Defining The Problem

For nearly two years, my primary mission in life (aside from typical distractions like working, paying bills, and finding inner peace) has been to write and publish my memoir, which was initially entitled “Depravity.”

I’ve achieved a number of goals and breakthroughs concerning the memoir, not the least of which was breaking the book into two parts and changing the title to “Depravity and Defiance”. For around the past year though, I’ve been at a virtual standstill when it comes to actually writing the damned thing. After months of contemplation, discussion with friends and mentors, and having a few test audiences read along, I’ve learned a few things, which I intend to process for myself in this article.

My primary mistake was based on a concept from the East – that clinging to outcomes and having (generally unrealistic or unenforceable) expectations only leads to stagnation and pain. The purpose of the memoir is to help people who have experienced trauma (which is virtually everyone) on their paths to overcoming it. My mistake has been visualizing the achievement of that goal by yearning for things like mass publication, a Pulitzer prize, or landing on the New York Times Best Seller’s list. I’ve been so focused on the book being translated into dozens of languages, overcoming cultural biases, and winning prestigious intellectual awards, that I’ve amassed this incredible amount of pressure for myself, which has largely prevented me from putting words on paper.

Additionally, while I’ve had an intangible idea for what I want the book to accomplish, I’ve never written it down. As a writer, I should know how important that is, but I’ve long neglected it. By way of a remedy, here is the defined list of life-events that I want to address in my book, which is something of a “Thesis on Life.” Since the book is a memoir, these are largely chronological and are written as I experienced them in my own past.

  1. The over-arching theme of the book is that humanity is a universal condition, not one to be ashamed of, and not one that we must atone for. Our best efforts need to be viewed with compassion toward the self, and passionate expression in writing is not sinful.
  2. It’s important to realize that we are the way we are for reasons, and that reflection and meditation on each piece of our lives will lead to a greater understanding of the whole. It isn’t enough to shove hard emotions into a box that we never open. We have to examine and process the emotions we’ve shoved away in order to maximize our potential and achieve our goals.
  3. Written from my own viewpoint throughout different stages in my life, the book begins with a 10 year old’s attempt to process the following: coming from a divorced/broken home, negotiating a life of inconsistency, growing up with different (and opposing) influences, and overcoming an initial introduction to loss and grief. When I lost one of my best friends at age 11, death (the balance to life) became incredibly tangible to me, and has been so ever since.
  4. Religion has been a primary influence in my life: I grew up in Pentecostal Churches, have lived with a Muslim tribe in the Horn of Africa, traveled to Central America and witnessed the influence of the Mayans, Voodoo, etc. I’ve also explored Eastern Religion and Yogic lines of thought associated with energies and spirits. Additionally, I was heavily influenced by Greek religious concepts and philosophies during my college studies, and I hope to share the cultural lessons I’ve learned from each. I aspire to break down the stigma that differences must be met with violence, hate, and pain. I also share my experience in processing multiple religions (including the pressure of loving people who have opposing beliefs) in hopes that others will be able to relate to the process. Allegory and parables are used in my book, as they are in many of the influencing sources. In part two, I share my current perspectives, not to convert, but to explore and express.
  5. The writing progresses to my early teenage years, where I attempt to negotiate the effects of parental alcoholism and violence on a young mind. I address my experiences with misogyny and the self-hate associated with toxic, angry masculinity. Throughout the entirety of the book, I address the multi-generational and highly contagious effects of masculine guilt and insecurity.
  6. My grandfather was a profound mentor and influencer in my life. I address how impactful healthy relationships can be for young people, even when they aren’t obviously so. I also address the process (from a young person’s perspective) associated with the loss of such an influence to cancer.
  7. Nearing the middle of book one, I discuss the spiraling cycle and rut that a lifetime of impactful events can have on a child’s mind. I explore internalization and the loneliness associated with not having an avenue of expression. I reflect on how that suppression can lead to violent thought (and eventually, to violent action), which perpetuates guilt and causes a deeper rut to be formed.
  8. The book explores young love, the cultural and religious pressure that causes young marriages (and subsequent divorces). Family values can cause young people to project things that aren’t there in their ambition toward achieving “the American dream.” I learn about the journey my parents were experiencing during my youth, as I experience it for myself in adulthood.
  9. I reflect on the impact and journey of military enlistment and the (many) demons that can accompany military service. I write about PTSD, suicidal thoughts, and the overuse of medication in treating veterans and others.
  10. I traverse the intelligence community, discover a number of truths about politics, government, and international relationships. I write about my journey as a father, both to my own daughter and to foster children. I write about achieving the American Dream.
  11. I write about my father’s diagnosis and battle with cancer – my experience with separating from service in order to support the family. I cover giving up, breaking down, and the confidence of authenticity that comes from just not giving a damn anymore. I explore how to recover from not giving a damn. I break the American dream into pieces and explore what my own dreams might be.

Book two is about my perspective as an adult, and how I (attempt to) balance and learn from the events listed above. 

Below is a list of people who I want the book to influence and help:

  1. Humans, or anyone who might know one.

Since the book is a thesis on life, I decided to pursue a mentor to hold me accountable for its progress and content. A special thank you to my mentor in completing this project. Also, to my readers, collaborators, and life influences.

An extra special thank you to anyone who accepts me for who I am and the mission that I have in the world rather than trying to change me into something else. Transmutation can be uncomfortable, particularly for the object being transmuted.

In a world of extremes, I hope to use difficult experiences and impactful language to snap people out of complacency and propel them forward in a journey toward balance and acknowledgment of the self.

More to come, for those crazy enough to read along. Much love. This one was written for me, really. Now, I’ve got some work to do.

-Dustin Stitt (Just a man who writes things, because that’s what he’s supposed to do.)

On Rejecting Self-Imposed and Cultural Growth Constraints

It’s a lesson I’m still learning, no doubt, so don’t take this as advice from a success coach. I do sometimes write to give advice, but I also find writing is a solid way to explore and express thoughts that are still being developed in the subconscious. Writing, for me, is one of the senses – it’s a part of myself that I use to perceive things from the world while contributing to it. This article is one that I’m writing for my own growth, but I hope someone finds it relevant.

I try to stay pretty self-aware, and lately I’ve noticed a weird phenomenon in my life. I keep being smacked in the face by opportunities that, upon first consideration, I would consider out of my league. After three or four iterations of that cycle though, I finally asked an important question.

Why do I feel like this is too much for me?”

How many people have to tell me that my experience, my story, and the growth I’ve endured are valuable before I start to believe them?

And then after some contemplation, I discovered an exciting answer.

None of the opportunities are too much for me. None of it is out of my league. I’m not intimidated by the six-figure salary offers, or the opportunity to write for an actual profit. I’m not afraid to work with people who are smarter than me, or more experienced. I was caught up in the cycle of being so sick of a mundane life, but simultaneously being programmed not to take necessary risks to break away from it.

I had to stop and take a look at why I felt the way I felt. For starters, I was raised in an area of the country where a solid 80% of the population is living a paycheck to paycheck lifestyle. The ones who could own a nice house were considered to be in an entirely different social class, and anyone who owned a vacation home was a rich snob.

The idea of social classes was keeping me locked into mine.

Secondly, my own ideology was contributing to the problem. In a desperate search for a life of simplicity, I was complicating everything. I don’t want 150k annually. I want a piece of land and a chicken coup. A log cabin and a small garden. In my commitment to that, I limited my job searches to opportunities between 40-65k. Jobs where I’d have to bust my ass and spend my evenings thinking about the next day’s task load. Any more of a salary, I thought, would mean sacrificing what little free time I had remaining.

FALSE.

Increasing your salary doesn’t mean sacrificing balance. It just means accepting more for the significant efforts you already contribute to your work. 

Another contributing factor was the idea of readiness. As an easy example, I’d constantly received advice that I shouldn’t reach out to any agents or publishers about my book until its completion. The other day, I disregarded that advice, and now there’s an agent going over my work for me. Had I chosen to wait, it would have delayed progress toward my ultimate goal. The only one responsible for that delay would have been me, for not following my gut instinct to reach out sooner, when the intent of the book was already made evident in the first hundred pages. Sometimes, you have to disregard sound advice in pursuit of your passions.

Finally, we must surround ourselves with people who believe in our dreams. If your friends, family, or boss constantly beat you down, it might be time for some distance. Hearing people constantly speak negativity works its way into your mind whether you know it or not.

When I say, “I can change the world,” the ONLY appropriate response from people in my inner circle is,

“I know you can. How can I help?”

And you can be damned sure that that’s the response I’ll give when all of you world-changers reach out to me. But first we have to learn to reject unnecessary restraints in order to become all that we were meant to be.

The Whole Person Concept

During my six years in the Military Intelligence community, I learned a great many lessons. One that remains near the top of the stack is this: two seemingly opposing ideas can both be truthful simultaneously. I experienced yet another example of this phenomenon this week, as described below.

Truth number one: reading and interpreting government publications, programs, and policies is some of the most mind-numbing work on the planet.

Truth number two: I always try to learn from whatever I’m doing, particularly with a goal of broadening my life’s philosophy, bettering myself, or molding myself into a better leader.

Now, if you’d have told me last week that those two ideas could exist in unison – that I could learn something that would make me a better leader while studying one of the many documents I use to accomplish my job duties, I’d have probably laughed at you or asked you if my boss sent you to manipulate me.

But it happened, man! After being honorably discharged from the military, I did a short stint running a guard force for a contracting company, and then found myself landing in PERSEC. Recently, I was studying the adjudication process, trying to round out my knowledge in a holistic sense, and I came across a concept that I’ve been unable to escape since the moment I read it.

“The Whole Person Concept.”

Essentially, it states that, when adjudicators are trying to determine whether someone is worthy of a security clearance or a trusted government position, they should understand that all people are different, and that people are they way they are for reasons. You aren’t trying to see if you find them morally relatable, but rather, adjudicators are meant to balance the positives with the negatives, and to see whether the subject of their investigation can continue to A. Contribute to the government mission they’re set to serve in, and B. Continue to grow in a holistic sense while doing so, without being susceptible to coercion and the like.

It equally holds people accountable for their actions, while understanding that people make mistakes and grow over time. The federal government, in other words, doesn’t necessarily care about the joint you inhaled when you were 15 years old; they care about who you are today, and how you are managing your past experiences.

Of course, adjudicators view the concept in a limited scope. As leaders, we not only have to understand who someone is as a “whole person,” we also have to contribute to it. We have to observe their strengths and weaknesses, and learn to incorporate them into the workspace. 

My own boss impressed me the other day when I told him that, while I’m a grown man and can handle anything I need to, group events like “Taco Tuesday” or other functions tend to set me on edge because they’re full of surface level, placating conversation. I’d honestly be thrilled to meet and engage with anyone on a one-on-one level, but the group element takes me back to some uncomfortable life experiences. It’s an entirely different scenario if it’s “my group” – if they’ve gathered for a reason and we can get to business. But awkward conversations about the weather or taco seasoning just make me anxious.

“No worries man, it’s not the military and this isn’t ‘Mandatory Fun.'” 

He also uses my passion of writing to let me contribute to our mission by reviewing and editing our own security policies. It makes me feel useful because of the things I naturally love to do, rather than just grinding through the day to day, “Mowing the grass.”

Applying the whole person concept to our own lives also gives us the ability to cut ourselves some slack. We have good days, and we have bad ones, but as long as we seek to understand who we are while being empathetic to the journeys of those around us, there’s not a doubt in my mind that we can remained balanced and grow together.

Best government instruction I ever read. Happy Tuesday, folks. Hope this helps you through the remainder of the week.

Radical Authenticity Can Change the World

At my worst, I was fighting a hotel fire with a marine who was a lot more prepared for it than I was at 19. I imagined a Djiboutian man burning alive because of his own mistake, and wondered whether I would risk leaving my own family alone to save his from the same fate. He had been chewing an opiate leaf when the fire began, and all I could see was my future daughter’s face. Decisions like that are made in the slowest seconds imaginable, and it takes decades to process them afterward. The answers I came to in moments like that are my own burden to bare, but some of my brothers and sisters were there with me as I learned to live with them.

At my best, I learned pieces of foreign languages and to truly LOVE people who were different than me. I did everything I could to get clean water, toys, and food, to children who couldn’t possibly grow accustomed to that lifestyle. I often wonder if I did it for their sake, or for my own conscience.

It’s time for veterans (and others) to stop thinking that their “demons” are something to hide from. Your perspective on the world is something that the world itself needs. It isn’t fake. It isn’t a joke. It doesn’t matter one BIT if you went through more or less than what others did. Your story can help people. You are dynamic and whole. You have dark memories and you deal with them. Some moments are worse than others, but you have more to contribute to the world than you can possibly imagine. Fierce authenticity is the only way to share those lessons with the next generation. Your pain is what gives true life to your compassion.

Here’s a song to take you back. It gets me every single time. And you know what? I’m not sorry for sending you to that place. Stop compartmentalizing. Stop running from it. Use the emotion it provokes to change the world. If your employers, friends and family don’t see your holistic value, they don’t deserve it.

It’s a dark humility that comes from having your world shattered time and again. From thinking that you can’t over and over, and always managing because that’s the one choice you’re presented with.

Just send it, man.

If you want something more lighthearted, take a look at my previous blog post about hiking and mountains, which (along with writing) are the only medicines I’ll ever accept to numb what some people call “pain” (It’s really just perspective).

What you think is your greatest weakness is actually your greatest strength. Know your worth.