Ah, success. Over the course of a month, I’ve gone from writing regardless of whether anyone was going to read it to writing with a fairly consistent expectation that they would. It’s been a fairly natural progression built on one thing: caring about people and my craft. I do believe though, that I could’ve been wildly more successful if I was willing to do so in an ethically questionable way:
I’m fairly confident that if I clicked like on a thousand posts every day without actually reading them, at least a few dozen would follow my blog. Some of them would later find real value and connectedness within the community I’ve built, and I could eventually find time to really delve into their work.
Is it ethically questionable to trash and re-post early blogs? When I first migrated my initial group of articles from LinkedIn, I didn’t know anything about blogging. I didn’t know about scheduling posts or posting during blogging “rush-hours.” The ones that didn’t get much attention because of HOW I posted…I’m inclined to delete and re-post in a more strategic way. Both to build a following and so people can benefit from the concepts I write about.
I totally paid to have something re-blogged. It worked really well – Cristian Mihai (who is a must-follow for all new bloggers) sells the opportunity to have your blog shared with his 220k+ followers. It helps him to keep writing full-time, and you get to share your message with a larger group. Something like 90 people “liked” my post on his page, and a few even followed me! Serveal of them really benefited from or related to the the mental health concepts I wrote about (Here).
Anyway, do you guys think it’s okay to build your network in an ethically questionable way in order to achieve your larger long-term goals? Or do you think the slow, honest, organic path is the way to go? Which method do you think the hyper-successful folks have used? I never want to get to the point that I reply to heartfelt comments with a pre-formatted and impersonal blurb – but I do want to reach the maximum amount of people whose lives I can contribute to and learn from.
When I was 16 years old, I was selling cigarettes and t-shirts in my hometown bar, working at night and going to school during the day. I was even smaller then than I am now – maybe 130 pounds if I had a 10 pound barbell in each hand. It was an educational few years for me: I saw adults who were well respected in the community fight, vomit, and initiate affairs under the influence of alcohol. I learned how to deal with drunks, and how not to be, in a general sense.
It was during those years that I experienced my first ever “fight or flight” moment. A group on group bar fight broke out right in front of my little cubby hole of a store. It was too early in the night – the bouncers were scattered about, not expecting trouble. Still getting settled. My reaction was worse than either of the “fight or flight” options. I froze. I mean, I was a kid, right? What was I supposed to do? The guys fighting were all wearing “Tap-out” shirts and seemed like they were trying to make a name for their MMA school – MMA was just on the up and up in those years. By the time I snapped myself out of the frozen state, the bouncers had arrived. I hadn’t even had the presence of mind to call for them. I just stood there, frozen in fear. Once the fight was over, I’d beaten myself up for it for half the night. I decided right then that I would never be frozen like that again because of another man’s actions.
The next time a bar fight broke out, I was ready for it. Two guys – again, way too beefy for me to take on – were pummeling each other furiously. In a lot of ways, the second fight was worse than the first. The group had mostly been throwing each other around, making a mess but not really doing any damage. These guys were throwing real blows. Blood had already been spilled by the time I heard the noise. Don’t freeze. DON’T FREEZE.
“HEY!” I yelled in the most boisterous voice I could muster. It gave them pause, but they went back to pummeling each other. I ran in. Grabbed one of the beefy guy’s arms. Put him in an arm bar (I’d taken a bit of martial arts myself, but the passive philosophical type). I held his arm with all my might, and managed to stop his punches. Then, I realized by mistake. The other man was still free. He carried on punching the one I was controlling, and I inadvertently turned the tide of the fight. Then the bouncers showed up and rescued my 16 year old self again.
I was proud, in some ways. I knew I’d messed up, but I’d learned that the fight or flight “instinct” can be controlled. I learned that action is better than inaction, and I learned the first rule of emergency management: Don’t get excited.
Years later, those skills became increasingly relevant in a military setting, but I had one more freeze-up incident.
It was in the Horn of Africa, where I was part of a “Force Protection Liaison Team.” I’d spent months building relationships with everyone from human traffickers to tribal elders in an effort to keep Americans in the region safe. You can’t fight a threat you don’t know about. Anyway, a hotel fire broke out in one of two hotels in the Northern half of the Djibouti. By the time my partner – a Marine Staff Sergeant – and I arrived, the place was in terror. There were electric explosions along with things like alcohol and fireworks in the building, so that added to the chaos. We were in the desert and had no water to fight the fire with. All around me there were children screaming and women crying, and worst of all – they said there was still a man inside.
I froze for what seemed like eternity – it was really just a few seconds before my earlier lessons kicked back in. Already this post is longer than my average, so I’ll summarize to a great extent, but after a night of fighting for our lives and the lives of others – seeing men pass out from smoke, and attempt to fight a raging fire with dirt and sand – we managed to at least make sure everyone was safe. Even one guy who thought the best way to fight the fire was to stand on the roof and beat it with a large stick. He thought that if the roof collapsed, it would be more effective to dump dirt on the fire from above it. I wondered why anyone would want to force the collapse of a roof they were standing on. I questioned whether I would give my life to save his – he, who had made a stupid choice that could’ve resulted in hellacious pain. The conclusion I came to is my own to bear, but what I learned that night is this:
The fight or flight response is largely dependent on experience and priorities. These days, I often find myself running toward chaos where I think I can lend assistance (it typically turns out to be nothing more than a scare of some kind). I don’t know that there’s much that would make me freeze these days – though I’m aware it’s still possible, for anyone. But if you think about the worst case scenario and know what you’re willing to die for, there’s no reason you can’t prevent yourself from ever being frozen in fear.
If folks like reading about these concepts, maybe I’ll explore them further?
People love to talk about themselves. It’s an early lesson for many, particularly in intelligence, but also in politics, journalism, and a plethora of other careers. It’s a healthy attribute – it helps us to connect to one another, build our inner circle, and relate to other cultures – but when the ego becomes programmed to draw a constant comparison between our own experiences and the experiences of those around us, a culture of inadequacy and exaggeration is formed. Instead of an environment of growth and empowerment, we create one of stagnation which sucks the motivation out of a large percentage of the work force. We feel the need to “fluff” our resumes and stories, as if our actual life experience isn’t really enough, and we create a sort of “laundry list” of events that make us who we are. There’s no laundry list. The entirety of our journey makes us who we are, not just the catch-phrases that sound good to other people.
“Cool guy clubs” are particularly prominent in a military environment, and are a primary contributor to many psychological effects that follow military service. Particularly during their first decade, whatever experience a service member gains is never really enough. I remember reporting to my second command following a pretty intense tour which featured some of the toughest mental training a sailor can go through, followed by a deployment to the Horn of Africa and another to Central America. I’d been broken down and rebuilt a number of times, but the first question my new supervisor asked was, “So what ship were you on?” When I responded that I hadn’t served on a ship (other than to travel to various third-world countries), he responded, “Don’t worry – we’ll make a real sailor out of you.” I was a non-commissioned officer with multiple medals and warfare specialties, but evidently, I wasn’t a “real” sailor.
Even before then, during my first tour, you weren’t one of the “Cool guys” unless you were an expert marksman. Or an interrogator. Or unless you’d been through SERE, or been OC sprayed. There was an endless list of experiences that evidently mattered, but it was only comprised of things you hadn’t already done. I always thought that it was a phenomenon exclusive to the military, but as it turns out, it isn’t.
“Oh, you run a blog? Did you break a thousand followers yet?”
“Oh, you’re an author? How many books have you published?”
“Oh, you’re getting married? First time?”
“Welcome to the Company! Have your degree yet?”
Instead of contributing to the journey of others, we compare ourselves to
Instead of flaunting all the reasons that leaders are in a leadership position, (This is why I have authority over you. This is why I am cooler than you.) leaders should be validating not only the experience of their employees, but also the personality traits and organic strengths that they each contribute to the team.
Upon taking my current position, my boss handed me a drawing of a blank check. He said, “You know what that is? It’s empowerment. I wouldn’t have hired you if I didn’t trust your judgement. As long as you know you can deliver what you promise people, you don’t need to ask my permission first.”
So break down that “Cool guy” culture. It’s not about who is the most tactical, who has been shot at the most, or how cool your Oakley’s and five-eleven pants are. It’s about humble confidence, a proactive attitude, and enabling your people to achieve their truest potential (rather than trying to hold them under your thumb and keep them at a place that makes you comfortable).
Leadership isn’t comfortable. Train your replacement – hell, train your CEO’s replacement. Help your people to achieve their dreams, and in doing so, you’ll make endless progress toward achieving your own. And if you get good at that, make everyone you meet one of “your people.” Humanity is a group experience. If you find a passionate person out there who has managed to escape complacency, encourage their passion. Don’t rid them of it.
Do you ever get envious of some of the adventure pictures and stories you see on the web? I know I do. “What a life!” I always think. “Must be nice to do that for a living instead of being a slave to the establishment.” I can admittedly be a bit melo-transcendental at times (and yes, I did just make that word up). Oh, to travel – to experience and inspire!
“What if that was me?”
If you aren’t careful, seeing folks that have somehow managed to live that lifestyle can force you into a rut.
Don’t you let it.
Amanda and I have been hiking Tennessee trails since before we ever met. We’ve also been lucky enough to hike in some incredible places across the Southwest, and even across the world (though we haven’t been out of the country together, yet). We may not live in a van or a modified school bus featuring a composting commode or solar shower, but we do escape on occasion to sleep in a tent for a few months, as long as there’s a nearby bathhouse so we can still look presentable at work.
And even with all the time we’ve spent in the woods locally, we still come across treasures we couldn’t have imagined in this part of the country. We came across one such treasure yesterday, which this blog’s title eludes to.
Pickett State Park and Pogue Creek Canyon. Within an hour and a half of Knoxville, Oak Ridge, and Harriman, and yet we (as avid outdoors enthusiasts) had never even heard of it. In one place, you get the largest canyon I’ve ever seen in this state, natural arches and bridges, caves, and even waterfalls. The difficulty of the trails ranges from super flat and relaxing to walk on, to challenging even for the most experienced. It was a place with so many options to explore that we’d have had to camp there for a week to even put a dent in them. We fully intend to.
Our first trail (below) led us to Hazard Cave.
The trail was pretty mild most of the way, with a few steps and stones to traverse during the final descent.
Of course we had to play with silhouettes and lighting once we’d arrived.
And I never miss an opportunity to kiss my perfect wife.
The cave is to the left of this photograph. I tried to run and climb to join Amanda for the picture, but couldn’t do it in the ten seconds my phone would allow before snapping the shot. …It would have taken me at least 14 seconds.
After the cave, we decided to head over to the park’s Natural Bridge. On the way, we saw the amazing root system below growing over a stone ledge.
And then we saw actual arches! In Tennessee! There are several throughout the park which we are intent on returning to find. Some of our favorite memories are at Arches National Park in Utah, where we cowboy camped and listened to a Native American man play a flute during a melancholic sunset. Arches are much more rare in our neck of the woods, and especially ones of this magnitude!
There was a staircase to the top of the bridge, which seemed to condone crossing it. In the Southwest, this is often a no-no.
Amanda wanted to blend in with all the trees, so she pulled this one out of her yoga-repertoire.
If you want to see us in our element, you’ll never get closer than the picture below. We walk our own individual trail in a lot of ways (I’m the idealist, she’s the rationalist; I’m emotional and empathetic and she’s a walking calculator who only shows her truest soul to yours truly).
Hiking together is a great metaphor. Sometimes the trail is easy, sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes it’s literally impossible to do alone. But you still hike the damned thing, no matter what. And more often than not, you’ll find us with honest smiles like the ones beneath this text.
As we continued our hike, I was so happy to see (but mostly to smell) so much pine, which is very nostalgic for me as a South GA native in my childhood years. If you want, Amanda has managed to capture the fragrance astoundingly with her Pine or Cedar scented candles, which you can learn more about at The Gypsy’s Store.
Pickett State Park featured super nice bathhouses and campsites, some of which were right on the water.
There was a bouncy bridge that, while well constructed, made me feel a bit odd.
Both Pickett and Pogue are participants in the International Dark-Sky Association, which you can read more about in the photographs below.
To help support the many efforts of the State Park, we purchased a couple of t-shirts from the clearance rack in the visitor’s center. I’m especially fond of mine, which features John Muir. If you haven’t heard of him, you should definitely do some research on the guy. He’s right up there with John Wesley Powell as an inspiration and a hero, but to be honest I need to do a lot more research myself as well. Essentially, all I know is that he had an amazing journey, advocated for the outdoors, and had one hell of a beard.
It was funny how it happened; While we were at Hazard Cave with no cell signal, our mutual best friend and hiking pal messaged us about an amazing place he’d found that he needed to show us. He sent a picture of one of the rock faces he was looking at, and Amanda and I had only seen one place like it in TN. The one we were at! No prior discussion, no planning at all, and we both selected the same park to hike on the same day, coming from different directions that were over an hour from Pickett. Once we returned to cell service, we managed to link up (it took all of five minutes – we actually found his car before any of the texts went through).
He then took us to Pogue, where I got the shot below.
She’s so stunning.
Background isn’t bad either.
Our buddy (Steven) said that the view paled in comparison to the final overlook, but we were sadly losing light and had a long drive home.
The point, though, is this. If you can find places like that on short day trips (which you always can), it makes returning to work the next week a lot easier. I still get disillusioned, no doubt. All we want is a few acres to ourselves. A log home, some chickens, and a garden. Rain water and solar power and a German Shepherd. Space. Peace and quiet, to truly focus on the things I need to write and the messages I need to leave the world. To just focus on each other.
Those things will all happen in time though, and being inspired by places like Pickett and Pogue will ensure that it does.
You know what’s funny? Sometimes, when I point people toward the blog they didn’t know we had, they ask me if hiking is my job. When I tell them it isn’t, they ask “How do you do it, with work and all?”
Today is the first opportunity I have to express thanks to those reading along so far – I hit my first small milestone as a blogger in reaching fifty followers. If you’re new to my blog, I post “think pieces” fairly regularly, with topics ranging from mental health and self-betterment to philosophical and leadership ideologies. I also write poetry on occasion, and offer freelance editing and writing services. If you’re a seeker of wisdom and truth, I think that I can contribute to your journey while simultaneously learning FROM you, and would be honored to have you join my community. You can read “the crux” of what I do, here.
I also love to help like minded people, and in the spirit of that, would like to congratulate a like minded blogger, Peter, on achieving the same milestone (on the same day!). He’s a veteran and fellow philosopher who is articulate and thought provoking – if you read my stuff, I’d highly encourage you to take a look at his as well. As my community continues to grow, I hope to be able to aid the growth of others who write with intent of positively impacting the world.
Anyway, I wanted to say thank you for the validation of my writing thus far, and for the impact each of you have had on me with your own writing. I believe that a few strong writers can nudge the human collective toward compassion, acceptance, and contemplation, and aid one another in their journeys toward peace. And I’m stubborn enough to help that happen.
I typed in the name of my new website just now, so that I could begin sharing its intent.
As I did so, I felt a bit burnt out. More than that though, I felt the weight of conviction and a rebellious sense of purpose in a world that tells me I don’t have one, or that I can’t have one, or that I’m not qualified to achieve it. That I’m not qualified to achieve my purpose.
You see, I already know what my purpose is. Ever since I was a child, I’ve felt the strong urge to help others. To advocate for the broken, mistreated, or misunderstood. To heal them, show them how they should be treated, and to understand them. It’s all been inspired by my journey to to heal myself, to find those who treat me with kindness, or to find the people I can be understood by.
And they’re out there. You’re out there. It’s just such a complex problem to digest and address with a tone of victory.
The Quiet Visionary. Maybe I’m being too quiet – I’ve never been one to self promote, and I always feel like advocating for my own skills and purpose is too proud a thing to do. I think that a lot of people who can heal our world feel the same. But I couldn’t just start typing after I entered my web-address – there was another step before I got to my present screen. I had to click one more link.
And that’s what this is, right? My site. My blog. My space. My voice.
Mental health awareness is such a huge issue that almost everyone from almost every walk has to at least acknowledge it. Which one of you doesn’t know a person who has ended their life early, or tried to? Which one of you hasn’t thought about doing it yourself at some point, but refused because of faith, honor, love, or fear? How many more could be reading this if they hadn’t already lost that battle?
Fuck mental health awareness. We’re already aware of it.
The problem is that so many people who could honestly contribute to the healing of our country are held back from doing so by misconceptions that have existed for FAR too long. I’m held back from doing so. And that’s not a complaint or a pity party, it’s a challenge. So many people survive adversity and come out on the other side with a story to tell, only to be warned that they shouldn’t tell it.
It’s too private. It’s too shameful. It’s too real. You’re not educated enough. It’s too late to become educated enough – you have a family now. You have responsibilities and bills and all you can do is keep working your life away in a desperate grind to stay afloat.
Nah, man. It’s time to challenge that.
Every single day people are literally choosing to blow their brains out or hang themselves in their own “living” rooms because the way we are treating mental illness is NOT working. NARCAN is now available over the counter, because people choose to run to drugs where a more obvious solution is absent. Almost every veteran I meet has been diagnosed with PTSD, because our nation would rather throw money and mind-numbing drugs at problems than to see them properly addressed. Many within my own circle will judge the stance I’m taking because people should just “turn to God.” I believe that God gave us the tools to overcome adversity together, and it’s not always enough to just project the things that pain us into the sky and be freed of them.
Most of the people you engage with beyond the surface level are proud to share with you conditions which replace their own names in illustrating the adversity they’ve overcome. You’re not a person – you’re a person battling depression. You’re a person battling bulimia, anxiety, PTSD, or anorexia. You’re a person battling. As if anyone out there is not battling.
You’re so thankful when you finally find someone else who is battling the same disease that you are…perhaps they can understand you. Disease, when written regarding mental health, is a word created by other people to monetize issues that have been faced since the dawn of humanity. The truth? The truth is that mental diseases and spiritual brokenness are the same damned thing. Honestly, at this point – with suicide rates skyrocketed and diagnosis at an all-time high – what’s the harm in trying a different approach?
I may not have a master’s degree, or a doctorate (though I hope to find the means to add those tools to my kit), but I think I have an even more valuable tool. MY story. I can help the broken to heal, because I’ve healed from being broken.
Anyone who scoffs at this post or the language in it hasn’t been in the place I’m talking about. But SO many have. And SO many are still there, and hiding it. Military leaders. CEO’s. Waitresses and strippers and whores and soldiers and children and happily married men and women and preachers and teachers and cooks and druggies and the homeless population that we try SO hard not to see. None of them is more important to me than the rest, and none of them has less potential than another. They all just need an advocate. Someone to give them the time of day, an open ear that won’t judge and can offer advice based off of practical experience, not some text book.
That’s the crux of what America’s mental health issue is, and it’s also the key mission of The Quiet Visionary. People don’t need to pay hundreds of dollars an hour to a therapist who tells them only that they’re “intellectualizing their emotions” and lacks any hint of empathy or compassion. If that sounds like a story based on experience it’s because it IS. The one time I sought professional help, I found someone who was professionally disconnected from the world’s problems. Someone who lacked the experience to relate to the world’s darkness. People bound by a code of ethics that prevents true connection or understanding, people who seek to drag the broken into the light without understanding why they haven’t been there in the first place.
Humanity is not a shameful experience. Real answers do exist. Cut yourself some slack. Pain is not something to be hidden. It’s something to be shared that others might better avoid it.
I may not have a degree like they say I should. And now, well into adulthood with a wife and child of my own, I’ve found myself thus far incapable of dropping everything to return to school. Sure, education is a great enhancement for tools forged by hard experience. By what use is a tool adorned with jewels if it’s never been forged in fire and quenched into its most durable form?
Better a plain and humble sword that was made properly than a jeweled one made of softest metal.
I can help you climb out of the pit. I know the path. I’ve been there before. And I’m working so hard for you, behind the scenes. Processing my story into something digestible. Not something to cling to, but something to learn from. And not because I’m better than you or because I’ve been through more, but because it is simply my purpose to do so. To change the broken stigma of mental health “awareness,” and give folks who are in pain actual solutions to their problems.
But every advocate needs an advocate. Help me build my platform so I can help those who are in the dark to understand the darkness, and thus overcome it.
You will hear more from me. If you need help, reach out to me anytime. It doesn’t matter who you are or how we’re related. I see the world’s hidden pains. The only real solution is unconditional love. Whatever happened to unconditional love?