Daily Stoic Challenge Day 8

Reflect on the influential figures in your life. Who are they? What did they teach you? What did you learn from them? Was it a specific lesson or the way they carried themselves? Think about the traits you’ve observed and admired in each person. Think about how you can more consciously and actively apply what you’ve learned from those people. Write it down. Put it out there so you never forget.

Attitude of Gratitude

This will be an interesting post today. It has been quite a while since I have posted anything so this will be sort of an update as well as a thought experiment in thanking all the people throughout my life who have taught me critical lessons. I am currently doing a 14 day Stoic Challenge hosted by Ryan Holiday and part of this challenge is to come up with the preface for the book of my life. Much like Marcus Aurelius did some 2000 years ago when he sat down in his own personal journal and wrote out a few pages about the most influential people in his life who helped mold him into the person he ultimately became.

This is all after spending the last 7 days traveling across the planet on my way back home after spending time with my 2 kids who live in Germany with their mom. I always get a lot of retrospective time while traveling. While others stress about flight delays and problems with the rental car companies, I sit and observe as well as introspect on my life at that particular moment in time. I reflected on this past year, on where I have been and what I have been doing. The people I have met along the way as well as the things that have happened. Maybe that is why I enjoy traveling so much, because it allows me to get outside of my normal life and spend some quality hours and days thinking and reflecting on things. Getting my thoughts back together and productively planning out my next days and months ahead.

I think the most important place to start when it comes to thanks and gratitude is internally. I have been at times my best friend and also my worst enemy. I have used everything I have learned over the years to try to put this person I call John together and to make sense of his life. I would be remiss if I didn’t thank myself for putting up with myself for so many years and learning to live with myself, inside this body, experiencing everything that I have experienced. All of that without any major loss of life. For some it may seem a given to have made it this far in life without dying. For me… I count every day and every breath because I know ultimately that the next moment could very well be my last. I try to keep that in the back of my mind at all times. Not just because it sounds cool or looks good as a tattoo but because it is the glue of life that binds us all together on the same playing field. In order to even begin to appreciate others and what they have meant to me I have to be able to appreciate myself and love myself.

To my mother and father, Fari and John, who have put up with all of my crap. Despite not being prepared to have me come into their lives, they did what they had to do to try to teach me some of the finer points in life and to mold me into a respectable human being. They taught me some of the very first lessons about life that I carry with me to this day. They tried in their own way to instill a sense of family and the importance of keeping family close. My mom taught me about adversity and how not to handle it. She was always a little high sprung and anxious (she still is to this day) but in the latter part of our relationship now I have learned that under that fragile shell was someone strong enough to overcome some of the greatest adversities anyone could possibly deal with. She struggled with breast cancer for a long time and eventually beat it. Shortly after that she suffered the loss of her best friend and husband. I never in my life would have thought she would be so strong. I honestly thought she would fall to pieces after my dad died. But somehow she has come out stronger and still now teaches me things so late in life that I never would have expected to learn from her. How to love unconditionally. How to persistently keep moving forward and appreciating everything around me. How to say I love you and mean it. How to make sure to stay in contact with the people I love and care about. My dad was not able to hang around as long as I would have liked but, he definitely stayed around as long as his body could stand. He taught me how to be a complete goofball and to try to enjoy life. To joke about things and not take things so seriously all the time. To continue to keep building and building even when things fall apart. He taught me about this entrepreneurial spirit and what it means to build things from scratch. How to turn nothing into something. He taught me mechanics and fishing and hunting and native beadwork and how to play guitar and the love of music and BMX biking and computers and the art of making eyeglasses… among other things. He always had something going on. He always had some hobby or some thing he was trying to do. He basically introduced me to everything he could get his hands on. I just happened to be there when he was doing most of it. I learned this crazy diversity of life from both of my parents. My mom with her Persian ways and my dad with his crazy endless hobbies. At the end of the day they taught me that no matter what happens in life that my family will always be there. They might not like things or they might criticize but they will always be there for me.

My Grandpa specifically was only there once in a while. He lived outside of the United States. When he came to visit it was rare, until later in his life when he finally moved with my grandma to the states for the last few years of their lives. He was a very interesting man and one who understood me even though he didn’t really speak much english. He took me on long walks as a child and he is where I gather my calm and quiet from. He was the one who didn’t say much but was a force to be reckoned with mentally. A super smart high ranking officer from another land, yet so humble and kind. He could be stern and he didn’t have to say much to get your attention but underneath he had a heart of gold. Besides the fact that he let my mom and her brother leave home thousands of mile away to pursue their own paths in the United States, he also had this very deep rooted religious fervor. I remember very vividly him praying 5 times a day without fail. He would read his Quran almost as much as his favorite magazine “The Readers Digest”. Maybe that is where I get all of my book reading from was watching him read so much. He always had something in his hands he was reading. He made me understand later in life, the deep rooted culture that is buried within my family tree. Recently I have discovered through my uncle, a book my grandfather wrote about his travels to Mecca. He made the journey at least 2 if not 3 times. Most people only make the journey once. I am not a religious person but I can appreciate the spiritual aspects of what it takes to walk across the desert in 100+ degree heat with little food or water for 40 days. I have yet to translate the book from Farsi to english. I want to re-publish it at some point but I haven’t found the right translator. Not only that but I want to read it myself because as I understand, it is more of a philosophical work than anything else. I can only speculate at this point but I hope that it also has some stoic aspect to it. He taught me how to be a quiet professional, which is what I am today as a result.

My brother has helped me in more ways that he could possibly imagine. He has brought to my life this immensely deep conversation that we continue to visit. At some point I started to record some of our conversations because they had turned into long form podcasts over the phone. Now he is a bit more occupied with his work and life but I am sure some day soon he will be back to the philosophical discussions of the past. He has taught me how hard someone can work and study and persist through immense adversity in order to get punched in the face repeatedly… and then get back up and ask for some more. I wouldn’t say he is anything else but a grumpy guy except for the fact that once the grumpiness is out of his throat he is back to the grindstone. He works very damn hard. I don’t always agree with it but I can respect it. He keeps me on my toes and calls me out on my bullshit. I do the same for him. We somehow balance each other out. He continues to instill deep philosophical ideas as well as trying to explain all the magical ways of physics and the cosmos. He is a very smart guy and I look up to him (and make sure to remind him that he is the physicist) and admire his drive. He also reminds me all the time that there is no distance too far to travel to be there for someone. He doesn’t ask for a lot but he is always willing to give all he can to be of service.

My sister… the calm one of the family. The essential glue that holds everything together. The sacrificial lamb. She has kept the family bonded, most of the time by virtue of her own personal sacrifice. She took time out of her life to keep in touch with me when I was not keeping in touch with myself. She has always been there to answer every single ask that I have made. She has always been there to prop me up when I needed someone and I didn’t have anyone else to turn to. She has always been there… through thick and thin. She has supported me, sometimes to my detriment. All the while she never really complains or moans about anything. Sometimes I think it is a bit unhealthy to keep it all bottled up inside but at the same time I have this deep respect and admiration for her way of handling things. She always has the right answers. Despite my brother and sister being 5 and 6 years younger than me, they have taught me a whole lot about life. Shown me sides of life that I wouldn’t have experienced on my own. Even when I was a complete pain in the ass they have stood by my side through thick and thin. That is a lesson I can’t learn enough. Above all she has taught me how important it is to take time for family and visit. To travel the miles and spend time with her and her boyfriend. To spend time just driving around. She reminds me when we need to bring flowers to our fathers grave. She always has things covered. She is smart beyond her years and yet, still the little sister I remember growing up. She reminds me to keep my childlike curiosity and laughter, especially when I am not feeling so great.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my ex-wife in all of this. She was and still is a part of my life even after years of divorce. She has shown me things that no other person could have shown me. Not all good and not all bad… but simply life lessons. She is a huge reason why I am this person who I have become. Maybe it seems superficial to think that the adversity (as well as love at some point in our relationship) would have instilled some deep values that I otherwise might not have discovered. Things happen for a reason and I am one to try to learn from all of it. Good and bad. I have learned from her some of my deepest and darkest shadows. I have learned where the boundaries of my being really are. I have learned that I am able to sacrifice a lot more than I ever thought possible. I have learned how to process my anger. She has taught me about resentment and hurt and distrust and a whole lot of things I couldn’t learn without actually going through those emotions. We weren’t able to make things work but somehow out of the ashes of the relationship we are both still learning how to be better people and what really matters in life. We are learning about compromise and dealing with the most difficult emotions and feelings. I will have to say that this learning process I have with my ex is a never ending classroom of challenges.

My son, the mirror image of myself. It is actually a little painful sometimes… maybe bitter sweet is the better choice of words. I see a lot of myself in him. I see how he has taken on a lot of my adventurous traits. He teaches me another perspective of who I was. A perspective from a more calm and understanding point of view. I have always been adventurous but I was very anxious and all over the place as a kid. I see him with that same spirit of adventure (the same one my dad had as well) but he brings this really calm and cool aspect to it. He teaches me to be patience with him and to let him do his thing. How to not be so hands on. To be able to let him choose his path and simply support him as much as I can in what he wants to do. He teaches me these dynamics about human interaction that, even if I read every book on the subject, I would never be able to fully grasp without seeing it first hand in his actions with people. He has taught me the value of true friendship and “crew love” as we call it. He teaches me how to be a better teacher. How to teach things good enough for him to understand yet simple enough to allow him room to adapt his own method and model. To not be such a perfectionist. He brings this vitality to my life that I can’t get anywhere else. He also reminds me indirectly that even though he is a grown young man that he still needs a hug once in a while.. a shoulder to cry on.. and a ear to listen.

My daughter. She is very refined soul trapped inside of this young woman. She has insight beyond her years. She has taught me the power of believing in people and supporting people even when you don’t fully understand their motives. She keeps me on my toes by always challenging me with some problem or puzzle. She literally taught me how to solve a rubik’s cube and that one thing has changed my life forever. It is amazing to watch her mind work. To truly be in the presence of a potential genius. Not that my son doesn’t possess this genius as well, but he shows it in other ways… abstract ways like art and music. She is really the analytical scientist who is always tearing things apart to their core and rebuilding them in her own vision. She has taught me the value of connectedness and the tragedy of being away for so long. She shows me all the time how to be more empathetic and that simply sitting in the presence of someone for hours can mean the world to them, even when there is little verbal interaction. She has brought so many aspects of life to the forefront of my vision that no one else has been able to do. She reminds me that love is paramount.

My Uncle Lucky. Yes that is what we call him. No one else in my life has been so instrumental in nurturing me. I guess I am the son he never had maybe. He has always been there to support me in everything I have done. He taught me how to drive a car… on a 4 hour road trip to quad cities for a baseball game. Here are the keys… you are driving. He is my other “dad” and he has meant the world to me. When I needed a calmer version of a dad. When I needed someone to listen and calmly tell me where I was fucking up. He was that person. Always the quintessential grumpy old irishman but always a really kind hearted and down to earth father figure. He has always been the one to calm me down when I needed it the most. When I couldn’t talk to my own parents, he was there to listen and help guide me. Sometimes a bit rough around the edges, but a really hard working gentle guy. He has shown me about universal caring and concern.

To all of my scout leaders through the years. Bill Willis in particular, but also Stephen Sinkey, and others. The guys who spent their nights and weekends making sure I wasn’t out on the streets causing all kinds of hell… even though I was a lot of the time. They made sure that even if I was causing hell, I at least had a set of core values in my back pocket to protect me from the extremely wrong decisions. Not just that but they spend painstaking time and patience teaching me about being a well rounded renaissance man. The taught me everything from how to build a fire to how to rescue someone from the side of a cliff. How to make things out of leather like shoes and wallets. The taught me the magic of knots and rope. I learned how to embrace my fear of heights. How to perform random acts of kindness and some of the time honored traditions of manhood. They also taught me how to be a leader and teach others.

One of my best teachers in high school Mr. Hall, who was my not only a great teacher but also a great track and cross country coach. He showed me how to set goals and chip away at them slowly over time in order to see the fruits of my labor. That daily effort will eventually turn into overnight success. He taught me about athleticism and the finer points of being an athlete. A christian athlete at that. He brought team spirit to my life… in sports that are mostly individually run sports. The value of spaghetti dinner after a long summer of countless miles of running and the feeling of accomplishment, even in the off season. Putting in the work when everyone else is on summer vacation. That training doesn’t end just because the season ends. It is a continuous path.

My band director Mr. Wabash who introduced me to music theory and the many layers that lie beneath music itself. How the circle of fifths works and how to compose music. The history of music as well as the many genres of music. He taught me about jazz fills and tuning tympani’s. How to diversify and how to play the instrument that is in front of me rather than just specializing on one single instrument. He instilled in me the perfect movements of an entire band on a marching field and how instrumental a simple thing like drum clicks are to bringing the whole band in sync. He allowed me to be myself, my goofy and sometimes esoteric self… and to march to the beat of my own drum… literally. He never said no when I relentlessly pursued my musical aspirations and he pushed me to do things I never thought were possible with music. He gave me a safe haven when I needed to run away from the crowds for a while and be in solitude.

To my friend Joe who has taught me so many things about business and life along the way. That we met at a time when he was just getting started and I have seen him evolve and grow over the years. He has taken me in as family and allowed me to be a part of the journey. He has taught me the importance of staying laser focused and sticking to the script. He has been a true motivation and mentor to me even though we are pretty much the same age. I think we have both taught each other so much over the few years we have known each other. He and I have both learned about being able to be ourselves and embrace our own weirdness. He has taught me about brutal honesty and about seeing through the bullshit. He is like a second brother to me and I cannot ever be thankful enough for all of his generosity and kindness.

My best friend and soul mate who has taught me patience and kindness. Who has taught me to be myself and the value of family. She has taught me that no matter what, when you find that special someone in life that you hold on to them as long as you possibly can. You find a way when there is no way. She has taught me how to sit with my anger and pain.. to invite it into my life and embrace it rather than run from it. She has taught me how life is a lot of fleeting moment that are to be cherished and embraced whole heartedly. How to be one with my own emotions and feelings. That sometimes in life the things worth fighting for are usually the hardest battles internally. She has shown me how to empathy and kindness and forgiveness are the keys to happiness.

To my newest friend who has introduced me to the LGBT community very intimately. I have never really understood fully what it all means and I am slowly learning for the sake of learning. To teach me something new. To take the token straight guy and incorporate him with the LGBT community in such a way as to allow me to learn and see for myself what it all entails. Not only that but re-introducing me to the burner community which, for whatever reason, seems to be my community of choice. I am learning about polyamory and creating my own rules for what I think relationships and life should look like. They, along with the entire community of burners are a family in and of itself. I am learning about pronouns and lifestyles that are otherwise masked from the rest of reality. Along the way I am learning about other ways to love people on so many other levels. Not that I will ever be gay or transgender but just being around this community and learning about another sub-culture is ever expanding my mind and the lens through which I see the world.

Without going into a completely exhaustive list there are so many people I have met through books (some I have met in person as well) who have really shaped the last 5–7 years of my life. They have shown me the overlapping ideas and ideals that make a person whole. It is not always just one book, one author, but the coagulation of all of them together so that I can take all they have to say and formulate my own ideas and thoughts. So that I can make better informed decisions. Some of them are still alive and some are long since turned to ashes. All of them are important to me:

I have truly been blessed along this path and have been surrounded by so many influences. It is hard to capture all of them without simply writing a book about it. This is just a small snapshot of some of the people in my life who have really made an impact. This is not all inclusive by any means but recent history as well as distant past. Not only that but this is a great exercise that should be revisited from time to time. It is a small reflection of humility that allows me to be grounded and level headed when I think the world is getting out from under my feet. All of the lessons I have learned from all of these people living and dead has brought me to a better understanding of myself and who I need to be.

Originally published at Business | Real Estate.



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