Saturday. June 18th, 2016. Sayreville, New Jersey. Starland Ballroom. 2,500 plus or minus people singing along to Thrice’s song “The Long Defeat”.
“Together we fight the long defeat…” chanted over and over again as the song fades into a its ending lull.
Chanted by the entire crowd.
“Together we fight the long defeat…”
This brief moment in time, I feel like I have returned to a place within me that I haven’t seen in years. Back when I played music professionally, back when I first met Amanda, back when I was so sure of myself. Back to I time I knew who I was.
This isn’t my first post about me returning to blogging or about a discovery or rediscovery of who I am. I doubt it will be my last either. In fact, I can guarantee it. I will have many posts in the future about me “returning” after an extended period of absence. Take this post like how I have written the others; an explanation of the past, a series of lessons learned, future types of posts you can expect from me and a renewed sense of zeal for writing.
As always, The beginning will help define the end of this post.
Let’s rewind back to October 2015
I stepped down from president of AIGA Central PA due to health reasons, for both physical (the most alarming and pressing at the time) and mental (long term affects which probably doesn’t need to much explanation from a prior previous post). I didn’t come to the decision of stepping down easily…I wanted to push through my ailment. The ailment was this…when you get an operation for a gastric band and don’t follow through with the lifestyle change…you’re going to have a bad time. Physically, I opening the door for all sorts of discomfort (and that was the minor part) and to potentially life-threatening issues (partially due to a combination of genetics and lifestyle). It came to a point where I had to choose to focus on my health or something I was very passionate about in my career and community. I chose health and everything I considered extra-curricular…my volunteering, my side projects, my continuing education, all stopped.
I chose my health. At this time, I had my first inkling that something was wrong within the core of who I was. How did I let myself get so unhealthy or rather, how come I didn’t see the signs of what I was allowing to happen to me (on many different levels)? This time frame was truly difficult for me. I just got the keys to our first house in September. My girlfriend and I made that huge relationship/financial leap and commitment together. We also picked up our first puppy from the local dog rescue the same weekend we moved into the new house. We literally signed the paperwork and got the keys on a Friday afternoon, painted the house that very same night with the help of family and friends…moved everything from our apartment in Enola, PA on Saturday with the help of good friends and picked up our furry child on Sunday. Literally, I was a glutton for punishment during that weekend. I learned about my health situation a week later when I heard back from the tests.
During this time, the growing physical discomfort was worsening to the point of puking after every meal. I was almost on a forced liquid diet at that point and a growing pain in the stomach was greatly concerning me. After meeting with my primary care physician, my gastroenterologist and a few other specialists…Life screeched on the brakes at the most opportune time. Literally stop and focus on my health or keep doing what I was doing and just die.
Death at 31 wasn’t in my cards and I took the steps to rectify my situation.
I stepped down from leading an organization that I was incredibly passionate about and shouldered the responsibility in the capable hands of my very trusted friend, counterpart and my vice president. I put a lot on her, since she was (is still) so young in life and in career, and she rose to the challenge. She’s taken the organization into new realms, albeit different from my vision, but nevertheless into a realm that inspires people and creates a community. Leaving sucked for me, personally, and it was like admitting defeat in certain ways…like I was almost validating my naysayers…but something more was at work within me, more than the physical, that I needed to take care of.
I found myself after stepping down in an incredibly dark and lonely place mentally. At first, I thought, was it a mistake to step down? No, it wasn’t, and the fact that the chapter continues without me is testament to that. It wasn’t that. I was confusing my time and energy spent on something with how the real world works. I thought them one and the same. It took me a long time to realize the delineation. Maybe it wasn’t being fulfilled at work…you know, the job that actually pays the bills?
Azrael Group, as a studio, has always operated in the realm that I do the work I want to be a part of…so it’s incredibly selective in the work I take on as part of my business. It went from more creative work to more maintenance work more akin to IT work maintaining various WordPress installations and pushing up new features to the products and themes I offer. I started Azrael Group as a way to expedite paying off my students loans faster and it has honestly been good to me in this realm…but I have never been without a full time day job as my main source of income. During this time, my role working in-house as Harrisburg University was also transitioning from more creative and product driven projects to more of a traditional IT/maintenance role. I knew it would happen eventually…I just didn’t think that it would happen so quickly.
So after transitioning out of the chapter leadership, my waning challenges in both my day job and with my studio with the added stress and pressure moving into this new phase of life with my girlfriend, my puppy and responsibility with a new house…both mentally and physically I was descending into a spiral. Even among the holiday festivities of Friendsgiving and Thanksgiving (yea, we did both in the new home) I was descending. I stopped seeing my therapist during this time and tried to normalize myself. What I thought I need was a change of pace, scenery and experiences.
December was interesting. I went back to agency life and began working at Sacunas. I thought that this was the change of pace, work and opportunities that would help pull me back from the brink of this deepening lull. I found it interesting that I built my career switching back and forth between in-house work and agency work. I knew I can play in both realms and had the experience to prove it. Past work at PPO&S, Weber Advertising and Gyro Worldwide proved the agency work while Harrisburg University, Pennsylvania Academy of Family Physicians, Harrisburg Magazine and Trifecta Interactive Productions proved the in-house capabilities. For me, it was almost like the right time to go back to agency life. Unfortunately, it was like jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire.
I thought December was going to be a time to heal, both physically and mentally. It turned out to be like opening the door to Hell. A lot of people I knew, loved, and respected showed their true colors. Things we’re being said in small circles behind my back and those small circles grew larger. Eventually, I learned what people we’re saying about me.
Fraud. Liar. Self-indulgent. Idiot. Arrogant. Childish. etc, etc.
Apparently some of the same people I held in high regard didn’t feel the about me. There was a lack of mutual respect. The whispers of those feelings and remarks came back to me from others I ran into the last few events of 2015 I was a part of; WordCamp USA, last few AIGA events, and local meet ups.
What did I do wrong? I am I really that pompous? More importantly, why didn’t anyone ever approach me to talk about their issues with me?
Why? Why? Why?! Why didn’t they come to me and just talk me?
During this same time, the ever-increasing cultural shifts at Sacunas were moving in a direction I wasn’t feeling comfortable in. 2015 ended in a lot uncertainty.
Hello 2016, Let’s see if we can do better.
I wish was things were better out of the gate, but it wasn’t. An ever-increasing workload with little to no project management, let alone direction, was beginning to become commonplace. Empire-building became more important than the work…it was in stark opposition to my beliefs as a professional. I did little of my own work and side projects and began feeling this pressure intensify as I was searching for some outlet that would just let me relax and allow me to think about who I was (am). I needed to recenter myself.
A few months passed and as things worsened for me professionally, they did personally. My relationship with my girlfriend was almost entirely shutdown. Constant fighting (for ridiculously stupid issues and more deep-seated issues) took a toll on us, collectively and individually. I became a really shitty boyfriend…and when i realized this….I couldn’t believe that I let myself descend this far.
Was it my pride and stubbornness creating this mess? Was it my expectations and thoughts creating this feedback loop in me? Was it whom I associated with that lead me to feel poisoned and toxic to everyone?
Was it me? Was it everyone else? Seriously, what the fuck was it?
St. Paddy’s Day Parade 2016
As is our tradition, my girlfriend and I met up with our good friends Jadrian and Christina for the annual Saint Patrick’s Day Parade in Harrisburg, PA for a day of fun, relaxation, and car-bombs (well at least I did car bombs, Jadrian had more than enough last the year prior to last probably five parades…ah good times). As we stood facing the street and watched the parade of local organizations, high school bands and various fire companies, a semblance of what is normal for me started to creep back into my being.
I didn’t try to talk about work, how shitty it was or the people I work with.
I didn’t lament about past endeavors that didn’t work out or that I didn’t have time for.
I didn’t bitch about the people who hurt me in the past.
I didn’t complain or try to lame blame on anyone. This was just me having fun with friends and enjoying myself. This was a turning point for me…to stop descending and start reclaiming that semblance of life that I willfully was letting slip away from. My girlfriend and I started to talk more and I began to accept responsibility in my role in the creation of my current situation. This allowed me to open up new thinking for possibilities I thought was unavailable to me. Our relationship was getting better and she helped me with of the darker parts of my own thinking about how I approached other situations in my life.
In April, I left Sacunas and began to feel free professionally. I left thinking I would only pursue freelance…until an offer from an opportunity that I thought was out of my reach presented itself. That opportunity was Aspire Universal.
April didn’t have showers, it was just fucking cold
April 2016 started me back on the path of self healing. Leaving Sacunas was the best thing I could ever do for myself professionally. That experience reaffirmed the bad taste I had in my mouth for agency work. April also marked the six month milestone of living in a house instead of an apartment. The newness wore off, but the pride I had for where we came from and where we are at now was swelling up inside of me.
April was an incredibly cold month in south central Pennsylvania. Our puppy shivered every time we took her out, regardless of time of day. Personally, I love the cold days. The cold, crisp air is invigorating to me. The cloudy overcast and fast moving clouds is mesmerizing. I had always found cold days like those in Fall to be inspiring for me.
I joined the team of young creatives at Aspire Universal and reconnected with a close college friend who is now also a coworker. I began to work on projects for companies and initiatives that were meaningful to me once again. Coming from a healthcare and education background, getting to work with startups in impact industries like healthcare, food, education and artificial intelligence is incredibly gratifying. I joined a team wholly different than my immediate past experience; they were always questioning, discerning, encouraging, and driven.
I began to starting accountability for my past issues of why I felt I needed validated from others, either positive or negative. I laid the blame at everyone else’s feet and took little for myself. April saw me being honest with myself after a long time of letting others trying to dictate my truth for me. I was owning to my own unhappiness and realized once again that I have the power to make myself happy.
Yawn, enough history lesson
Seriously, what does all of this backstory have to do with anything now? What’s this blog going to be about now?
Truth is, I don’t know…and I think that’s OK.
My blogging in the past as taken more of the shape of a business publication, a general industry commentary, a bunch of professional reviews and a bunch of community posts sprinkled in with a few passion projects. Rarely did I ever blog just personal posts without it having something to do with design or business.
In the last eight months, I have gone from physical and mental lows, to even deeper depressions, and towards stepping out of those holes I created for myself. I have come to understand and appreciate myself in ways I couldn’t see before. I have re-validated old beliefs in that improvement starts with small, incremental changes that can lead to huge positive and lasting changes. I have also learned that if I want to serve and help others, I need to make sure that I am taken care of first before I can begin to help anyone else. Selfish? Yea. it’s supposed to be.
So the future is unknown and why should I limit myself to only certain posts and possibilities for discussion when there is more to anyone than just what they do for a living. Azrael Group, as a blog and brand, is supposed to be about me…not just some faceless, boring outfit with a Batman-esque logo.
Since joining Aspire Universal, I have taken my first real vacation in 6 years. I’m playing drums in a band with friends. I am rekindling some personal side projects and finding joy in simple endeavors, like grilling on the deck and cleaning up my messy desk. I have learned more about myself in the last eight months than I have done in the last three years. I’ve begun to make changes in my life that affect me physically and mentally in a very positive manner. Professionally, I am being challenged in ways that appreciate and value my abilities and push me to greater heights. All in all, I am in a good place.
So the future is bright. I plan on still providing reviews on software and tools helpful for developers while also diving deep into the product, ui, and experience designer realm with poignant posts…but you may also get posts of a more personal nature. Design reviews and commentary, sure…but now I won’t try to separate my personal life so much anymore that it tends to compartmentalize my publishing. For example, you might get a post on a Monday about a technical review of Dreamweaver and Thursday, you’ll learn more about my experience at a concert. In essence, I am back to blogging and I have opened the doors more in regards to content.
Everything is going to live on my blog originally and I will occasionally cross-post to Medium and even include future Spoken bits. Writing makes me happy and if you like what I have to say, even better.
So the things I have learned that have helped make me better…in no particular order.
1) You are in control of your own happiness.
2) Changing your tune with your happiness isn’t easy, but doable.
3) Life is hard, but worth it.
4) Don’t close doors without at least exploring what’s on the other side first.
5) The people who respect and love you are worth their weight in gold.
6) The people who don’t respect you are worthless; just move on from them.
7) You can’t change the past, just try to not let it haunt your future.
8) Escapism only works for so long.
9) Karma, Rule of Three…whatever you call it…being an ass has a good return policy, and you’ll probably deserve it.
10) Changing one’s situation/perspective doesn’t have to be abrupt and massive…it can be as little as 1% each day.
Some of these things might make it into blog posts all on their own and some might not. I have a bunch of new ideas and drafts from the design, development and business end of things still that I am going to write up. So we’ll see what happens.
Back to Thrice…
So here I am in the sea of people watching one of the most important bands in my life play a new song and it was this sudden awareness that I felt come over me that made this moment stand out. Standing there and listening to the lyric “Together we’ll fight the long defeat” was a bit illustrative of the last eight months for me. I dislike using the word journey, but it’s apt. Moving from the lows in my life and coming back to a place where I feel like myself once again feels like I fought a long defeat. Hearing the crowd sing this lyric over and over made me aware that I wasn’t alone. That we all have trying situations and experiences that we’re all trying to get through. That recognition, that awareness…didn’t make me feel alone.
Going forward, I am hopeful for the future and what comes.