Tattoos Can Tell a Story. Mine Do.

Tattoos Can Tell a Story. Mine Do.

I ran into an old family friend at a meeting for work recently. The tattoo on my left forearm was clearly visible. His response was a shocked: “What did your parents think?”

My response: “Not my problem.”

Why? My tattoos don’t have anything to do with my parents, who haven’t raised objections to my ink in any case. My tattoos have everything to do with me and who I am.

My friend questioning the ink by doesn’t make him a bad guy, he’s not. It does say a lot about how his generation and socio-economic status view ink and what it means though. And that’s too bad.

For the record I have six tattoos, five of which are pictured with this blog post.

  • The eagle on my right shoulder blade is my college mascot, and is breaking free from chains because I broke free of the chains that were restraining me before I transformed in 2013.
  • The forearm tattoos are corresponding, with my lovely bride and I having them on our left arms; a symbol of our renewal as a couple after our marriage relationship failed. Mine says “Come to me my sweetest friend,” hers says “this is where we start again.” It’s a line from the Goo Goo Dolls song “Come to Me.”
  • The lion on my left pec is because I’m a Leo and have a lion roaring inside me, and able to do so after that transformation.
  • The lotus flower and Om symbol on my right calf recognizes the completion of my training to become a yoga teacher, as well as the impact practicing yoga has had on me.
  • The “MWC” honors my alma matter with special meaning, as the Mary Washington College of my time at the school is now the University of Mary Washington, so the original acronym has special meaning.

Even the small tattoo not pictured here has meaning: a bumble bee, because I’m a history geek and the bee was a symbol of Napoleon’s empire (and the ancient royals of France).

Why do those things matter?

A Johnny Depp quote on tattoos has always stuck with me: “my body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.” That’s what my ink does, it tells my tale.

That’s why I unabashedly have my forearm tattoo visible at work frequently. If a health insurance executive like me can do that, then a lot more people can too. And they will.

Starbucks changed their policy on visible tattoos for baristas for a reason: the under-40 crowd has a lot of ink.

It seems clear employers — and the generally older decision-makers leading them — have a choice: they can ignore the trends of their emerging workforce demographics or meet that workforce where it’s at. Starbucks just got their quicker than some others because the barista-demographic is young.

That’s part of the reason my ink is out-and-proud so to speak at work. For one, it’s who I am. For two, I’m conscious of the fact I set an example — and a statement of acceptance — by doing so as a leader at my place of employment.

What’s the point of all that?

Maybe someone reading this will take a different view or have a more open mind about ink and the people with it, so lists like “15 things you shouldn’t say to girls with tattoos” aren’t a thing (the list applies pretty darn well to guys with tattoos too).

Even cooler, maybe someone will be inspired to get their own ink. If so, I can recommend a couple artists. 😉

Why Do I Stay Fit? Probably Not Why You Might Think.

Why Do I Stay Fit? Probably Not Why You Might Think.

I workout for a lot of reasons. Among them: to be healthy. To look good. To relieve stress. Most of all, I workout so I can do things.

I’ve done two Tough Mudders and a 2+ mile open water swimming race since I turned my life around in 2013. I trained hard for those events. They were amazing, rewarding experiences…for far more than just the physical challenge.

  • Training for and competing in my first Tough Mudder was a big part of changing my life. Along the way, I made new and deeper friendships that are truly meaningful and last to this day.
  • My second Tough Mudder took it a step further, when my lovely bride and I finished the course as part of the same team (that’s some couple bonding!). We did a Survivor Mud Run to prep for that event, and are doing a couple more mud runs together in the lead up to this year’s Tough Mudder. The couple that didn’t have anything in common before our marriage collapsed now does mud runs together!
  • Training for that swimming event reawakened by love of the water and enjoyment for swimming outdoors. I look forward to that now not just for the exercise, but for the simple act of being both outdoors and in the water.

Training for those things also made be fit, and maintaining it means I don’t have to do any special training for other adventures. Like:

  • Last Saturday, my wife and I tackled a rigorous hike of about 7 miles and  2500 feet of elevation gain, including some pretty gnarly stretches we did at a brisk pace. The day after: I was hardly even sore.
  • A little over a week ago I ran an 8k race even though I don’t run regularly thanks to bad knees. When I entered, I knew my weight room, yoga, elliptical machine, and swimming work would have to get me through. It did. I ran the race in 35:45, finishing 3rd for males my age (39), 15th out of 186 males ages 35-39, and 214th out of 3792 total finishers.

I was sore for several days afterward because fitness level aside, my muscles aren’t used to road running. But, that’s not so bad. And the point isn’t doing pretty well at the event, the point is being able to do things like that without needing to train specially for them.

That’s why I workout. Because life is worth living. It’s worth having the opportunity to do new and exciting activities with your spouse. It’s worth having opportunities to build new friendships with great people.

My bride was really nervous for our Tough Mudder. Afterward, she totally got why people love the event. That was our “tribe”: people interested in challenging themselves and living healthier lives. And there are few better places to build friendships than when you’ve found your tribe.

Maybe being super fit isn’t right for you. But, I bet being healthy enough to do the things you want to do is. I’m here to testify to that fact; my life changed because of it.

What the Hell Happened to Me?

What the Hell Happened to Me?

I received an awesome note this past week from a former colleague, who said:

It’s kind of odd, but I’d been thinking of writing to you for awhile to ask what the inspiration was that got you to completely change your life, and a couple of Saturdays ago, there [your blog] was! I think what you’ve done with your life is amazing, and you look like a completely different human being than you did when I first met you. Keep the writing coming–it’s authentic and inspirational…

That was really cool… and exactly why I’m writing again.

It also begs a fair question: what the hell did actually happen to me? A lot, really. More than I can cover in one post. But, here are some highlights I hope inspire you…or plant a seed for something better in the future.

I was broken. To the core.

My life was miserable and unhappy. I was overweight and depressed. My marriage was dead. I wasn’t the father I wanted to be.

That’s what I said in my inaugural post. My marriage wasn’t just dead, our relationship was in tatters after years of both of us struggling against our own flaws, the expectations of others, the damage of our past, and the grind of parenthood and life. There was more pain and anger there than either of us can put in words today. We were on the cusp of a divorce; living in the same home only because we couldn’t financially manage the physical split.

I was also at a crossroads in other relationships in my life that were (and are) the cause of great pain. I was avoiding that issue, for a lot of reasons, which only made the wound fester more.

I was on anti-depressants and in counseling. And my God did I need it.

I decided to make a change.

Not a consciously comprehensive one either. Just something different, that ended up having more of an impact than I expected.

A good buddy of mine posted a question on Facebook late in May of 2013, asking if any if his friends would be interested in doing a Tough Mudder. Something I had never done anything like in my life.

I said yes.

Then quickly realized I had to get serious about training for it if I was going to avoid being that guy who is a drag on the team. I went from working out moderately 3-4 days a week to working 7 – 10 times a week. Hard. And eating right too…because sustaining that regimen requires the right fuel, or you’re wasting your time.

I completed that Tough Mudder on October 5, 2013 , built a deeper friendship with Ryan, and found the infusion of working out and eating right changed me physically, mentally, and emotionally. I emerged thinner (size 30 pants today, down from a size 36), fitter (yep, I look pretty good naked), healthier (anti-depressants and blood pressure meds are gone), and more confident.

Something happened I couldn’t control.

I have trouble putting this one in words.

I was really close to my wife’s paternal grandfather, Jim, as were my lovely bride and our children. His health was declining over time, eventually spiraling rapidly over the course of several weeks before he passed away on July 14, 2013.

It was a brutal, emotional experience for all of us. We were there all day at the nursing home when he died. I was very young when my own grandparents passed. I had never experienced death up close, let alone of a love one. It was not pleasant.

And within 24 hours of his death, everything had changed.

My wife and I didn’t quite know it immediately. But the burdens of pain and anger that had become an insurmountable barrier in our relationship faded away. I don’t know what exactly Jim did when he left this earth, but he took some of our shit with him. Call it a final gift from a truly generous man. It was more spiritually and emotionally freeing than I can describe. And my God was it meaningful.

The following weekend Stephani and I reconciled. And on August 1, we married again. In Las Vegas. In a wedding chapel with just us and the officiant, straight of the Goo Goo Dolls song, “Come to Me”:

Today’s the day I’ll make you mine
So get me to the church on time
Take my hand in this empty room
You’re my girl, and I’m your groom

Other lyrics from that song now adorn our corresponding arm tattoos “Come to me my sweetest friend” (mine), “this is where we start again” (hers).

And yes, holy shit do I love that girl.

We kept at it.

She quit a job she hated and started a new career she loves. We moved out a neighborhood we detested and a home full of horrible memories, to a much better place to call home for now.

I joined her doing yoga, and fell in love with it. Soon we’ll both be freshly certified yoga instructors.

I got back in the water last year,19 years after swimming in college, then competed (pretty damn well, thank you!) in a 2 mile open water race.

Stephani and I continue to put intentional effort into growing continuously, as our journeys as individuals and as a couple evolve. It’s not easy. It has involved getting painfully real about some of our faults as human beings. There are bumps in the road. But, we keep moving forward.

So, that’s what the hell happened to me.

That telling isn’t incomplete. It leaves out a lot of details and thoughts I’ll write about in other ways over time. But, that’s what happened.

What will you take out of that? I don’t know. That’s probably pretty personal.

I hope someone reads this and realizes there really is hope left when the days seem darkest. I hope someone is inspired to do their own version of a Tough Mudder. I hope someone finds the courage to make the leap to live a life they’re passionate about.

I spent way to many years not doing those things, which is why I’m writing this blog. Because I hope you don’t ever have to.

Thanks for reading…this was a long one.

– Eric

Being Grateful in the Moment

Being Grateful in the Moment

I suck at that sometimes: being grateful in the moment.

Call it a symptom of my personal flaws that is also a common thing in society: we can’t wait for the next thing.

We’re always looking for something better. Whatever is to come next. The next professional experience. The next meal. The next vacation. The next time we get to hang out with our friends. The next sporting event. The next time we have sex.

How often are we were really just grateful in the present, with what is right in front of us? I’m not very good at that.

I took this picture in Everett, WA last Saturday. I kinda hate Everett. My lovely bride is from there. We lived there there first several years we were married and our kids were young. Everett is full of bad memories…and not a place that draws me to it.

I took the picture because I was enjoying a moment. Yes, I was in Everett. But, I was walking in the sunshine with my wife and daughter after seeing my son off to his senior prom. We were standing in a park across the street of where former U.S. Senator Henry “Scoop” Jackson lived. Scoop was a pillar of Washington state and national politics for decades. My inner history and politics-nerd rejoiced a bit.

I’ve seen the house before. My grandfather-in-law was a good friend of Scoop’s, so I’ve heard many a tale about Scoop, in addition to what I know of him from history. There wasn’t anything particularly special about the moment this picture was taken. I was just enjoying it for what it was.

I’m getting better about that. I used to be truly terrible at it. I was more likely to be worried about something or focusing on what I didn’t like or wished something would be, rather than being able to enjoy the good in something that might have been less than ideal. That’s a horrible place to be, because being happy is not really possible if you’re stuck thinking about what isn’t making you happy. I spent years doing that and don’t recommend it. At all.

I went through a huge personal change in July of 2013. It’s been a journey since then. And being grateful in the moment is something I still find myself having to do consciously sometimes. I hope you can too.

Letting Go. It’s Really Hard…You Should Try It Some Time.

You’d think it would be easy to let go of things that aren’t serving who and what we want to be in life.

But, it isn’t. It’s fucking difficult.

Jobs, relationships, ways we spend our time. They’re all difficult to walk away from, even when we realize it’s not getting us where we want to be.

The hardest part of my journey of getting healthy — and I’m not talking about the physical — has been learning to let go and walk away. From interests I used to have, from visions of what a relationship should be, from goals that were never truly my own, from ways of living that others deemed important…the list is sadly long.

Everyone has preconceptions about what we want and need that are informed by family, friends, co-workers, people we admire, and society as a whole.

Why in the hell  should those actually matter?

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