JBB’s Final Thoughts Episode 25: The Power of “No”
Episode 25: The Power of “No” After a very long hiatus I’m back… This video podcast is based on a presentation I gave on August 5th, 2018 at Sunday Assembly Las Vegas about living more intentionally and making choices based on the things that are most important to ones self. With that in mind I’m hoping to make these video posts a much more regular thing… but then, I’ve said that before.
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- music: Social Blindness – 22K by Smart Sound Music
- All images and screen grabs by Joe Bustillos ©2014 and ©2019
- Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown – Amazon Affiliate Link
JBB’s Final Thoughts, episode 25: The Power of “No”
Joe Bustillos, here. I should say something here about “pod-fading” and how it’s been “easier” to not podcast for the past two years, four months and how crazy it is to imagine that with a new school year beginning next week that I’m really going to have time for all of this. But the subject of this post addresses this process of finding time for the things that are important to us and getting rid of the distractions or things not connected to the things we find essential to our lives.
Also, whatever it was that I was thinking that I could do something more “magazine” like or do things as “seasons”… feel free to ignore all of that. I do have several episodes previously recorded, some in 360° video, that I plan to post. I’m just trying to find that pace that works for all of the projects I’m involved in. That said, this post is based on a presentation I gave at Sunday Assembly Las Vegas on August 5th. I decided to do a Screenflow version so that you can actually hear my audio and clearly see the slides. It’s a bit longer than my other podcasts, at over 15-minutes. The topic was “The Power of ‘No’: Fighting the dilemma of infinite choices in a finite life without becoming an a-hole or how do you deal with disappointment and life’s decisions.
Slide 4. (Potential)
I grew up in a time and place when we really believed that you could be anything you wanted to be. As if to prove a point, when I was eleven-years-old, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon. Then in the 1990s one of my elementary-through-high school classmates, Michael Lopez-Alegria, became an astronaut and currently holds the second place record for most EVA hours and third-longest total space flight days of any American at 215 days. So, yeah, I grew up at a time when we were almost expected to become whatever we dreamed to become.
Slide 5. The problem is… given the limitless possibilities, how do you make those life-changing choices as they race by you?
Slide 6. (Working-Class Folk & Opportunities)
Now, my folks were very practical working-class folk, and I learned from them that you take whatever opportunity that presents itself. You jump at the chance, but the opportunity is just the door opening. Once the door is opened, you’re expected to work like hell to justify whoever it was that gave you that opportunity.
Slide 7. (Working-Class Folk at University)
So, I embraced the dream, playing music and writing while pursuing degrees in Religious Studies at Loyola Marymount University & then Biblical Studies at Biola University & then a Masters in Theology at Fuller Seminary & then a degree in Journalism from Cal State Fullerton. My folks hoped I’d pick up some business courses while I did this Religious Studies/Biblical Studies/Theology stuff and, being working-class folks, none of us really thought that the music or writing was going to be a means to making a living… so maybe we really didn’t believe you could be anything you wanted to be.
Slide 8. (Opportunities: 15-Year “Summer Job”)
Speaking of being working-class and opportunities, in 1979 I got what was supposed to be a summer job with the phone company. Fifteen years later that “summer” job had paid for my two bachelors degrees, the masters course work in theology, my teacher credential, my marriage and my divorce. It’s a bit complicated, but the latter event, divorce, spelled the end of my Christian ministry notions.
Slide 9. (Opportunities: Journalism to Teaching)
After that dream went up in smoke, I got a 2nd BA in Journalism but the inside scoop against the Journalism career was that I noticed that most of my editors were A-holes and that you had to be a bit of a dick to get ahead in the field. So I pivoted and, because I discovered that I actually cared about people, ended up in education.
Slide 10. (Opportunities: Teaching, AKA “Learning Engineering”)
So in the 1990s, while my hometown classmate was flying in space with NASA, I was beginning my journey as a learning engineer trying to reach my classroom full of human potential, often in opposition. But one of the keys to my success as an educator is that I hadn’t been a very good student when I was in elementary school and I still remembered what it was like to be bored or endlessly daydream in class. Basically I saw my students, not as the ungrateful enemy, but as I once was, often bored and unengaged with whatever was happening in the classroom.
Slide 11. (Opportunities: Full Sail University)
Then in 2008 I had the opportunity to take all of this educational/technological experimentation to Full Sail University in Florida to teach fellow educators in an online masters program on how to add technology to one’s teaching/learning toolkit. Based on my experiences getting my Masters and some doctoral work online in Educational Technology, we were free to experiment with blogging, gamification, podcasting and anything that would best equip our students. I was doing my life’s work, reaching teachers who would influence and guide future generations.
Slide 12. (Challenge: CIDP)
Alas, in 2012 it all seemed to come crashing down when over the course of seven months I went from having chronic pain in my right calf that kept me from being able to sleep, to falling down and being unable to walk or support my own weight. I would eventually be diagnosed with an auto-immune illness called CIDP, or “chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy.” Basically my white blood cells were eating the lining of the nerves connected to my thighs and that resulted in my thigh muscles atrophying to the point where I could no longer stand without the assistance of a walker.
From Sept 2012 until May 2014 I received IVIg treatments. I would get an infusion of harvested healthy white blood cells to counter-act the actions of my own traitorous immune system.
The nurses would come to my home and I had an IV needle pierce somewhere in either of my arms or hands. I learned to keep my blood pressure in check over the course of the five- to eight-hours it would take to get the treatment. I got this treatment 88-times and the needles they use are much larger than what’s used to draw blood.
Slide 13. (Challenge: Better But Never Free)
I’m obviously “better,” but I will never be free from my CIDP, having diminished nerve-health in my feet and I have to keep an eye on the possible reoccurrence of the full-blown illness. I have no idea what caused it, it’s most likely a familial/genetic thing in that both my mom and late older sister suffered a similar illness beginning in their mid-fifties. Talk about a wake up call.
Slide 14. (Challenge: Near-Homelessness)
Just as I seemed to have endless possibilities in my early adulthood, I seemed to be facing endless challenges during this period of my life, when the bad economy finally caught up with Full Sail University and in 2014 I was laid off from my dream job. I was unable to find another teaching job for over six months and when I found one it paid less than 1/2 half my prior salary and I had to sell my townhouse and move in with friends. I’m still dealing with the soul crushing realities of that difficult experience of near-homelessness.
Slide 15. (Opportunity: CCSD)
Fortunately, in early 2016 I got a recruitment email from Clark County School District, put my name on a list, did a phone interview with a principal looking for someone with my background in robotics and virtual tech to create a STEAM Lab at a disadvantaged elementary school and even though I did not know anyone living in Las Vegas, here we are.
Slide 16. (The Challenge of Going from the Specific to the General)
So, how do we go from my specific experiences of the past 60-years to something that might help you in your specific journey? Let me share with your eight observations…
Slide 17. (1. No Mission/No Worries):
First off, if you are someone perfectly contented with living at the lower end of Maslow’s pyramid, measuring your life based on the three foundational questions that has driven much of human existence since the beginning of time: 1. Do I run from it? 2. Do I eat it? 3. Do I… try to procreate with it?, then, enjoy the ride, you’re already living the dream. You can just smile at the rest of us idiots who are convinced that we’re here to do something else.
Slide 18. (2. What’s the Mission/Something Bigger Than Oneself):
I had a perfectly good telco job that I would be one-year from retiring from, with 39-years, had I hung in there, but somewhere along the line I decided that, with all of my college education, I was suppose to do something else.
Then, 20-years into this teaching thing, when I was under-employed and felt less than valued, I seriously began to wonder, when did this career thing go from making a living to being a calling? Well, the joke is on me because this sense of purpose doesn’t have to be connected to one’s career (though if it is, awesome, you too are living the dream), but can be any part of ones life where one derives meaning… it’s that part of us that connects us with something meaningful and bigger than ourselves. It can be anything from rescue pets, to family time, to travel, to meditation, to anything. I should probably explain that my need for my “mission” to be all-encompassing probably comes from this sense that I’ve been so damn lucky and given so much that whatever it is that I’m supposed to do or be needs to be that big too. The rest of y’all are free to just admire the flowers and call it done. Whatever your bliss is, no one can say its too big or too small. Me? I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but I haven’t stopped looking.
Slide 19. (3. Choice):
One of the things that we tend to loose in our transition from childhood to adulthood is the notion of choice. It was the running joke of my generation that children, especially kindergarteners, could tell you all the things they wanted to be when they grew up and the list would change continually. The idea that we have “choice” in our lives diminishes significantly as we assume the responsibilities of adulthood, but is that really the case? I’m not advocating irresponsibility, but seriously sometimes we don’t entertain the idea of “choice” because it takes a hell of a lot of energy, effort and time to change anything in our lives and we just don’t want to go through all of that “again.” Or as Officer Murtaugh says over and over again in “Lethal Weapon,” “I’m too old for this shit.” Sorry Officer Murtaugh, it may be a bigger pain in the ass as we get older, but “Choice” empowers us to reveal who we are and what is most important to us when we are most challenged.
Slide 20. (4. The Plan):
Now that you’ve identified that thing or things that are most important to you, what are you going to do about it? At the same time whenever I hear someone say, “So, where do you want to be in five-years?” my first thoughts is usually, “Shit, I’m still trying to figure out what I want to have for dinner tonight, much less having some grand plan.” Right? Ugh. Also, remember, as non-believers, we’re under no obligation to assume that there is one perfect divinely created plan for ones life.
At the same time, and as much as I hate the presumptuousness of expecting normal people to actually have a “life plan,” it’s been my experience as a classroom teacher that without a detailed plan, nothing gets done or accomplished. All of the minute-to-minute demands of working with little human beings will force one to assume that life is just about putting out whatever fires one can as they present themselves and feel good about just surviving the experience.
Turns out that the idea of a plan is the premeditated appreciation of all of the steps it takes to get from where one is, to where one wants to be. With a good plan, one has taken into account all of the possible variables and challenges, and that leaves one free to deviate from the plan if a better path presents itself. The idea of a plan is to commit oneself to a goal or series of goals, but also to be free to change directions if some better course comes about. Conversely, not having a plan more or less guarantees that one will NOT achieve one’s goals. So, If you’ve bothered to identify the thing or things that are meaningful to you, go through the process of figuring out how to make those things a part of ones life… make a damn plan.
Slide 21. (5. No One Survives Alone):
I have a theory that sometimes our dreams aren’t realized because no one in our day-to-day life does the thing we dream about. If you were raised in a working class family it’s difficult to imagine that someone can make a living writing words, or drawing. Peter Sohn, director of “The Good Dinosaur” loved drawing, but his parents came from Korea and were shop-keepers, and that would have been his life until the day an animator came into his father’s store and shared with the father that he made a good living working for an animation studio. It isn’t for a lack of talent that many don’t succeed. It really comes down to who you know.
Slide 22. (6. Embrace the End):
This one is next to impossible for anyone under the age of thirty to really appreciate, except for those who have experienced life-threatening circumstances themselves or someone intimately close to them. Our Western Culture is flat out horrible with this part of Life. We all tend to live like we have an endless supply of days and years, and that pretty much guarantees that we’re likely to get to the end of our stories and wonder why the hell we didn’t get X, Y and Z done. I don’t know about you but I rarely get anything done without some actual deadline (interesting word). So at the age of 60, looking at my mom’s health at 86 (my dad passed away at 82), let’s say I have maybe 25 good years to get “stuff” done… Thinking about the time you have left can really change your approach to what you want to do with your time. I’m not going to fixate on “the end,” but I need to add this to how I approach my day-to-day choices and long term goals.
Slide 23. (7. The Power of “No”):
Our creativity might be limitless but the time we have to exercise said creativity isn’t.
The Power of “No” isn’t about limiting one’s life to someone else’s design for you or cultural expectations, but based on those things you value the most in your life, you choose to commit your energy and your time to those things and take anything not connected to those things and remove them from your life. Rather than trying to do everything, often at someone else’s behest, we will find far more satisfaction in doing the few things that matter most to us. The power of “No” frees us to focus on what’s most important. When I was working 24/7/365 days a year at Full Sail I rarely took any time off and it nearly ended me and, turns out I hadn’t done many things that I wanted to do. I didn’t give myself permission to figure out what was important and prioritize that in my life. And I had to get sick to see the wisdom of being more intentional and not worry about what everyone else was doing.
Slide 24. (8. It’s the Journey, Not Necessarily the Destination):
Because life isn’t the kind of thing with an actual designated end-point, just like the idea of a plan, it turns out that it isn’t about some end destination, but the process that gets us to that destination. However we define those goals (in step one) the actual pay-off isn’t in the accomplishment but the kind of persons we become as we approach those goals.
Slide 25. (Call to Action):
As you go through the rest of your day, figure out what really matters to you? How can you make accomplishing that or those goals a part of your day-to-day life? Think about ways you can connected with others who are on a path similar to yours? Don’t worry if you soon find that you have to adjust the destination or the path, that’s part of the process. Finally, smile: You are now living the life!
Slide 26. (Plugs):
My experiences are my own, but one book that explores this notion of living a life intentionally is:
Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown
And if you want to continue to participate in my outer monologue you can subscribe to my blog at http://joebustillos.com, scroll to the bottom of the page and click on the FOLLOW button where it says “Follow Blog via Email” and enter your email address.
And smile: you are now living the dream!