Remembering Defining Moments & What Really Matters

[This post is from my Pepperdine Online Masters of Education Technology: EDC667 Leadership & Ed Tech Summer 2002]

I met with one of my pastors earlier this week to talk about what things can be done to improve the church website (I recommended doing something like Geeklog). Blah, blah, blah. Then he asked me, ” So Joe, what’s your story?” Let’s see, how many friends have I chased away with horrendously long renditions of my life story? Fortunately for both of us, he and I had to be somewhere else so that limited the breadth and “agony” of this re-telling of “what Joe’s been doing for the past five years.”

One good thing that came out of this conversation was that it reminded me of something I wrote on a web-page just as I was coming into this experience of Love that would so completely change my life. And even though the relationship seems to have run its course and I’m currently not with the person who was at the center of this very long whirlwind, the things that I was beginning to learn and wrote about still hold true. My struggle for the past few month has been to remember and hold on to all of the good things that I’ve learned despite how things have turned out. Some days are harder than others…

I almost think that I’ve come full-circle now. Almost fifteen years ago I wrote an article about following the “Logic of Feelings.” At the time the argument was that it was important to not dispel “feeling’s message” just because it lacked something in the way of being “objective truth,” and that it’s okay to determine the course of ones own life with the assistance of said feelings. It was hardly a mission statement but it was a good place to start.

Using Steven Covey’s “Beginning from the Ending model, I’ve created my own extended obituary:

When I’m gone I’d like my friends and family to remember my love for seeing the humor in everything (rule 6, or was that 69). While this humor had its roots in an insecure boy’s avoidance/defensive mechanism, it found it’s full voice in an older man’s understanding that the difficulties and tragedies that would rob us of our smiles merely hide the much greater reality, full of wonderment and limitless possibilities. And sometimes the only answers for life’s irritating queries is just to laugh at it all.

When I’m gone I hope that my friends and family see that a good measure of this humor came from my love of language. I can only imagine that my elementary school teachers would never believe that this stubborn nine-year-old, who hated reading and refused to look at anything more “literary” than LIFE Magazine and National Geographic during library time, would have been proud, in his later years, to call himself a life-long learner. In the space of about seven-years the reluctant third-grader became a knowledge-thirsty high school sophomore willing to plow through Elizabethan English and the King James Bible to satisfy his thirsty soul. In fact this language-laden quest would lead that sophomore through a “literary” Bachelor’s Degree in Biblical Studies and then a second Bachelor’s in Journalism.

Then there’s the music. When I’m gone I hope that my friends and family remember the important role that playing and writing music had for me. Actually learning to play guitar as a teenager and stumbling into songwriting (because nothing out there seemed to reflect the way I felt) forced me to learn how to articulate feelings and communicate within a very specific and narrow bandwidth (my budding musicianship). Performing said music, first with my first writing partner and then later solo, taught me a lot about communicating by listening first for the audiences’ response. I also learned to not let the number of faces intimidate me, but rather to find a few faces to focus on and let them unconsciously speak for their neighbors.

Then there are those faces in the crowd . . . What are the words and music and humor without those special people, friends and family, who connect with ones small voice crying in the wilderness. All of it, the accomplishments, the accolades, the insights, and the learning are completely worthless and meaningless without the knowing smile, the supportive hand squeeze, and the simultaneous glance. When I am gone I hope that you embrace the memory of our times together and how my life would have been so vacant and empty with you in it.

Most important to me are the small faces in the crowd. Maybe it comes from being part of a moderately large family, maybe it comes from never having grown up myself, maybe it comes from understanding that all of creation exists behind those little eyes, in their hearts and hands, that there is nothing more important than doing my part in their life’s journey. When I am gone, they and their children and their children’s children will be a testament as to whether I did the job that I loved so much.

Then there is the benefit of having lived at this time in history, in this place, with these opportunities and, of course, with all of these great toys. “For whom much is given, much us expected.” While I’ve used that quote to motivate myself to gear myself toward the service of others, I also use it to recognize the wealth of technology and access to it that has/had been dumped in my lap. When I am gone I hope that my friends, family and colleagues remember that I was always captured by the wonderment of our species’ creativity at having made these things. In my enjoyment, however, I hope they remember that I never let the toys or their shininess become more important than the little hands that would use them or the hands that created them (including my own).

Thus when I am gone I hope that my friends and family remember the smile in my eyes and my willingness to turn something on its head so that we could all have good laugh over it. I hope that they remember that my life was about building into the future by helping my students and associates integrate the complexities of our technological existences with our human endeavors for companionship, meaning and community. I hope that they revel in my love of writing and for communicating and how fascinating I found each of them and our whole species. I hope that they remember how I loved my role as observer, as teacher, as brother, and as lover. I hope the vista of these memories amazes them in its simple beauty and stays with them because of its deep complexities.

“Everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” Luke 12:48 (NIV)

Taking care of my gifts:
I’m no use to anyone else including myself if I don’t take care to maintain my physical health with proper diet, proper exercise and proper rest. Of course the cool part is that the better I do at this the greater energy I have for the other stuff.

I’m no use to anyone else including myself if I don’t invest in my own emotional and mental health through frequent reflection and meditation on my core values and beliefs and interaction with my significant other, my family, my primary friends and associates.

Well-tuned instruments
I cannot share or help others if I haven’t first spent the time and energy needed to maintain and develop my talents. I need to spend time every day writing and reflecting. I need to spend time every day listening and being a participant in the lives of those closest to me. I need to spent time every day playing my guitar to continue to develop and maintain the voice that I first discovered almost thirty-years ago. I need to spend time every week investigating and reading to maintain my technology troubleshooting/problem solving skills. I need to spend time every couple of months creating web or video projects. I need to spend time every couple of months meeting and working with people with similar communication drives or interests. I need to spend time (quarterly?) publishing or presenting my projects and materials to my associates and supporters.

Giving Back:
Home/Not Home
I know that some of my contemporaries make great efforts to keep their personal and professional as separate as possible and take great pride in that. But, because I tend to work across so many different skill sets on so many different projects, I prefer to let my personal life and profession life overlap as much as is possible or reasonable. This is not to say that I’d let my students suffer because of difficulties at home (the mom/dad-to-kid-to-dog-to-cat chain reaction), but wherever possible the lessons or insights of my or their home experiences needs to be a part of our learning community. My “role” as an educator is actually a skill (or collection of skills) and lives along side my other skills (often confused as roles) to afford me the means to live in the different areas of my life. But I am the same person and I know that I benefit and my students or associates benefit the more I pull together all of my resources to support them in their learning and endeavors.

Living in the Moment
Whether I’m answering a printer question on the phone or a seven-year-old wants to tell me what movie he saw with his older brother over the weekend, I need to be there for that person in that moment. Because I believe that all of creation exists behind those little eyes, in their hearts and hands, and one cannot tell how the gift of ones attention can effect the lives of these little ones, there is, therefore, nothing more important than doing my part in their life’s journey. Now, because there are frequently forty little ones vying for my attention I cannot be in the moment for that one person to the exclusion of all the others. So there are certain balance limitations at work here.

This also means that I need to be there for those little and big ones whom I’m related to, just as with those who call me “Mr. Bustillos.” And those whom I’m related to would be well-served to understand that there should be no conflict in my being there for them or for my students because one does not diminish the other. In this case, the more I give, the more I have to give.

Balancing the “Then,” the “Now,” and the “Later”
Like the sub-floors and pillars driven deep into the earth below great building, I know that what we wish to build into the future is frequently determined and shaped based on what we have built in the past. This goes for organizations as well as individuals. New administrators would do well to fully understand where their staff and organization has been before making changes, rather than to imagine to sweep away the past through executive order and then wonder why no one is following through with his/her edicts. At the same time, because of our capacity to create and change, we cannot afford to allow ourselves to be limited to the dictates of the past, especially if we did not have a full, active role in creating those dictates.

Now it’s certainly true that there is nothing that one can do about the past and that the future is, in fact, unknown. But we cannot allow ourselves to suffer from the tyranny of the “Now.” Because most of our lives are full, well passed overflowing, we need to be aware not to let the endless stream of “just one more thing” completely fill and commandeer the sum total of our lives. This means that today’s actions and demands (the “Now”) needs to be properly balanced with time for reflection (the “Then”) and time for planning (the “Later”). What this means in terms of a mission statement is that I need to provide for myself and those whom I’m leading adequate time to plan and then adequate time to reflect after project completions. JBB

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