10 Things I Learned From a Year Without Social Media

1. Social media isn’t bad.

Being without Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, SnapChat, Tumblr, this blog, and other forms of social media has not left me any worse for wear. However, there were times during my year-long hiatus when I missed feeling informed about friends, family, and acquaintances I have not bothered to actually reach out to. I also missed seeing local business events and finding cool things to do on the weekend.

2. Social media isn’t good either.

Twitter’s new feed hasn’t made me a better person and looking at pictures of famous athletes on Instagram hasn’t helped my body image. Aside from business use, it seems to me social media exists for two things: bragging and complaining.

3. Almost no one missed me.

In a world of constant flux and short attention spans, we are just not as important as we think we are… to everyone else. And here I thought America was hinging on my latest movie review or insightful philosophical introspection. I mean, it’s not like with me absent on FaceBook to challenge bad ideas America went to… hell… in… a handbasket… is it?

4. I didn’t miss you, either.

No offense. I love my friends and family–well, in a mostly congenial way, at least. I did not miss seeing pictures of drunken stupidity, incomprehensible political opinions, fake news, click bait, Bible quotes, chain letters, obscure rants, and pleas for random charities I’ve never heard of. In fact, I found that fewer things annoyed me while I was away from social media. No politics; no Idiocracy. (Know politics; know Idiocracy–sorry, couldn’t resist.)

5. Social media is great for finding stuff to do.

This is the thing I missed most, actually. Facebook is probably the number one way Nicole and I find interesting things to do on the weekend. Better than friends is subscribing to all of your favorite local businesses and restaurants! (Sorry friends. I didn’t not mean that. I love you guys.)

6. Standing in line without social media is still boring.

I thought without being able to scroll through my feeds while waiting at the checkout, I would think about important work matters or contemplate life, or engage with people in line, or just be present in the world. Instead, I found there is not enough time and attention to become lost in thought or solve problems in line. People around me are avoiding eye contact by scrolling through their phones. Instead of being present, I just waited more impatiently, reading celebrity headlines. Social media is actually more fun than not talking to anyone.

7. I understand why parents find watching kids play with their phones so annoying.

Sometimes, while on my social media hiatus, Nicole or one of my friends would scroll through their feed while I sat there doing nothing. It is super annoying but not because it is socially impolite like old people rant about. It is 100% FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). I am just bored in those moments and I don’t want to be bored alone. It feels like the other person is doing something more important and fun than being bored alone with me. How dare they?

8. I don’t feel less connected to the world.

Turns out, there are many outlets and ways to find information outside of the Twitters. I used Google news to stay depressed and cynical. I sometimes checked into Meetup to ensure I didn’t lose any FOMO opportunities. I hung out with friends when I wanted to see people make bad decisions that I could laugh about later. My life felt no less connected without social media.

9. I am less angry over fewer things.

I love my friends, coworkers, and family–that’s why they are in my life–but I found I actually like people more when I know less about them. I guess I’m an optimist but in my mind I see the best version of people I can muster. My friends are rational, reasonable, respectful, sane people… and then I see their tweets.

10. I spend more time “in the moment”.

Being present is good when the present is beautiful or miraculous. It’s just that most moments suck. Most moments are boring and unremarkable. Think about the insane percentage of your life spent waiting… in line, for pages to load, for the bathroom, for commercials to end, at red lights, looking in the fridge, pooping… It’s great to be more present, but some presents are with skipping. Even endlessly scrolling through Facebook is better than sitting at the DMV with nothing else to do.

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Your Big 3 Changes This Year

New Year’s resolutions do not mean much to me since I don’t celebrate holidays. I have the freedom (and responsibility) to transform my life at any time, not just when a calendar flips. Here are 3 big experiments I am working on this year…

1.  Leaving Social Media Behind.

This is a big challenge for me, especially since I rely on social media to help distribute blog content. Still, I find Facebook and other services are not contributing to my life. If anything, they offer collections of complaints and negativity from people I honestly do not know well. I complain enough for everyone in my life. There is no need for additional support from Facebook “friends”.

Instead of mindlessly scrolling through social feeds, I fill time with things like reading and actually listening to people. It is harder than it sounds. I am used to half-listening while perusing memes. Now, I am relearning how to become comfortable with being bored.

Almost all creativity, I think, starts with boredom, with letting our minds wander.

2. Embracing Creativity.

I have all but abandoned my creative side in my quest to be a better leader, thinker, and blogger. I used to write poetry (you can read some of it here) and fancied myself a burgeoning novelist. I am not a good fiction writer, though. I want to shore up that part of my life and explore creativity with a bit more maturity.

Both sides of the intellect are important to me: creativity and logic. I bet I will bring better, more innovative ideas to leadership and business challenges by reuniting with my creative side.

3. Loving my body.

I know it is cliché. We are encouraged to love our bodies. For me, this does not mean unconditionally. Especially since I value my mind, I am not happy with my excess weight and the sluggishness it brings. My mind resides in my body. Therefore, having a sluggish body means having a sluggish mind. How much faster and better will I think when my body is running properly?

When we moved to Tampa, I assumed having summer year round meant more physical activity and easily dropping 20 or 30 pounds. It didn’t work that way. Nicole and I are more physically active year-round but vegan options are not as healthy or plentiful as in Grand Rapids and Detroit. That was a surprise, but the bigger surprise is I have not lost a pound after living here 2 years and being more active. Instead, I have gained a couple of injuries my extra luggage doesn’t help with.

I am learning about body alignment and how our bones and muscles are designed to bear loads. I saw a specialist to help with Achilles Tendon pain. Jen Hoffman is an alignment and movement specialist with her own short, weekly podcast, which I recommend. You can check out her Healthy Moving website here. Jen taught me how our muscles are attached to each other, creating a domino effect when something goes wrong. To help with my Achilles pain, for example, I am actually working on my Psoas (a muscle in my chest…to help with my foot pain–it’s all connected).

I don’t believe in diets and I hate gyms. That means, for me the path to success with health is through education and lifestyle transformation.

I am focusing on better alignment and eating better (and less) food. I am also experimenting with eating at different times (I used to eat dinner about an hour before bed). Being comfortable with feeling hungry is a struggle for me, as well, so I am embracing that feeling more often. I know those 20 pounds won’t drop fast but I’m not giving up until my body feels great again. Plus, I’m getting older, which means I lose muscle and bone mass faster than I used to.

 

Those are my current 3 big life experiments. They should carry me well into next year, when I will create more experiments. Living an experimental life is probably the best choice I have made, and one I encourage anyone to embrace. What experiments will you run in your life this year?

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A Simple Way to Get More Done

If you want to be more productive, the key is simple. Simple is the key.

People are often surprised at how much I am able to accomplish and yet how responsive I am when something new needs to be completed. Here is my secret to being a top performer: I don’t multi-task.

The idea of multi-tasking has become so ubiquitous and abused it is practically the butt of its own joke. People who accomplish a lot do not do so by spinning from task to task, with imaginary octopus arms, inching each project forward a little at a time until everything is complete.

Top producers simplify their work. They edit ruthlessly the work that is unnecessary and they politely say “no” to work that does not move them toward their goals. Top producers instead work on a single task until it is done and then they move to the next task and work on that one until it is done, and then they move on to the next task and… you get it.

I watch so many leaders burn themselves out at the altar of, “I have to get it all done and it all has to get done by me”, rather than taking the approach of, “What is the goal and what is the most efficient way to reach it?” Smart leaders look for ways to move on to the most important stuff. “What can I let go of so I can focus on what is really important? Am I the only person that can do this? If so, why? Can somebody else do it, and get it done, even if it is not to my perfect standards?”

For me, I saw my productivity transform when I embraced minimalism as a lifestyle. Being a minimalist forces you to think about the smallest number of things that bring the greatest return on value. As a result, I began working to simplify every area of my life (and I am still working at it) and the results have made it clear to me that doing less is one of the best ways to get more done.

I think corporations, teams, and even personal relationships suffer from complexity when a dose of simplicity can change everything.

It makes sense. We stretch ourselves too thin.

We take on 12 assignments at a time, which means our mental resources, our attention, and our efforts are divided by 12. I try to never have more than 2 or 3 focal points at one time on my docket. More than that and I find myself slowing down the thing I am doing because I am thinking about all the things I need to do next.

How many half-finished projects are on your desk? How many projects have you contributed your labor to, only to watch them disappear into the ether because other “more important” projects came up? (Well, why weren’t you working on the most important project from the beginning?)

That is the easiest measure of time being wasted for the sake of wasting time. Or put another way, workers work to fill the time required to be in the office, rather than working to do important work. The reason for this is simple, by the way. Workers fill time because they know the reward for work done well is to be piled up with more (busy) work. If your people can accomplish a task in 4 hours but still have to fill an 8-hour work day rather than be set free to go home or do what they want, you better believe that 4-hour task will take 8 and a half hours.

The reward for good work should not be more (less interesting) work, but rather more time and freedom. Google figured this out years ago with their famous “20% rule“.

From a minimalist perspective, the world over-complicates productivity. Ironically, productivity is over-complicated in the name of efficiency! “I’m a great multi-tasker,” potential hires will tell me during an interview. That is a sure sign to me they are not good at being productive.

Nobody needs great multi-taskers. We need great simplifiers.

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I’ll Just Make Up The Rest…

The biggest movie of 2016, Star Wars: The Force Awakens left open a few mysteries. Is Rey Luke’s daughter? How did Poe survive the tie-fighter crash? Why is C-3PO’s arm red? Is Captain Phasma still in the trash compactor?

The internet is abuzz with speculation about a familiar galaxy far, far away.

What does internet speculation about a space fantasy have to do with leadership? It’s simple. When people do not have information about something they care about, they fill in the blanks with their own story.

Companies who are, either by circumstance or design, secretive or slow to share information invite rumors and speculation among team members. There is no quicker poison to a company’s culture than gossip over rumors.

Companies and leaders sometimes plead the Fifth, choosing silence over explanation. For example, when a high-profile person within the company is let go, many companies make the mistake of pretending it never happened. They trudge along without addressing the missing elephant in the room. Their reasons might be sound (for example, they may not want to smear somebody’s reputation who was a long-time and popular employee but was caught stealing and justly fired). Nonetheless, by not addressing the obvious they leave the story on a cliffhanger… and people chime in with their interpretation of the rest of the story.

Transparency is clearly important (ha–see what I did there?). The message does not have to be, “Attention Everyone: we just fired John because he’s a scumbag thief!” The message only has to address what happened honestly and tactfully, “Team, we’re sorry to tell you John is no longer with the company. Out of respect for everyone, we can’t really share details around why we parted ways, but we wish John well and hope to lean on many team members to help fill the gaps in the interim. Please direct any questions to Michael in HR. Thanks.”

Rumors might still crop up, but with a polite and timely message, the nature of the information being filled in will put the company in better light. In other words, team members will assume the best (Rey is Han and Leia’s daughter) instead of the worst (Poe is secretly a double agent) .

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His Name Was Prince

 

Prince, Rave

Prince was more than a musician, a rare gem in the world of celebrity who truly earned the right to become a “legend”.

Aside from being arguably one of the greatest musicians and performers of all time, he leveraged his talents to do more than sing. As he matured, he used his voice to advocate for veganism, animal rights, monogamy, feminism, peace, independent artistry, and more. I certainly did not agree with everything he stood for but I respected that he had values, particularly while living in a world that would offer him access to any and everything he desired.

Prince was not the reason I became vegan but I first learned the word through his speaking out on the subject, which, in turn, nudged me to dig further and eventually become vegan myself.

In short, Prince took advantage of his skills to do more than make money and have fun. He used his platform to make a difference in as many ways as he could. There are few celebrities who die with such an outpouring of respect from their counterparts, and story after story shared describing what an authentic human being they were.

Prince could easily have gone the route of so many famous people who died and were mourned for nothing more than being famous. After all, he came to his fame in the hey day of sex, drugs, and rock and roll, yet he changed the lives of nearly every musician, and every person, he touched. He made, for the better, the lives of many humans and non-humans who were never able to shake his hand or thank him.

The point is this… you have a voice. You have your social media accounts, or your blog, or your relationships with the people around you. Whether you know it, who you are–and who you present to the world–affects more people than you will ever meet, know, or even hear about.

A word of caution: be sure you know what you are talking about when you do speak. Your voice is also your reputation. It is the last thing anyone will hear from you.

Use your voice, like Prince did, to do more than sing.

rave lamb prince

 

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Update on Goals

I had 3 BIG goals for the last half of 2015:

  1. Rent a Stand-Up PaddleBoard.
  2. Climb a tree.
  3. Read fiction.

Of course, these were not big goals at all… except they were. The point was to show before we worry about life goals or changing the world, maybe we should work on small stuff that can have big impact on changing us.

So… how did I do?

1. Rent a Stand-Up Paddleboard… accomplished in late June or early July, shortly after I set the 3 goals, while I was still excited about them. It turns out, I have a passion for paddleboarding and have since made it a hobby! This was a very satisfying goal because it turned into a lifetime habit.

2. Climb a tree… accomplished November 25th. This was a lot scarier than I thought it would be and I procrastinated as long as I could. The last time I climbed a tree, I think I was in my teens and practically invincible. At 43, climbing a tree is a daunting, fear-inducing challenge. What if I fall? What if it’s covered in ants? What if there is a snake on that branch? What if I can’t get back down? I’m glad I did it but I have to admit, I probably won’t climb a tree again without a lot of incentive. Still, I had to pull up some courage to do it, and that was good.

3. Read a book of fiction… This was the toughest one. I finished “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” in late December, cutting it close. Over the last few years, I have read nothing but non-fiction. Reading fiction was a lot tougher than I thought it would be. I started about 10 books, including many classics, before I found one that captivated me enough to read it all the way through. By all accounts, this was not a well-written (or well-edited) story but the approach was clever and I enjoyed it. I can’t tell you if it worked my creative muscles–they feel the same, but I would not say it was a waste of time. It was fun to explore a new world in my mind.

Will I set another 3 goals for the first half of 2016? Definitely! It was a great exercise that gently pushed me from my comfort zones and, if nothing else, I gained a new skill with paddleboarding. I haven’t decided what my next 3 goals will be (I am probably going to carry over “reading a book of fiction” though) and I do not plan to blog about them (been there, done that) but it is a great, practical exercise everyone should try.

Before you set your New Year’s resolutions up (for failure)… consider scaling them down to 3 absurdly small goals that can make a big difference. Maybe instead of “lose 20 pounds”, try “explore three new places while walking around my city” or “iron my work clothes every week for a month” or “write a poem”.

Sometimes thinking small is the best way to achieve BIG results.

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What’s Your Vacation?

 

We had 3 guests visit us over the last 2 weeks (when it is winter, people like to vacation in Florida–who would have guessed?). It was interesting because we try to be sure when we have visitors, we give them enough space and offer some novel things to do that we think might interest them. We also want to be sure they have a chance to do everything they wanted to do if they came with ideas of their own.

Each of our 3 guests, I think, had a completely different vacation.

Guest Number 1 came here to relax. She wanted to spend time coloring and having drinks with friends. She was up for pretty much any adventure in between those things–so we took her ziplining, paddleboarding (but it was too windy so we bailed on that), and walking along some trails on the Bay.

Guest Number 2’s ideal vacation was straightforward: spend time on the beach. Wake up on the beach. Lay out in the sun on the beach. Eat oysters by the beach. So we went to Clearwater Beach, Treasure Island, and R-Bar…a highly recommended oyster bar (I had tater tots).

Guest 3 was younger and wanted to see the nightlife and get some sun. Clubs, girls, drinks, sun, and laughter–perfect vacation for this one. Ybor City, St. Pete, the River Walk, Hard Rock, and Pier 60.

When I go on vacation (even if just around Tampa), I want to explore and find great vegan food. I will walk for miles, enjoying the architecture and scenery of a city, in between dropping by local coffee shops and veg-friendly restaurants. Drinking is optional. Beach is optional. I don’t care about museums or history tours or bars or dancing or sitting on a beach. I want to go on an adventure, see the parks, look at the buildings, and do at least one  thing I haven’t done before.

It turns out the ideal vacation is the one you enjoy, not the one you travel the farthest to or pay the most for.

It was great having friends and family visit. As the host, you can never be sure people are having a great time (unless they keep coming back, I suppose, but not everyone wants the same vacation twice).

Maybe the best part of vacation, though, is when it is over. Looking back and enjoying the memories again. Maybe the best vacation is the one you are quickest to remember with a smile.

 

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Weak Nights

Most nights we are in bed around 10pm. With a friend visiting from out-of-town, though, Nicole and I spent the evening strolling downtown and trying a new restaurant.

I realized I had not seen the downtown river walk at night for months. A lot had changed and it was well worth the trip to stay out a little later than usual.

Do something outside of your routine now and then. The world is full of surprises.

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A Few Of My Favorite Things (2015)

Since the year is so close to wrapping up, I thought it would be fun to share some of the coolest things I discovered in 2015. Here are 12 things that surprised, delighted, or engaged me with their coolness this year.

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I could have made this list 100 items long, but I decided to keep it to a dozen (that way people will read it. Genius idea!).

If you like cool stuff, check these things out for yourself. By the way, this is really a list of stuff I think is cool. I receive no money, sponsorship, products, or even kudos from these brands. They do not even know I am talking about them (unless they happen to read my blog)… you know, like my relatives.

COOL STUFF I CARRY AROUND…

Ivation Portable Spray Washer: This little guy is handy for all kinds of things and is an essential part of living near saltwater. It is a portable 5 gallon sprayer that can be charged by your car’s battery (or any outlet). It rinses us off after a day at the beach, plus cleans our paddle boards. It is also great for rinsing the shower, washing your puppy, washing your car, or just about anything else you would need fresh water and a spray hose for. It travels great and always generates comments.

NSP Cocomat Paddle Boards: We took our time choosing our paddle boards. I did so much research on build quality, hull design, fin types, interior technology, durability, and rocker styles that I could probably build my own board! (There is no way I could build my own board.) Whenever people talk to me about paddling and say “Your board looks nice,” I have to restrain myself from talking about the epoxy resins, coconut fibers, eco-conscious design, weight distribution, and general amazingness of our boards. Paddle boards are like cars–people have different preferences and needs. The NSP Cocomats, though, are simply the best “general purpose” boards I have seen, tried, or heard of. I have yet to find an all-around touring board as lightweight, durable, or well-engineered.

COOL STUFF I WEAR…

O’Neil Traveler Shorts / Prana Stretch Zion ShortsLiving in Tampa has required to alter my clothing choices, but regardless of where you live, you won’t find better shorts than these. The O’Neil Traveler’s are affordable and engineered to near perfection. They dry almost instantly, look great in the surf or having drinks with friends, and squish into their own back pocket for travel! The Pranas are high-end amazement. They have a built-in belt (not a drawstring), gusseted in seams, look professional but are durable enough to scale a mountain with. I have put them through every environment and rubbed them against every texture you can imagine and they look like new. By far, the best shorts I have ever owned. The Prana Axiom jeans are equally amazing–the only ones I ever buy.

Mack Weldon or UniqloIf you want the perfect undies, then Mack Weldons are worth their weight in gold. They have the only legitimate “no-roll” tops, super comfortable fit, and tight legs that aren’t so tight they leave marks but still manage to stay up. Uniqlo has become my favorite “affordably priced high-quality” line for odd things. They seem to change their entire product line seasonally so if you like something, better buy it, but they make the best undershirts and blazers I have ever owned. Check out their “Airism” line.

COOL STUFF I USE (ALMOST) EVERY DAY…

Leesa and The Mattress NerdThere is a new frontier of mattress companies like Leesa, Casper, and Yoga Bed that are taking the world by storm. My Leesa mattress has offered the best night’s sleep longer than any mattress I have slept on. It is surprisingly affordable with the best return policy on earth. If that does not win you over, though, don’t take my word for it. The Mattress Nerd, which I have written about before, is run by a mattress guru named Jack who offers a free service. He will do all the mattress research for you and provide you with a perfect solution based on your needs. He gets paid if you click the link (which probably has a coupon code for you) to his suggestion but you do not have to shell out a dime. In fact, he will probably save you a few thousand dimes! If you are shopping for a bed, give Leesa and The Mattress Nerd a try.

2015 PriusI was a Prius hater since the day they arrived on the market. Now, I love what they are doing. My Prius is going to save half its cost by the time I pay it off, but what I really love was how surprisingly well Toyota tailored it to the market they are trying to reach. The SofTex “leather” seats are vegan (and better than leather). The tech both inside and out is cool, and the savings are real. I like trucks but I like having all the money they cost better! That money more than paid for the paddle boards.

Chromecast 2: This little gizmo delivers a lot of function on the cheap. It streams high-definition audio and video to my computer monitor and speakers. It was the best way to watch Jessica Jones and listen to YouTube Music this year. In fact, having an endless playlist of music videos based on my tastes was like having old school MTV back, except with no commercials and none of the videos I didn’t like! Pretty cool.

COOL STUFF IN THE CLOUD…

Google NowGoogle Now has been around but this year it improved so much that it has become a staple of my day-to-day living. I can ask it for directions, definitions, recommendations, and anything else I can think of. The key difference this year is the new natural language contextual search engine. I don’t have to ask for what I want in “robot speak” so I think it will deliver the right results and it understands the context of a question. For example, asking “Okay Google, what is the weather?” will deliver something like, “69 degrees and sunny, with a high of…”. Leaving just one word out, though, changes my context and changes the result. Asking, “Okay Google, what is weather?” will provide a definition of the concept of weather.

Hulu: In the war for time with my eyeballs, Hulu has finally stepped ahead of its competition. Having access to my favorite shows one day after they air makes it so much easier than waiting an entire calendar year or more to find out what happened after the cliff-hanger last season with Netflix. A season at a time being released is great but not if I don’t even remember the characters’ names anymore because it has been so long since I watched the show.

PocketHaving a super easy way to store stuff I find on the web, including articles, pictures, and recipes I want to look at later is amazing. Pocket has become my recipe book, reading repository, and sharing center on my computer and phone. Must-have.

Simple: Simple is my bank and they exist entirely online. A bank that leverages modern technology and service with contemporary marketing seems like the antithesis of every bank you have dealt with in the past… and they are.

Some examples: whenever somebody swipes my card, my phone is instantly notified with the amount, business name, and GPS tag. When there was a mysterious charge, I went into my app and suspended my card. Once I figured out what the charge was, I turned the card back on. Easy-peezy. Their customer service agents are available through the app, over the phone, or through email, and they are VERY friendly and responsive. There are no fees. I can instantly transfer money and create budgets (which will calculate how much I need to save and automatically adjust my available balance for me), and much more. If you want a new, better bank, check them out. They are a breath of fresh air.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children: This is a young adult fiction story, which seems to be a popular category with old adults, too. I understand the rights to the movies for Miss Peregrine have already been procured. As a book, it is okay. It’s basically Harry Potter meets X-Men: First Class… so interesting, but what made it a keeper for me was the unique approach to writing taken by the author, Ransom Riggs (guessing that is a pen name).

Knowing this book will likely be read via apps like Kindle, Google Play Books, and Nook, Ransom Riggs decided to write it in a way that uses the technology. Interspersed through the book are old photographs, circa 1920’s. The story revolves around the photographs, which means the author found these old, real vintage photos and crafted the story around it. The book is basically made for an app and the approach, I hope, starts a trend of new artistry in writing. The story is pretty good, too, but written at a, maybe, 6th grade level (which is fine if you want something easy and fun to read).

 

I love being delighted and surprised by clever use of technology, marketing, design, or philosophy. The things that delight are the things that make life easier and joyful. Maybe one of my 2015 favorite things will become one of yours or maybe you have one for me. Let me know on your social media of choice and don’t forget you can subscribe to have these posts delivered to your inbox so you can read them whenever you want. That way, you won’t forget your favorite things!

 

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Catch That Train

 

On my way to work the other day, I heard the most jarring sound. A sound I had not heard since I moved to Tampa, Florida from Grand Rapids, Michigan. It yanked me into reality and I had to find the source.

The sound was a train horn.

It was so strange and familiar. I did not realize I have not heard the sound of a train in almost a year, a daily interruption in Michigan.

Clearly, there are trains in Florida (I just told you about one) and I do not know if not hearing them is strictly a coincidence of where I live or if they are rare, but what strikes me is how quickly I have grown accustomed to not having that sound in my life.

There are many forgettable things in our daily lives, thankfully. The important thing is, of course, to remember the really important stuff. I wouldn’t suggest a train horn is a good or bad thing to never forget but whatever the good stuff is for you… don’t let a day go by where you let it fade into the background, only to remember it later, when it stands out because it has been gone for so long.

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