The Kindness Commodity

This post first appeared on Medium.

The value of kindness on the open market

Growing up on the rolling hills of Iowa, I was constantly surrounded by kindness. It is a commodity that is in short supply in the concrete jungle that is New York City.

This past weekend I spent hours walking the paths of Central Park, a 778-acre oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle. Some areas were quiet and provided solitude, and others were crowded and loathsome. It is difficult to find peace and escaping from the city is not an option.

New York City

When you’re walking down 5th Avenue at 3 p.m. on a Wednesday afternoon, no one — and I mean no one — will pay you a passing glance, let alone help you in any way. People who live here pass it off as just the way things are. But go to the Bow Bridge area on a Saturday morning and you will find a different New York City. If you were there last Sunday, you would have seen a wedding proposal with 16 pugs.

Here you’ll walk up to a stranger and his girlfriend and ask them to take a picture of you and your boyfriend. They will happily oblige. You’ll say thanks and you’ll go your separate ways. Then five minutes later after sitting on a bench overlooking the lake, that same couple will return to ask the same favor of you. All four of you will share a laugh in the irony of the ask, but more in the kindness of strangers.

And it is that kindness that you miss from your childhood roots. That is what is missing from the day to day movements and the ping-pong interactions that come with New York City. People bounce from one thing to another, barely looking up from their latest iPhones that they slept on the street for two days to purchase at a cost higher than the majority of the world makes in a year.

Growing up where I did I obviously became spoiled with this thing called kindness. But it doesn’t have to be scarce. If corn and soybeans and cotton trade on the commodities market, surely kindness can trade on the streets freely and in public view. It can trade in back alleys and conference rooms. It can trade in the subways and in the local coffee shop.

My day in Central Park gave me hope that kindness has not become too expensive for us. I have been reminded that it is right there if we want it.

I Will Not Like Myself

We live in a world of “likes“, “shares”, and “retweet.” And before I forget, be sure to like and tweet this article!

This story from the Daily Dot last week got me angry. First of all, are we really encouraging sex on social media with likes? I mean, is that what we have stooped to?

But on a deeper level, in life, we have gone from seeking acceptance and understanding, to just wanting to do things that get us likes and attention. It’s sad really.

Around Christmas, a few kids posted that their dad would get them a dog if the post reached a certain number of likes. It did, so they are getting a dog. That’s great! However, wouldn’t the kids have actually learned something had their dad said, “If you can raise $250 for Heifer International, you can get a dog.”

We should be teaching to go for impact and not entertainment. Value and not emotionless and social media driven hype.

Like this, share it, retweet it … do with it as you will. I’m not asking for any of it. I’m only asking that you think about it.

How To Let Go of Anger

I made a mistake. There. I said it.

I’ve made no secret about my ups and downs over the past 18 months. It has not been pretty. And I am a pretty close-knit person, but I believe it is time to open up about everything that happened … even if I do it in pieces.

One part of me that has undergone a drastic reformation over the past 600 days is my anger. Anger towards myself. Anger towards my family. Anger towards the people in my life. And anger in general. I admit, I do have a short fuse. But it is getting longer. And that has taken a bit of work.

Why this focus?

Anger does no one, and I mean, no one, any good! It stresses you out. It makes you jittery. And really, not much fun to be around. And the angrier you get, especially if it is with the same person over and over, the level of toxicity rises and never really goes down. Trust me on that.

Don’t get me wrong, I still get frustrated and upset and bothered. But I have made a conscious effort to contain my “anger” and use it for good.

Find your triggers. This is probably the most important thing you can do to eliminate the anger and stress. They say that knowledge is half the battle, and they are right. My triggers were my relationship, my physical surroundings, my job, and my family. Once you dive into where the angry triggers come from, you are able to manage them.

Manage the stressor. Sometimes the stress trigger is hard to manage or eliminate, but it is possible. If topics of conversation stress you out, don’t let it come into your life. I know when I am home, I don’t like to talk politics. I’m too libertarian for my family, and that is okay. I know that. I manage it. I changed jobs as well. I moved to a new apartment. I changed the relationship.

Find enjoyable activities. I do not believe we can eliminate stress from our life. But I do believe we can manage it in a way that gives more to our life. I choose to write and relax. I take on challenges that are random. (Like writing and producing a short film.) But I am also still running, engaged in politics and growing my business.

All told, I’m much happier and healthier than I have been in years and I attribute it to managing and limiting my anger. Plus, it makes me happier.


Hurricane Sandy Destroyed My Home

I lived through Hurricane Irene (even if it was only a Tropical Storm when it made landfall last year near me here in New York City). In fact, about 10 days before that I experienced my first-ever earthquake too!

Last week I lived through my first true hurricane. The lady Sandy made landfall late Sunday and the eye of the storm made landfall on the Jersey shore Monday evening. First, let me say this: I am fine. My home is fine. I never lost power. I didn’t lose anything.

But I will also say this … it didn’t hit me until yesterday what this storm did. I’m 28, likely a third of the way through my life and I’ve seen tornadoes destroy my home state of Iowa. I’ve watched from the safety of my home the damages from earthquakes and hurricanes since I was a child; from Andrew to Katrina, I remember them all and was always saddened by the destruction of these storms. Hell, my sister lost nearly all her possessions in the historic 2008 flood in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. I’ve seen it.

But this experience the past week, seeing friends have to run from their homes. Not have power for a week. A mother in Staten Island lost her two boys, two and four, as the flood waters rushed them and took them from her arms. They were found the next day, yards from each other. Lost. One of many lost to Sandy.

The path of destruction is vast. As I write this, my friend Hannah still has not been allowed back to her apartment in New Jersey. An entire neighborhood in Queens caught fire and due to the winds, they couldn’t stop it. Look at the photo … it doesn’t look like a war zone. It is one.

Fire on Breezy Point during Hurricane Sandy
And on Staten Island we see the true pain. They took a head on hit. The moment the waters rose, they didn’t have hours, they had minutes. Lives have been lost. Destroyed. In my backyard.

I don’t know 1 percent of New Yorkers, but watching them on television beg for help … they are my neighbors. We ride the subway together. Go to Starbucks together. Pay really high taxes together. And just want a chance. And my heart aches for them. I was lucky. I was sparred.

Sandy came and went but she has impacted my life in ways I never thought I’d have to experience. I don’t ever want to see this again in my neighborhood. The pain and sadness and anger was not deserved by the citizens of New Jersey, of Staten Island, of the East and West Villages, of Red Hook and of Breezy Point.

But there was love there. Doctors provided free exams. Restaurants cooked what they had left for those without power; for free. Residents ran extension cords down their steps with power strips so people could charge their phones to let people know they were safe. Families. Cats and dogs. Please keep this region in your thoughts and prayers. Sure, we’ll be fine. We, like all cities, are resilient. But that doesn’t replace the homes, the photos, the memories and the lives taken much too soon.

Sandy has taught me one thing, a lesson I continue to learn more each and every year: love as often as you can.

Thank you.


Buzzfeed Photos of the Destruction

You’ve Been Fired. Now What?

Three weeks ago I was let go from my job. There I said it. Taking the stairs down for the last time was definitely an emotional experience. And as I stood in the lobby of our office building in the Flatiron District here in the big city, I held back my tears. But the first of what would be dozens of texts began to stream in.

I walked the block-and-a-half to the subway to go home to drop off my bag. You see, I had tickets to what turned out to be an amazing show for that evening. Usually on the train I read, either the news on my phone or a physical book. But I could do neither. I stood, holding the cold metal pole, stunned. I never in my life had I imagined that I would be fired.

Sure, I’ve lost an election before, but it wasn’t re-election. In a sense, I just wasn’t hired then. But now I had been given the pink slip, which ironically is white. Which makes me curious where that terms came from.

By the time I got home, still stunned, my roommate had made me tea. I walked into the hallway, dropped off my bag and entered the kitchen. He asked me what had happened. And as I began to talk, I lost it. The tears finally came. We sat on the couch, drinking tea while I cried. And it was cathartic. I let it out. My unhappiness. My anger. My shock. And my worry.

Then I quickly changed and while I walked back to the subway to go see my show, I responded to as many texts and emails as I could. Then I got to the show and tried to turn off my mind and take in the experience. And I did. After the show, I went to Shake Shack with my friend Vikash who had attend the show with me. It was just what I needed. The time with a trusted friend (but the chocolate and peanut butter shake helped quite a bit!) basically re-set my attitude.

As we sat there and conversed together and with the New Zealander working at The Shack, Vikash was more than excited. We was excited because he knew I had wanted more time to do the things I am passionate about. Writing. Painting. Speaking.

When I woke up Thursday, only an hour later than normal, I got right to work. I started writing again. In fact, the week after being let go, I had a blog post up each day of the week. I don’t remember the last time that happened. I am building online partnerships. I did one painting already. I’m looking forward to getting my camera out soon too! I’m working on a video script now as well. I’ve been on a few interviews. I have even sent my novel out to an editing team. And I’m relaxing. I’m breathing.

hire a great speakerIt only took me 12 hours to take the events from the afternoon of May 2 and turn them into something positive. Sure, I still have depressed moments as I truly enjoyed the experience and the team I spent 13 months with. But I constantly remind myself that in the end, it is the journey. It is the experiences. It is the people that matter in my life. Not the job. Not the name on the paycheck. It is the people that come in and touch my heart.

Sure I’m worried about the next paycheck, or rather, getting a paycheck again. But for right now, I am eager for the road ahead. The possibilities are endless and I can’t wait to share them with you here.

If this experience has taught me anything so far, it is that I really do believe in possible.

2010 – Amazing Awaits

“Amazing Awaits” is the theme for my 2010. There is so much to not only celebrate from 2009, but to look forward to in 2010! Here are just a few of the things that I’m either looking forward to or working towards.



  • Read 10 books
  • Pay down half my student loan
  • Paint four paintings
  • Run 25 miles / month
  • Play in four tennis tournaments

What are you looking foward to in 2010?

(Flickr photo by Ben Spark)

Tops From 2009

2009 was an amazing year for myself and Finding Focus. I had a goal when the year began to write 52 blog posts, one per week. I am happy to say that I shattered my goal. My total number of posts ended up at 126 posts, not to mention the 50 FOCUS posts that come each Thursday.

Here are the top five viewed posts of 2009:

Is This Heaven? No, it’s Iowa. (April 3, 2009)
Movies While You’re Sick (March 13, 2009)
Dream Big Dreams, Take Small Steps (September 28, 2009)
Donor Sibling Registry Supports New Families (April 6, 2009)
Let There Be Love (April 27, 2009)

Here are my top favorites from 2009:

Clear Eyes (June 15, 2009)
This. Is. It. (May 6, 2009)
30,000 Miles (January 9, 2009)
We Are OneStream (September 16, 2009)

Thanks everyone for a great year!

Coming Wednesday: 2010 – Amazing Awaits!

2009 Dedor Awards

Last year I started what I believe will end up as a very fun tradition here at Finding Focus. I created the Dedor Awards and 2008 was the inaugural year. We only awarded a few categories and I’m sure over the years I’ll add more and more, just for the fun of it. At the end of this post, I will list the winners, so if you don’t want to watch the video unveiling the winners, just read on.

Otherwise, watch the video below to see the winners of the 2009 Dedor Awards. You can then read the explanation underneath the video. Here’s to a fantastic 2009 and congrats to all our winners!

Book of the Year (that I read):

Past Winner: Riding with the Blue Moth (by Bill Hancock)
2009 Nominees: Beautiful Boy (by David Sheff), Outliers (by Malcom Gladwell) and The Agony and the Ecstasy (by Irving Stone)

This year’s nominees are from three completely separate genres. I began the year wih Sheff’s book chronicling his life with his teenage son, a drug addict. Gladwell’s latest masterpiece was an extremely interesting and entertaining look at how success is determined in life. According to Gladwell, it can be because of birth, culture or pure hard work. Finally, a book I began in 2008 and finished in 2009 was the historical fiction work of Stone. He chronicles the magnificent Michelangelo. From his early years to his late struggles with multiple Popes. While a tough read, I learned more about one of the world’s greatest artists and what makes an artist the passionate person they are. This year’s winner is an oldie, but a book I would recommend to everyone, The Agony and the Ecstasy.

Best Sports Moment:

Past Winner: Matthew Mitcham wins Gold
2009 Nominees: Wimbledon Men’s Final, US Open Men’s Final, US Open Women’s Final

Yes you read the 2009 nominees correctly, all three are tennis events. Other potential nominees include Jimmy Johnson’s record fourth-straight NASCAR Cup Title or the Yankees winning the World Series again, but these three stand out in my mind.

In the Wimbledon Men’s Final, Roger Federer returned to the fortnight to reclaim his ground taken from him in 2008. Andy Roddick did all he could in an all-or-nothing fifth set, but couldn’t prevail. In both the men’s and the women’s US Open finals, former champions were on center stage. Federer and returning ace, Kim Clijsters. Federer was beaten by Juan Martin Del Potro and Clijsters stormed back to the women’s game, winning her second US Open. This year’s winner is an easy choice: Kim Clijsters wins the US Open.

Artist of the Year:

Past Winner: Coldplay (Viva la Vida)
2009 Nominees: Switchfoot (Hello Hurricane), Nathanael Porembka, The Office (Subtle Sexuality)

For those who know me well, know that Switchfoot is hands down my favorite band. This year they came out with their much anticipated album Hello Hurricane. It did not disappoint. My boyfriend Nathanael Porembka is also a nominee because of his senior fashion these, “The Dawn of Man.” You can watch the show here, but it was moving, emotional and brilliant. The final nominee is the Subtle Sexuality by The Office. I was apprehensive at first, but can I just say that this television show has changed the way we interact and enjoy a sitcom? Amazing! This year’s award goes to my friend and boyfriend, Nathanael Porembka.

Person of the Year:

Past Winner: Barack Obama

This is obviously the toughest award to select. I could pick President Obama again because he has had a busy year. But there are a few others who could be on this list. I could honor Sarah Palin or Nancy Pelosi, but those are all political. This year, I want to honor someone who always amazes me with their ability to add clarity in a blurry world. This year’s honoree is the lead singer of my favorite band, Jon Foreman. With their latest work, Hello Hurricane, Foreman and his band, Switchfoot, have again asked daring life questions, and have done their best to answer them. Their words always help me to question my own personal life and the battles I fight.

Congratulations to all of those who made 2009 the memorable year it was.

This decade now comes to a close; what will 2010-2019 bring … it will soon be history, but lets be sure to live it.

The Improbable 2009

2009 is almost in the books! What an amazing year it has been and how amazing the future looks! I can hardly imagine what is possible, but I know anything is! A lot more happened this year than I thought possible… so here is just a glimpse.

1. I Can Run!

I began 2009 with a plan to run more. I didn’t figure I’d play much tennis, so I wanted to be more physically active. Nathanael gave me the Nike+ Running “friend” for my birthday in January and what has happened is nothing short of amazing!

April 17 Run Update

This first image is from April… My runs are averaging about 1.8 miles per run.

Jump forward to today and I’m averaging about 3.2 miles per run and just set a personal best for distance and mile pace. This year I’ve run (as of mid-December) 284 miles and spent more than 45 hours running. My goal was 275 miles, so I’m pleased and surprised with my final results. Next year will be more of the same, but I’m going to work on my consistency.


2. Reading is Awesome!

In 2008, I had a goal to read 20 books. I didn’t hit that mark. In 2009, I had a goal of 12 and while I came up a bit short, I read two 700+ page books, all the while writing my own and being a freelancer and writing 3-4 posts a week here at Finding Focus. All told, it was a wonderful year of growth for me. My goal will remain 10 books for 2010 and I already have that stack started. My favorites from this year included my one political read, Team of Rivals, as well as Outliers, Beautiful Boy and Agony and the Ecstasy.

3. World-Class Athletes are Very Humble

This year I had to amazing good fortune to fill in at the last minute at the US Open USTA Wheelchair Championships. I had never seen any wheelchair sport in person and I was skeptical. Not anymore. You can see some of my photos from the event. I will forever be a fan of this sport now. The best part aside from meeting some amazing people, were the athletes themselves. These were the best wheelchair tennis players in the world! Just having conversations with them over lunch and at the hotel… they are the most humble, relaxed and kind athletes I’ve ever met.

4. Challenging Yourself Brings Results

I’ve written numerous times this year (here and here) about how deciding to chase after a passion, painting, has resulted in some really cool opportunities. I’ve also had a chance to join a local writing group which has challenged me to be an even better writer, but also allowed me to learn about other writers. Both these passions have given me much this year, and I will continue to challenge myself next year to see where things can go.

5. Be True to Who You Are

This has been an extraordinary year for gay rights. In April, The Iowa Supreme Court ruled in favor of gay marriage. Other states also took steps and some still took steps backwards. But just this month, our nation’s capital legalized gay marriage. My friends have been amazingly supportive of my own personal and family struggles this year, and while it hasn’t been the easiest year at times, I remain true to who I am, which helps me be true to the world.

6. Thou Must Giveth

I’ve been out of college for four years now and this is the first year that I actually gave earnestly to charities. I hope it is a trend that will continue. It began with Kiva back in the early spring. Then this fall, I ran a campaign called, OneStream, which you can still join and support entrepreneurs around the world. To date, I have given nearly $150 in loans around the world. In addition, I donated money to Heifer International this year for a few Christmas gifts.

7. Anything is Possible

That has been the theme for my year for sure. My speaking opportunities grew, and some were a surprise. I will never forget that day in August or September when I got one email and two phones calls on the same day from people and groups interested in bringing me in for an event or training. It is no surprise that Anything is Possible is also the name of my book that will be available in early 2010. This will remain a theme of my life in 2010.

As 2009 ends, I’m looking forward to an amazing 2010. I remember back on December 31, 1999, sitting in my bedroom at my parents’ house, watching the celebrations around the world as each major city welcomed the new millennium. I now welcome a new decade. In the past decade I have graduated from high school, graduated from college, started my own company, written a book, came out and showed my work in an art show. But most of all, I think what I will take from 2000-2009, is that I found love. I found it in the strangest of places and in the closest of friends. I can only imagine what 2010-2019 will bring. I welcome the journey.

What are YOU taking from 2009?

A Coffee Shop Show

I’ve written often of my journey with photography and painting. Ever since that day back in March 2008 when I gave a speech at Kirkwood Community College and didn’t follow my own advice. Since that day, I have only painted a few times, but I enjoy it every time I do. I’ve spent more of my time working on my photography skills. (I plan on doing even more photography in 2010, but double my painting output too!)

Art up at Starbucks

This year, I achieved a goal I didn’t even know I had: I was in an art show! That was the first time I’d shown any of my art in the view of the public – and let them talk to me about their thoughts on it! For the month of November, a few pieces of my work were up on display at my local Starbucks. It was cool to stop by, have a cup of coffee and see my work hanging up. I hope the patrons enjoyed it too.

This has been an incredible journey and I can’t wait to see where it goes next!