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Our Darkest Shadows: A tale in wellness

“It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.” – Confucius

Depression. The darkness that lurks in every corner not lit. We all carry our little flames, shielding them with our hands in an effort to keep them from going out. And I’ve found in life, as long as there are still embers, the fire can be lit again. We may not see the embers, but they are there nonetheless.

And this is what depression is. It is stumbling our way through the dark, not knowing if the direction we’re headed in is the right one. It is the fear that the flame we carry will burn out, never to be lit again.


For the longest time I’ve had depression and I had to watch my once bright flame slowly dwindle until it was but embers. The best way to describe depression for those who have never experienced it is that of a rain cloud constantly hovering over someones head. When I was younger, I would take every word said and distort it to my reality. You gave me a compliment? I would tell you why you were wrong. You offered to help? I would take personal offense. As you can imagine, that can be quite exhausting for someone to deal with. The best part? We know what we’re saying is wrong, yet we can’t see past our own delusion.

If you suffer from depression, you know this. There are thousands of articles written on the darkness and how there’s no escape. And if you’re depressed, it is nice for a bit. To know you are not alone in your struggle, that others suffer just as you do. However, then you come to the realization that these articles have no solutions and you dive further down the rabbit hole. And eventually? The lines between reality and fantasy begin to blur and you have to watch your world melt away until you can’t tell what’s up and what’s down. Absolutely terrifying.

This is not one of those articles. This is an attempt to offer some guidance based on my experience.  It’s been a long road, sure, but I can look back and smile. Every struggle has made me stronger and once I learned to cope with my depression, I could see my life in a new light. If this is all you read, just know this: You are worthy of love. You may not feel you deserve it, but you do. Be the person you want to be. And take it one day at a time. It may be hard to put one foot in front of the other but you must.


“And when you needed people the most, it felt like there was no one to be found.”

When I arrived at College, I never imagined graduation. I struggled my first year. My Spring term I found the mental health services. A few years of counseling and then I set out on my own; I would occasionally see a counselor for emergencies, however, not once a week like I used to. At the end of my counseling, I bought a journal and then I set out to bury my past, one day at a time.

I have friends but I feel so alone… I’m sure this feeling will pass but for now I’m in complete despair. I worry too much about what others think of me; I have spent a lifetime trying to find myself when I should’ve been spending a lifetime creating myself. It’s never too late, but I feel as though I have a lot of catch up to do… I wish I had someone in my life I could go to for advice, someone close that could come to my aid in a heartbeat. Mr. E has been the biggest positive influence in my life and the only person I have truly felt has believed in me. I need a break and soon, otherwise I worry that the weight of the world might finally crush me into dust…

I almost didn’t write this article. For research I was reading stories written by others and I could feel the struggle, the conflict. The desire to be better but the not knowing how. Looking for a candle in the dark and finding only darkness… And then I reached for my own journal. Nowadays, I dust it off from time to time. If I’ve had a bad day, I like to write. There was a point in my life I was writing every day and when I reread my journal, I can feel the pen hit the paper and when I was at my worst, the frantic scratches as I sat gasping for air.  To be honest, a part of me wants to snap my fingers and erase this part of my life. However, I wanted to be able to tell my story. And as much as I can try, the past never stays buried.

The Journal

The entry above is from the first day I started my journal. I had nowhere to go and was taking it one day at a time. This was a time where I was fully wrapped in my delusions. My flame was embers and all I could do was pass my hand close to feel what little warmth was left.

It is hard to imagine a time I hated myself and where every step I took was like trudging through wet cement. To simply go through the motions and to have every emotion felt (anger, shame, sadness, and fear) except happiness? A living nightmare. To actively avoid the mirror because I hated what I saw? Pure torture.

But I held on. Why? I didn’t know.  I wanted life to be better and thought “what do I have to lose?” And I supposed, if all else failed, I thought at least I could say “I tried.” and then, “I tried again.” So I used my Cross Country coach as a base. I said “if just one person can believe in me, then I could believe in myself.” I asked myself what he saw in me and remembered that I was encouraged to be at my best. He knew I could be better and that I was more than what I was. He was the one who called me out on making excuses and while it took 5 years, I learned how to take accountability and say “no” (which I still suck at). More importantly, he imposed an idea. A thought in passing that I took to heart, he asked if I really wanted to be “mediocre kid.” And you know what I said? I said “Yes.” Mediocrity was comfortable and darkness? A blanket. For better or worse, it was what I knew. Like Batman, the shadows were my friend.

Victim Mentality

Depression is both behavioral and situational. It is something that can compound over time and is living proof that the little things do add up. Or in other instances, proof that nobody is perfect and all it can take is one moment to break even the strongest of individuals. Depression is complex and must be approached on an individual basis and then, involve a community. People want to be heard and feel valued. The further down the rabbit hole you are, the less likely you are to believe people actually care.

For the longest time I played victim, it was always someone else’s fault or if you know me personally, I would say “society’s fault.” I would blame everyone but myself and then, laying in bed or staring at the mirror, I would do exactly that. Typical “I’m a hideous monster”, “I’m stupid”, etc. You know, all the “positive” reinforcement stuff they talk about in books. And as much as I’d love to share another journal entry, i’ll save you the horrors of the blame game. When I’d go to counseling, I’d sound like a broken record. It was the same story over and over again and while it felt good to talk about, it changed nothing. It eventually led to frustration and then, anti-depressants. I took the lowest dose and tried two different types and while they worked, I eventually stopped.

Regardless, what I learned (and this has been the most helpful in life) was to be proactive vs. reactive. Being proactive is the idea that you are in control and it has three degrees of variance. What you do (control), what other people do (indirect control), and our past or situational realities (no control). Basically all this means is you’re not Doctor Who and can’t change your timeline. All you can really control is yourself and to an extent how you interact with others.

The easiest way to get started is to shift your dialogue. Instead of saying “but”, try saying “and” more. Instead of “I”, try saying “we”, “our”, etc. Instead of “I can’t”, say “I can.”

Acknowledge the past but don’t let it define you. It’s easy to spiral if you’ve had a bad day and focus on that.

Don’t deal with “What If’s.” You will literally spend all day thinking of what could be rather than making it a reality. And the more you do this, the more miserable you become.

And perhaps most important, don’t make assumptions. This was my saving grace. It took forever to realize but a lot of issues I was having with my perception had to do with my assumptions. I would constantly say “Those people are so successful, I’ll never be like that.” and “I bet that person thinks I’m a loser.” or “I don’t think they liked what I said.” Then I started asking people what they thought of me and it wasn’t further from the truth.

Environment Changes Everything

Our innate response when we’re in trouble (or not) is to find like minded individuals. My advice? Don’t. I tried multiple groups before I settled on a strategy that led to my success and while it might not work for everyone, it’s a theory worth writing. If you want success, you must go where success is. In College, I had access to opportunity and resources. I had the luxury of choice. So I joined student organizations and for my first few terms, literally just sat in a corner and said nothing. People were most likely thinking “wow, that Mike guy seems a little off” How do I know this? Friends have told me their first impressions of me. However, I was sitting in admiration (and dismay). I hoped one day I’d be able to get in front of a group and eventually I did. And then the “impossible” happened. people believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. I became a leader and was forced out of the shadows. Did I fail? Yes, many times. However, I always got back up. And through doing and pure association, I became. You can’t see what’s not right in front of you, so it’s best to artificially create a new lens through which to see the world (aka surround yourself with the people you strive to be). And nobody is perfect. It takes time and effort. If change were easy, everyone would do it.

Another note I want to make is when I was finally ready to open up. I was extremely fortunate to have great roommates in College. They, as well as my organizations, have made me a better person. They are some of the best friends I’ve ever had. When I would say something wrong, they would call me out. They taught me to cook, clean, and be an overall decent human being. If I was upset, they’d ask what was wrong. I thought for the longest time, if they knew the real me, they’d run the other direction. However, when I had my tipping point, they stayed. They listened. And when I pushed, they pushed back. And that’s the thing, my case is not uncommon. We may not realize it at the time but looking back we have the support we need even if it may not seem like it at the time. Some leave, sure, but most stay. And those who leave you didn’t need in your life anyway.

If you’re struggling to meet people you strive to be, TED talks, podcasts, books, movies, TV, and video games (story driven) make a great substitute until you can find “your tribe.”

I wanted to start this the other day, but today works just as well. I want to record at least one awesome thing a day as a means of changing my outlook on life. Hopefully this will make me love myself so others can love me as well. So, without further ado, what was awesome yesterday? Free food at the library, yum! Soup, Smoothies, Sandwiches, Snacks, you name it, they had it. Completely unexpected but totally awesome! Roommates made cookies yesterday! So many in fact, that it was impossible to fit them all in containers, awesome!

It Takes Time

“I can no longer settle for second best as I myself have become second best, no where close to where I should be. I have friends, I am not alone. I must break this loop of self-destruction I’ve created for myself and I have to do it now; not soon, not later, now…”

You will not see immediate results. You will get a taste of happiness here and there only to spiral back into depression. This is normal. It’s only when looking back are we able to see the gardens planted in fields that once looked barren. And I’m not perfect. I suffer from depressive states from time to time. The key difference is it has become manageable. Where once I would spend all day in bed, now it’s writing, ASMR, meditation, and my trusty stress ball. Other days it’s flipping through a book or watching a show to remind me of the good in the world. Where once my emotions would run wild, I now wield them as I would a sword. If I am angry, I use my anger to focus and channel my passion. If I’m sad, I let myself cry. If I’m afraid, I put one foot in front of the other; sometimes slowly, but still moving nonetheless. And if I’m happy, I cherish the moment and simply allow myself to be, knowing all too well that tomorrow could bring another storm.

In parting, I want you to know that I believe in you. I am not going to sit here and tell you everything will be alright, but I will tell you that it does get better. When you’re ready to give up and your world comes crashing down, don’t. Keep going. You might stumble and you might fall, but you are worth the fight. Hold your little flame close and don’t let go, for one day it will lead you through the dark.


Thanks for reading! This was perhaps the toughest article I’ve ever written. That’s part of the Mental health awareness project. Each week a little deeper and now here we are at the end! It’s been more of an undertaking than was expected but definitely worth it. Next week I will be talking about what I have deemed as “my final demon” and with that article my mental health awareness month series will conclude. I’m both excited and terrified to finally be writing about it. Regardless, feel free to discuss any personal stories related to depression in the comments below (only if you want). If you liked what I wrote but feel self-conscious, I now have a contact me page and can officially receive emails! I read each and every comment and love hearing from all of you lovely people, so feel free to reach out.

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9 months of meditation: Has it been worth it?

The short answer, yes. The long answer, also yes, but longer. So full disclaimer; as much as i’d like to say I’ve meditated every day as I set out to do, I haven’t. In my defense however, progress is not a straight line. When you attempt a new habit, you will have your ups and downs but the idea is to stick with it until you set a new bar for yourself. without further ado let’s start with the most important question.

Why Meditate?

Let me set the scene. I had just come back from Germany, awaiting my kingdom upon my triumph return home. I had my head held high and was ready to seize the world. But as life would have it, my kingdom had turned to ash. My hero’s welcome was using all my available energy to put out fires and keep ships from sinking. In the first time in years, my journal failed me. You know things are bad when Mike Cole is carrying around a stress-ball at every waking moment. All my systems were collapsing and even my books couldn’t save me this time around. But if you know me, I carry on to the bitter end. So I rebuilt my old systems.

I started with 5 minutes a day and went from there. It was hard at first but got easier over time. When I was able to do 5 minutes on a consistent basis, I bumped it to 10, which I think is the perfect amount. But once again, why would you want to meditate? Couldn’t those precious minutes be put towards something more valuable? Well…

Imagine you have anxiety. Scratch that, don’t imagine; everyone has anxiety. What if I told you your deepest fears could melt away and that your clouded mind could become clear? Well, that’s meditation in a nutshell. The hard part is sitting down and making it a priority. As I’ve deemed it, meditation is kind of like hitting the reset button. Done right, it’ll clear the clutter and allow you to focus. Meditation in the morning can set your day up for success.

What is meditation?

Before I started, I looked up different techniques online. I couldn’t find a proper explanation and this frustrated me. Some people go to the extreme for meditation and when they try to explain the experience, it comes off as gibberish. If you look up mindfulness, you’ll get close but still it reads more like a self-help book more than anything else. So what I did, is simply combine the pieces I liked and then simply started meditating. After a few times, I got a feel for the experience and refined it to what is a mix between the spiritual and the mindfulness techniques your friendly neighborhood psychologist would tell you about.

My Techniques

So the idea behind meditation is not necessarily letting go of the negative thoughts inside your head but rather acknowledging them and moving forward. What most don’t realize however, is meditation is not simply an emptying of the mind, it’s a process of clarifying thoughts, much in the way we feel refreshed after sleeping. A good thought can branch out much like a tree and instead of trying to focus on nothingness, simply follow the thought and the thoughts thereafter. Think of yourself as a leaf flowing down a river, perhaps imagine a gentle breeze with branches gently swaying in the wind. A leaf in a river simply is and does not work against the current.

That’s only the first half. The second half is focusing on your body. It can be as simple as breathing to start but eventually you’ll want to focus on nerves. Find the tension in your body and simply be aware, massage, wiggle your fingers, pay attention to dexterity, etc. If you’re uncomfortable, adjust yourself. Listen to the wind blow, the sound of your breath, the gentle trickle of water from a fountain.

There are few ways to do meditation wrong. However, if you want more guidance, here’s a few suggestions. Buy a sleeping mask. If you find yourself reaching for your phone, this will prevent that. It will also block out light and should you open your eyes you will simply see darkness. If you have raw emotion and simply can’t get comfortable, let your meditation posture reflect that. Try leaving one hand open and clenching a fist. The open hand should relax and the clenched fist should control. Over time you’ll most likely end up with both hands open, pressed together in the center.

If you’re looking for a spiritual aspect to meditation but don’t want to turn into a monk, try going into meditation as your time to connect with nature. Sit outside under a tree or leave a window open. Simply learn to appreciate the present moment.


Thanks for reading! It’s been a while since I’ve done a self-improvement article and it feels great. I hope you find the advice helpful and feel free to share and comment below. If you have your own technique or a personal story, I’d love to hear it!

Journey’s End Week 5: Silence Like A Cancer Grows…

“We are afraid to care too much, for fear that the other person does not care at all.” – Eleanor Roosevelt


It’s already week 5. I am halfway through my last term… Hard to believe. And what an amazing 5 weeks it has been. College retirement is great. I’m still just as busy as ever but I’m finally doing what I enjoy. It took 5 years but here I am. The little differences have added up. Every small moment aimed towards a bigger goal. The question I’ve had to ask myself a lot lately, is, “Why”? I’m someone who should’ve never succeeded and as I would’ve put it as a Freshman, I was “Cursed”. How can one man change so much in 5 years? The person people used to roll their eyes at whenever he opened his mouth is no more. Now I talk and people listen.

A question I’ve been struggling with as of late is “Nature vs. Nurture”. As much as I’ve tried to create my own identity and blaze my own trail, I have to wonder how much control I truly have. You cannot escape your past, no matter how hard you try. It will follow you. Yet you can rewrite your story. If you ask anyone about who I am, they’ll paint a fairy tale. Great childhood, great parents, and always ambitious. This may be true. Yet this is not what I’ve told people. I simply give people a framework, an outline. In a sense, I manipulate others perception of who I am. We all do this. Every post on Facebook is not of you crying but rather you with friends, having fun. Yet this is not reality, people know this. And we still feel inadequate as we compare ourselves to others.  Everyone struggles.

Today I walked through the plaza on my way to class and in the grass there were over a thousand backpacks. Each represented a student who committed suicide each year.  Reality is not pretty. I may act as a comforting voice; I only hope some will listen. It has always been my goal to treat everyone with respect. All too often I see people judge and make fun of those who need love the most. Even the best of us can be cruel.

A Term of Perspective

Last week I went and listened to a Holocaust survivor speak. As a child I loved watching the history channel back when it was history and not “history in the making”. Back then the Holocaust was a concept, something that we read about in history class. And this fall I was in Germany. Even then, I avoided the concentration camps. I chose to visit the memorials… Reality is not pretty. To actually hear a survivor was a sobering experience… I can’t begin to imagine the horror she went through and the tragedy she faced. She told her story with such grace. She didn’t have an answer for how she survived but at the end she made a point to say that she lived a happy life. She said the past was in the past and that it was best not to dwell. The human spirit is strong and those who choose love over hate give hope for a better tomorrow.

And I finished my week with a comedy show… To say I had an interesting week is an understatement. I couldn’t stop laughing at the show. The event was hosted by the Iranian student association and the comedian was Iranian-American. I don’t think I’ve ever heard more airport jokes in my entire life. And then the show became political… And you know what? It was great! It turns out Donald Trump is comedic gold, who knew? The big theme was diversity as the world tries to divide itself. Hate is a choice. People choose to hate one another, to label. I say it is easier to love. Reality is not pretty. If the world beats you down, remember to laugh and smile.

Speaking of Diversity, I went to a college of science event titled “Diversity in Science”. All too often I have found people choose ignorance to validate their own reality. As a businessman, why would I ever go listen to a scientist? It’s all about perspective. If I had a penny for every time my roommate said a business major joke, I might almost be able to pay off my student loans (probably not). Instead of collaboration, we divide. Even within our own colleges. Finance, BIS, you name it. They’re different, we deserve more, etc. If we want the world to change, we have to be that change. Seek first to understand, then be understood.

The week prior? I met the attorney General of Oregon and listened to College Republicans and Democrats debate. Especially now, especially in the US, we can’t talk politics but need to! But people won’t listen! So to go to a setting where, while I didn’t agree with the other side on all points, I could at least hear what they had to say… It was fantastic!

On Love

So last week I talked about love. It was a fun topic and something I don’t talk about often. I talked a lot about being observant and most important, loving yourself. What I neglected to mention was loving others. Love is a prize…

I used to hate myself. Every day I would look in the mirror and berate myself. And then one day I realized that I couldn’t keep living this way. So I tried smiling. And then saying something positive. And now… I can barely remember who I used to be. What I have is what I wrote in my journal. What was once reality is now but a distant memory. But most importantly, I found others to love me. I’ve met the most amazing people in college and I didn’t even realize it at the time! And I was lifted up. It’s OK to be vulnerable no matter how much you hurt. And as far as finding true love? I wouldn’t worry about it. Everyone is obsessed with “the one” yet there will be multiple one’s in your life. If you spend your life chasing, you’ll never catch. Enjoy the moment. Love is meant to be fun. It’s hard to control. If you want the secret to make it last, i’ll tell you. A proper relationship is when two independent individuals come together to become interdependent. Do not lose who you are in a relationship; rather build something new with whoever you choose to love. Move forward, learn from one another and make each-other stronger. Even if it feels like you’ll never find love, please do this; allow yourself to love.

A Message…

As my time at college comes  to a close, I have so many questions and so few answers. For how much I know, there’s always more to learn. Those who claim they know everything are fools. Everyone has a story and everyone should have the opportunity to dream big. Many live their lives in fear and instead of stepping forward, they step back. They push people away and they try to make it on their own. Don’t. If you have nobody, you will always have yourself. Life is a gift, so don’t waste it. And it is never, never, too late to change.


Thanks for reading! Come back next week as I talk about my secret spots on campus and “the man with the white hair”. Feel free to comment, reach out, and share!

Journey’s End: A Journey worth a thousand words

“When you reach the end of your rope, tie a knot in it and hang on.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt


When we reach the end of our journey and look back, what do we see? Are we kept up at night tossing and turning, mulling over what could’ve been? Or do we remember what was, as adventures turn to memories? Do we ask ourselves if we’ve lived true to ourselves or do we envy that which we do not have? When we dream do we dream of distant mountains or do we dream of valleys far below? When we wake, do we wish we were dreaming? When we look in the mirror, do we see our shattered reflection or do we see ourselves as if for the first time?


Once upon a dream

Yesterday after class I decided to go for a walk. I’ve been walking a lot lately. This time it was back to the beginning, where college began for me; McNary dorms. It’s been years since I’ve made my way over to that side of campus and a part of me misses it. The sheer simplicity of Freshman year, when nobody expected anything of me. I went to class, ate, and spent a lot of time in my room. I didn’t have many friends but the friends I did have, we’d meet up, play poker, watch walking dead every Sunday night; it was fun. A lot of my time  was spent just trying to find my way in the world. I was quiet, awkward and not at all confident. My solace was playing video games. Video games told stories and were the only thing I truly felt I was good at. I liked reading but always felt self-conscious as throughout elementary and middle school I was always forced to read books that didn’t interest me. Classes bored me and as such I always fell behind. When it came to classes, I was always living in someone else’s shadow. My parents always hounded my brother for getting poor grades so I always felt the need to try extra, extra hard. The irony is, that because I tried so hard, I became my own worst enemy. Had I just been focused on myself, I could’ve easily been one of the best students, the one who gets “most likely to succeed” in the year book. Instead I tried to imitate my brother and live in his shadow, always reaching, but never achieving. The best part? My parents took a softer approach for me. They simply said, “do your best” which I interpreted as “We don’t care”…

So come college, this trend continued, except with one key difference, I didn’t have my brother to compare myself to. My brother spent a year at Southern Oregon, a few terms at PCC, and then he dropped out. I was on my own. It wasn’t Jack did this or Jack did that. It was Mike and only Mike. I always thought my brother should’ve been the one to graduate, that I wasn’t worth it. Then I started becoming worth it.

The College of Business

I knew I couldn’t survive in Engineering. I knew my field had to be either psychology or business. I started out as an engineer because I thought that’s what I ought to do, not what I was meant to do. Perhaps in another life, under different circumstances… But I don’t think people realize how volatile I was when I first got to college. Yes I’ve always been sweet, but what is sweet can also be bitter. Emotional stability is something I’ve struggled with for the longest time. When there’s poison in the heart, there’s poison in the heart. Very few have seen me lose my composure and  fewer have seen me loose my temper. This used to be my every day. Few realize what it’s like to be on the brink of insanity until they’re there. To be wrapped in a blanket of your delusions until you’ve warped reality so far that it begins to snap. To teeter on the edge of meltdowns and having nowhere to go as the walls close in. So people ask why I chose management and I ask, “what choice did I have”? Managers are professional relationship builders. They understand the needs of people and work towards common goals. Managers not only manage others, they manage themselves.

When people think business, they often think there is a separation between personal and professional. What they fail to realize is it’s often a beautiful blend. I’d go to class, learn, and then apply. I kept an open mind and I was just happy to be learning as much as I could while I was able. Bacc Core, pre-business, I loved it all. Since day one I have loved being a management major. And perhaps this is because it was my first taste of control, what it felt like to have some semblance of balance and stability. And the more I learned, the more I became. And while it started with classes, it has gone well beyond that point. I’ve read over a dozen business related books. “7 habits for highly effective people” became my bible. I lived by that book. It taught me what I should be and gave me the road-map to get there.  “How to win friends and influence people” became the icing on the cake, teaching technique rather than guiding.

A House of Engineers

For two years I had perhaps the greatest roommates and some of my best friends. I found a group of individuals more awkward than myself at the time, so I fit right in. Engineers play video games and I played video games, so it was a good fit. Better, they were Computer Science majors, who make Civil Engineers seem like excellent communicators. Jokes aside (although I never heard the end of business major jokes) if there’s a group of individuals that have been there to shape my future, it’s these guys. Engineers, for better or worse, are blunt. If you do something that does not make logical sense, like show emotion for example, they will call you out on this fallacy. So many questions… “Why are you angry?”, “Why are you sad”? Or statements… Mostly, “that’s stupid” or “That makes no sense”… It was wonderful. They were there for the majority of my transformation. Day by day, step by step… Sometimes I like to ponder who I’d be if I never met these fine individuals and I can honestly say I don’t think I’d be the same. They met me back when I thought I was a monster, that if I told people who I really was, they’d turn their back on me and run. And yet they didn’t. When I finally did reach my tipping point, they were there to support rather than shun. And that shattered my delusion…

A Fitting End

That’s it for this week. I’ll expand more on these ideas in the coming weeks, as I work towards telling my personal story. This week was more a taste and I have plenty more stories to share. Next week will be a tale of love, as I talk about my thoughts on relationships from an analytical and anecdotal perspective. Get excited and thanks for reading!


Feel free to comment and share below.

Journey’s End: David Vs. Goliath

“It’s not the size of the dog in the fight, it’s the size of the fight in the dog.” – Mark Twain


The story of the underdog. The idea of whether or not you want to be a big fish in a small pond or a small fish in a big pond. Our greatest strengths often become our greatest weaknesses. The more resources we have at our disposal, past a certain point, can often lead to our downfall. Everyone seeks power yet so few know how to wield it once they have it. And even fewer realize that true power is having power and choosing when and when not to use it. It is a balancing act between strength and compassion. There are times to be strong and times to be vulnerable.

It is easy to get caught up in success just as much as it’s easy to get caught up in failure. People who taste victory want more and those who taste defeat want less. The strong tend to trample the weak and people can be poison. Or the weak can act strong and grow bitter as they claw their way to the top, becoming the very evil they sought to stop.

The lonely road

We, as humans, have a tendency to follow those who are similar. Those who are not like us get left behind. The people who need love the most are often those who do not receive and those who need the least often receive the most. If one cannot communicate, weave words into a story, then one cannot be. Everyone roots for the underdog and yet… It is very rare that an underdog succeeds. Those who do, become Goliath, yet those who don’t become dust. So in a sense, it’s a rare perspective and one I’m willing to share.

The lonely mountain

Climbing mountains aren’t easy and I can’t tell you how many sleepless nights I’ve had just trying to stay alive. College is a time of great excitement yet it can also be a time for great disappointment. And all too often, the experiences build and what once seemed manageable becomes an avalanche.  You’re buried and can’t breathe. You’re trapped. You can dig your way out or you can suffocate. The bright side of moments like these? You have time to reflect. To look yourself in the mirror, and ask, “is this who I want to be”? And for a brief moment you see a better tomorrow, then fear takes over. The, “what if” question. So what do you do? You close your eyes. There is comfort in consistency and there is uncertainty in chaos. Yet few see comfort in consistent chaos. Which there isn’t, so the underdog turns their back on reality and nothing is gained.

My story? I’ve said it enough times and while I could say it over again, with different wording, I won’t. My story is a complex blend much like yours and whatever narrative I once had, I’ve reshaped by not letting others write it. It’s all relative. Hardship to one is a stroll through the park to another. Yet the point is, all that matters is your perspective. If you feel unheard, then you are unheard. And if the other person feels unheard, then they are unheard. The simple solution? Listen. “Seek first to understand, then be understood”. There’s been a common theme since I’ve got to college and that’s been, “Wow, Mike’s such a great listener”. Disclaimer: I wasn’t for the longest time.

Two Ears, One Mouth

Listening is hard and those with the biggest mouths often don’t listen. People love the loudest person in the room. In college people think that automatically makes you the coolest person in the room. But more often than not, those individuals are Assholes.  The best part? Those Assholes don’t even realize they’re Assholes. They rationalize their behavior instead of taking a good look in the mirror. And the worst part? People want to be them. Why? Humans have an innate need to connect and be loved, so it only makes sense. The consequence? People spend a lifetime trying to be something they’re not. The coolest person some might consider a Goliath. And as a Goliath, it is far too easy to overlook the underdog.

Open Mind, Open Door

All too often individuals are closed minded, “I’m right, you’re wrong”. How many times do you ask, “I’m right and you’re also right”. This is not a difficult concept. I like cake and you can also like cake. Yet in practice? A disaster. Yes people are wrong, that’s reality but all too often people refuse to see another point of view. People are stubborn. And what’s worse, is few people find beauty in the differences. There is no reason to talk to anyone if all they do is agree. People grow when they are challenged and while agreeing may reaffirm your values and build confidence, it is disagreement that leads to the best insight. College is a time to challenge and not be a “Yes man”. On the flip side, don’t be an Asshole. Take politics for example. I can say I think Donald Trump is a terrible person and think he represents the worst of America. That’s fine, that’s an opinion. Yet on the flip side I can see why some of my friends can find him appealing and once again, that is their opinion. That’s called respect. See, simple. Is anyone upset? No. Wouldn’t it be great if everyone thought like this? Yet instead what you get is people pointing the finger instead of trying to understand the reasons why. Another question, “does it matter”? An open mind leads to asking the right question(s) and the best weapon against adversity is kindness.

Bringing it all together

So my idea for this series, “Journey’s End” is to provide a framework that I spent 5 years building for myself. Initially I thought I was simply going to talk about my week and have “Story Time”. But truth be told, I have my journal for that and while I still have crazy adventures, they don’t necessarily make for the best article. So as such, this series will be a random assortment of topics, some weeks giving advice, some weeks telling fun stories, and some weeks mixing the two together. This week I wanted to share my experience being an underdog as I am someone who should’ve dropped out of college long ago. So if there’s a take away, let it be this: If you feel alone, look in the mirror and remember that you will always have yourself, so remember to take care of yourself. If you want to connect with others, listen. And if you want to be understood, don’t be afraid to say how you feel (chances are the other person doesn’t realize you feel this way). And finally, don’t discredit others simply because they have a different opinion.


That’s it. Week 2 of my final term is done! If you have any topics you would like me to cover, now’s the time to ask. Thanks for reading and I hope you found the topic helpful!

Journey’s end, week 1: What we leave behind…

“Character is like a tree and reputation like a shadow. The shadow is what we think of it; the tree is the real thing.” – Abraham Lincoln


How was my first week? As expected, it was bitter-sweet. The sun is shining and birds are chirping but sporadically we’ll get a sprinkle or monsoon (Oregon is weird). As I ask students what they remember most about their college experience, most of my friends are stumped. It’s something you don’t think about. Perhaps they’ll mention what they didn’t do but what we did eludes the mind. I’m lucky in the sense that most of my experience I’ve documented. When I was a Freshman, I started my blog over on IGN, back when all I did with my time was play video games. I was shy and awkward but video games always made me feel at home and IGN just felt like the right blogging community. I simply quoted whatever was said initially, then once I had people saying things like “great job” I started writing what I thought of that which I quoted. I even wrote a few articles before the move to WordPress. After my blog came my journal, which, whenever I’m feeling down (which isn’t often nowadays), I simply pull it out and reread entries that I started writing a few years ago. Very few people remember the old Mike but I’m one of them. And if one thing has remained constant, it’s the desire to be better. Call it an obsession; I call it progress. I used to hate failing so I never tried. Now I look back and see failing as some of my fondest memories. Not so much failing but rather the fact that no matter what, I’ve gotten back up.

Finding My Tribe

As much as I like to saying finding a job is the college dream, it’s not. The real dream is, as my organizational behavior instructor put it, “finding my tribe”. It’s amazing how one little phrase can have so much impact. If you do one thing in college, let it be “finding your tribe”. The people you surround yourself with will have the greatest impact on your life. For me, it was student organizations, for you, it might be completely different. Many will not remember when I was a drifter, but I do. People see the man today but very few ask what it took to get there. My mentors are long gone and many will not realize the impact they had on my development, but I thank them as they gave me the power to pass the torch, they believed in me when no one else would. And can I ever repay that debt? No. What they gave me is irreplaceable. You can’t make it alone so I’m grateful I didn’t have to.

Beginning of the End

Every step I’ve taken this week has led to one thought after another. I’m trying to savor every moment, every step I take. I’m a man running out of time and I know it. Time is the most valuable resource we have. Once it’s gone, we can’t replace it. When I was a Freshman it felt like I had all the time in the world and that was exciting. I had my whole future ahead of me, I had time to set goals and achieve dreams. And now I’ve achieved those dreams. I sit on my throne and look at my kingdom. The empire I’ve built, what I’ve left behind. And while I can smile, there was a certain magic throughout my years of college. I could be this, I could be that, I could be anything. And while not bad, I narrowed my focus and now more or less have a lot figured out. And I miss the chaos… Being that low-achieving, “mediocre kid” that failed so much that nobody expected anything from him. I miss the mid-achiever who had goals and ambitions but needed mentors to achieve them. And now I’m scratching my head as people look to me for advice and guidance. I never asked for this. Or better yet, I’m at a point where I’ve been a top-achiever for so long that I can watch the advice I gave being passed down generation to generation.

The little things

As I sit watching the sunset of my college adventure, I have to wonder, “If I could do it over, would I”? If I had the knowledge I had now as a Freshman, imagine what I could accomplish… So if I could do it over, to be given a second chance, would I change a moment of my college experience? The answer is NO. People prefer to focus on the good. The successes, the victories, the triumphs. Yet the battles are the good stuff. Digging into the trenches, buried up to your knees in mud. Blood, sweat, and tears. My life would be boring if all I ever did was win. There’s no test of character there. The true test of character comes from how we deal with adversity. Do we desert the battle field or do we fight until our last breath? Do we retreat to fight another day or do we lead one last charge? And when victory is finally achieved? Victory is earned. To wave the flag as the sun rises on top of a pile of destruction, forever looking to the horizon. That’s the beauty in life; the little moments building on each other to become our greatest triumphs.


The end is nigh

As I sit in my castle, I still remember when I worked the fields. Serf Mike never once thought he would be king. So that’s it, that’s week one in a nutshell. Thanks for reading and get excited for week two! If you have questions, comments, anything. Please, discuss, share!

Journey’s End

Here it is, the beginning of the end. 5 years and here I stand, at the finish line. Hard to believe. College in the U.S. is far from easy and many talented individuals often aren’t afforded the opportunity simply because of the price tag. Even at minimum wage, unlike our parents, we cannot pay off our debt. So it comes down to a matter of luck. And while it hasn’t always seemed like it, I’ve been extremely lucky. And I’m grateful for that. I want to take time to document my last term, much in the way I documented my time spent in Germany. It’s a bitter-sweet ending. I’m sad to go but at the same time I’m excited to start a new chapter.

The College Experience

All too often I feel the experience of the college student is often overlooked, undervalued. We are seen as young and still figuring out the world, so why should we be given the time of day? And perhaps this will change, but if I read an article about college students, more often than not it’s not written by a college student. That’s a shame. When I started blogging as a Freshman, the purpose was to give myself a voice when it felt like I had none. Over the years I’ve acquired more and more influence, little by little and now… I can look back and see the legacy I’ve created. My work, the relationships I’ve built… I can finally be proud, to take a moment to breathe. And the more I’ve changed, the more I’ve realized I’ve stayed the same. My core essence is still here, I have simply cleaned the clutter. And who am I? I’m a good man. I came to college to be a better person and while I’ll always be refining, I’m happy with the progress I’ve made.

The Fork in the road

It wasn’t always this way. Confidence. Confidence can’t be read, it must be experienced. Eventually everyone will have to make this choice, do you want to be “good enough” or do you want to be great? My cross country coach once said, “do you want to be mediocre kid”? And you know what I said? I said yes. Why? Because it was comfortable. And I remember my last race, my senior year of High School. It had been an exhausting season and there was a moment during the race where I could’ve pushed myself beyond my limits and I chose not to. And while it was a good race (ran a 5k in 19:25), it could’ve been a great race. And that’s when the idea started to manifest, the idea that maybe I wasn’t OK with being mediocre kid. So what did I do when I got to college? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. I wasn’t a good student and in fact took pride in not trying hard, to simply blend in. I stopped running and simply existed. When I had no base, I used to always say, “what would Mr.E think of me now”? So what changed? Obviously I didn’t stay mediocre kid.


My Freshman year I was simply surviving. I was by every definition a mess. Angry, Ashamed, Sad; the list goes on. In addition I was very moody and not easy to get along with. I was selfish and thought the world owed me everything. So come my Sophomore year, I suppose I became the wise fool. I found a job and was able to increase my standard of living just a little bit. I could buy what I wanted and discovered coffee for the first time. I started exercising again and while I still struggled, I had come a long way since my Freshman year. Then came the betrayal. How easily one moment you can be on top of the world only to watch your kingdom crumble because it was built on a foundation of sand. So what happened?

 Growing up

I’ve been in school since the age of 3. Since I’ve been able to form a memory, I’ve been in the system. And while I’ve had friends my entire life, I’ve never felt like I truly fit in. I’ve always preferred to have a few close friends yet for the longest time I’ve tried so hard to impress everyone. The friends I had I often took for granted and I’ll admit I haven’t always been the charmer I am now. By my Sophomore year of college I was vulnerable. I cherished my friends and started appreciating them a lot more. I remember thinking to myself how lucky I was that I still had any friends. My Freshman year I had made very few friends and was extremely lonely. That trend continued well into my Sophomore year and as such, I was a man stuck in the past. I held onto the friends that stuck with me, through thick and thin. And then… One of my best friends, a week after we reconnected the summer of my Sophomore year, denounced me. He criticized every mistake I made in high school and said he was done. He said my life wasn’t heading anywhere and that I simply didn’t listen to my friends. I didn’t even realize at the time that was who I was. I was angry. And then I asked a simple question, why? Why was I so angry? And then I realized that he was right. I was alone and I was afraid to be anything more than mediocre. I took the easy road and had no purpose. I was stuck in the past, holding on to friends who had moved on with their lives and I was left behind. So, in this moment, what was once one road, diverged and became two.

And what did I do? I took the one less traveled, and that has made all the difference. Two choices, I could continue down the path of mediocrity or I could step into the unknown and seek success (which I had always sought but never laid the groundwork to achieve). So I quit my job and went to the career success center and asked, “how do I be successful”? And what was I given? A list. It said go to the career fairs, create a Linkedin, draft a resume, join management club. So, I went to management club.

Put yourself in an environment of success

This rule has served me well. If I wanted success, all I had to do was be around successful people. Easy enough, right? It took years. The first year of management club a sat and observed. I was too afraid to talk back then, so I simply listened. I went to every meeting, every event and let the success rub off on me. And to speed up the process, I joined the business fraternity on campus the term after I joined management club. I can smile now but at the time this was a big deal, as successful individuals intimidated me. And then came the leadership roles. Little Mike, who always followed others, decided to run for leadership positions! And that’s when I became the success I sought. And yet my success buried me.

Germany

So I devised a plan. I took time to step back and ask, “How do I want to finish”? The leadership roles were phase one, as I knew I would either fail spectacularly or rise to the challenge. I knew however, this would not be enough. Phase two? Germany. My leadership roles were meant to develop talent and while they helped with confidence, they could not help with independence. So what better way to become independent than to throw yourself in a foreign country for four months?  If you’ve heard “#NewhairNewMike”, this was my personal re-branding. My entire life I have had scraggly hair because I have a scar on the back of my head, afraid of others judgement should I cut it too short. So while it may not have seemed like a huge deal to an outsider, my haircut in Germany was symbolic of my new found confidence and a reflection of my personal growth. The Mike that left for study abroad is not the Mike that came back. So now comes phase 3, which I have called my retirement. This is my polish phase. After achieving independence, I’m now taking a step back to ask, “what do I want”?

My entire life has been shaped around what I think I ought to do, not what I want to do. And on that note, I will add that this philosophy has served me well. I have been criticized for not being myself and while the comment has good intent, I take issue with it. I was a MESS when I first got to college, had I simply been myself, I would have failed. The only reason I have made it as far as I have is because I chose to mimic who I viewed to be successful. Or by observing the mistakes of those who failed and seeking to rise above. Had I tried to be myself as a Freshman, I would probably be living in my parent’s basement playing video games. Why? Because I had no idea who I was back then and I still don’t know. By trying to be someone else, I was able to realize who I wasn’t and am just now starting to realize who I am. So, if you’re stuck, don’t try to find yourself, create yourself. Go find the successful and do what they do. Then, when you’re ready, you can find yourself.

Phase 3 is about finding myself and realizing that with all the success I’ve achieved, I am not invincible. Everyone is the hero of their own story yet ambition blinds you. And for as many strengths as I have, overconfidence is my weakness. The world brought me to my knees this term and I’m glad. It made me realize how beautifully flawed I am. With all this talk of success you’d think I’d frown on failure. Yet quite the opposite is true. We learn best through our mistakes and the more successful you become, the less you feel you can make them. But I am here to tell you that is bull. Success is built on failure. The more we fail, the more we succeed. We learn through mistakes and it shouldn’t be any other way. Mistakes are the fun part of life, the challenge. There’s a beauty in mastery but by it’s definition mastery means you’re done, that you’ve made your mistakes and learned from them. If we didn’t fail, success would lose it’s value. Because we fail, we are able to enjoy victory all the more, when we finally do cross the finish line. So don’t be afraid to fail.

Grit

Grit is a word you don’t hear too often and it’s something not everyone has. In the college of business there’s a lot of polish. Children groomed for success at an early age and seeing adversity through the looking glass. Because of this grooming, these children often are ready to navigate the chaos that is the college experience and they secure leadership roles along with internships their Freshman year. Because of this, they are able to build on that foundation and often receive jobs with the big companies that a lot of people seem to drool over by the time they graduate. Some might get mad at my saying this as it seemingly undermines the hard work and effort these individuals may put in, but it’s the truth. Very few acknowledge the factor of luck and until that day, I’ll keep mentioning the influence of luck. It’s nothing to be ashamed of but it needs to be understood that some may work hard and be incredibly unlucky. People are quick to judge yet too few take the time to understand. My philosophy is everyone has a story, the least you could do is listen.

What about myself? Well, I’ve been stuck in the middle my entire life yet since I’ve arrived at college, I have very much been on my own. I’ve gone from the lowest of the low and didn’t realize until recently that I am now considered a “top achiever”. When did this happen? Little by little, over the course of five years. Had I not gone to college, my life would be very different right now. What’s my secret? It’s how I’ve dealt with adversity.  Optimists don’t survive in this world, they die off. It’s realists with the knowledge that they will prevail that survive and thrive. Optimists turn a blind eye to reality, choosing to see an ideal world and are ill-equipped when the puzzle pieces don’t fit. Realists find solutions to problems and build road maps to get there. They don’t ignore the world for what it is but they actively seek to level the playing field. How do I know? I’ve gone from pessimist to optimist to realist as I’ve grown throughout my time spent in college. And I love telling people how it is (which people don’t always like to hear) and then telling them step by step how it can be better.

Grit has come about from the ashes of my best laid plans. I came into college spoiled and college has been kind enough to slap me around until I’m down and then continue kicking me until at points I’ve been choking on my own blood (metaphorically, of course). That’s grit. Most frustration in life comes from expectations and people unwilling to adapt when shit hits the fan. What people don’t realize is that the future is malleable, that your future has many possibilities. Grit is your ability to get back up, to stand firm while the storm rages on. In the beginning it’s tough but in the end, experience enough adversity and you can walk through Hell with a smile. There is nothing that I haven’t already seen and I’m glad. Grit builds confidence and resolve. I can look back and see how well I’ve dealt with adversity, where at the time I nearly drowned in my own misfortune. So appreciate the good and the bad, the headwinds and the tailwinds.

What’s Left?

Plenty. I’ve kept raising the bar for myself so now I stand at the top of the mountain. For some, reaching the summit may signal the end but for me there’s always more mountains to climb. I’ve gotten the most out of college and am ready to tackle the world. What was once a dream is now a reality and 3 months will fly by. I’m excited to spend my last term writing about my experiences.


If you have questions about college, I’m here to help! Post in the comments and I’ll try my best to answer any questions you might have. Freshman, Senior in High School, Adult? It doesn’t matter, feel free to ask away! And as always, thanks for reading!

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