the friend who comforts you.

You will live if you decide to. If you choose to walk the journey that is before you today, and you will find it a worthwhile one.

Explore the wonders of the world. See people and learn their stories. Thrive in rich and loving communities. Build, grow and cherish relationships. Walk in the company of friends.

You will find love when you look for it. Though you won’t need to look far. For I love you more than you can imagine. I love you beyond what I can imagine. I love you, my daughter.

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PHOTO: At the beginning of a good day. Chicago.

PS: Mom, baby and I are all doing well.

PPS: Thank you for all your kind words and support after my grandfather passed away. It is clear that his legacy lives on in all of you.