Find the Positive

“Find the positive.” It sounds so easy at times, but when you are dealing with adversity the positives can be hard to find. It’s a simple mantra so it should be simple right?! No? Okay, I understand sometimes when you are going through a tough spell the positives seem to be like looking at a Where’s Waldo puzzle, but the positive is there…just have to think um uh how do I put this…”positively.”

Here’s my list of positives over the past 10 days in no particular order.

1) Coffee. Each day I wake up and make myself a cup of instant coffee, and then another typically in the afternoon. It brings me an instant connection to my wife Karen. Karen helped me grow to love coffee while we worked at Kingsway together.

2) The sun. Just getting outside and feeling the sun hit my face brings on a ton of good feelings.

3) My kids’ photos. Next to my bed, I have pictures of my kids and I look at them throughout the day and it brings a smile to my face seeing such pure goodness and love.

4) Chocolate. This one is a no brainer and needs no explanation. But I will add that I totally dunked my chocolate bar in to my peanut butter the other day and it was so yummy!

5) Walking outside. Every day whether I feel like it or not, I walk outside. On the days I don’t feel like it, I tell myself it’s my therapy walk and get my butt out there.

6) Karen. I think about her every day all the time, and all our good memories.

7) Friends/Family. I think about my friends and family who have supported me through this challenging time and have stood by me. I do not take your love and support lightly, and I appreciate it every day.

8) Sweatshirt. I don’t know what it is but it’s just comforting to put on a sweatshirt.

9) A comfortable chair. The other day I got a dental check up and the dentist chair was the most comfy chair I sat on in weeks.

10) Time. We are given this time and there are always positives.

Branding Yourself

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I read a branding book today. I’ll say it again. I read a branding book today. It’s one of the hardest things that I’ve done in a while. I’ve chewed through thousands and thousands of pages of books but I’ve barely touched anything about branding or marketing. I tried. I couldn’t. The moment I opened the book my anxiety jumped off the chart and brought on a feeling of panic. I’d put the book back on my shelf and retreat to a fiction book.

I need to start dealing with that anxiety issue. I’ve been exercising my body, filling myself up with endorphins to help get me through this time. Now it’s time to focus on my brain and re-entering the work world.

When I started doing these posts, I always envisioned it would be about my new work journey and then the process of rebuilding my brand. I’ve built countless other brands, developed hundreds of marketing campaigns, and created solid advertising strategies over and over again. But the 20 years of building that resume – and more importantly that confidence in what I knew I could do – was shattered by my own poor decision. And now I must rebuild, rebrand and most importantly regain trust.

The book I read is called Branding Yourself, by Erik Deckers and Kyle Lacy. Reading the book had this odd feeling of putting on an old college sweatshirt. That feeling of something that you once loved so much and you try it on and it gives you a little taste of that, and yet feels not quite the same. Side note-I still have that old college sweatshirt that my Dad bought for me when we did our campus tour. I still wear it from time to time…still pretty comfy and cozy, just not quite me anymore but still me…if that makes sense.

One of the sections of the book talks about writing your personal brand story, and breaks out steps of how to do so. One of the steps is called “Prioritize Accomplishments” in your bio and offered up this example:

“He has an in-depth understanding of the application of social and interactive media for both small and large businesses and regularly speaks on topics ranging from social media adoption to marketing trends across all digital channels.”

from Branding Yourself

Sound like anyone you know? At first, I didn’t see it. I read the line and thought, “that’s a pretty good concise and thoughtful description.” I went back and read it again…yeah that’s when it hit me. That’s me…that’s who I was. I was that person, and now who am I? Which then got my mind spinning with more questions: Do I want to be that person again? Am I still that person? Who am I now?

I don’t know the answers to the first two questions yet, but I know the answer to the last. I’m a husband, a father, a son, a brother, a friend. I know that much and the rest will come.

My Scrabble buddy said to me the other night, “Ryan just find something to do that will make you happy about work again.”
It’s a simple statement and very true, but finding the answer is going to take work. I have to find my faith in myself again. I have to find people who give me a second chance and are willing to believe in me and trust me.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

Beneath A Scarlet Sky by Mark Sullivan is based on a true story about a forgotten here, Pino Lella, during World War II.

The book begins with Pino at the age of 17 living in Nazi-occupied Germany, and he wants absolutely nothing to do with the war. But as he approaches his 18th birthday, his parents send him off to a catholic camp in the Alps where he soon finds himself part of an underground railroad to help Jewish people escape over the mountains in to Switzerland. As if avoiding Nazi detection was not enough of a challenge, he navigates being snowed in to a cabin and having to dig his way out, and being terrorized by local gangs trying to take advantage of people fleeing Italy.

When his 18th birthday arrives, his parents in an attempt to protect him force him to enlist as a German soldier. The logic is hopefully that it will keep him out of combat as opposed to be in the Italian army that is being used as cannon fodder. Shortly after he enlists, Pino becomes a driver for, General Hans Leyers, one of Hitlers right hand people, and has to witness various atrocities being committed by him. He soon becomes a spy for the Allies and reports on Leyer’s activities and the book takes off at this point about his thrilling and scary life as a spy.

Woven throughout the book though is Pino’s story about falling in love at this time, and the hope that young love brings. There’s a line in the book where Pino remembers his girlfriend talking about living in the moment: “Pino remembered her telling him that she didn’t believe much in the future, that she tried to live in the moment, looking for reasons to be grateful, trying to create her own happiness and grace, and to use them as a means to a good life in the present and not a goal to be achieved some other day.”

No matter the challenges we face, from the minor ones to the extreme like Pino, there are positives and hope. I highly suggest giving this book a read. I’m thankful I did.

Posted by Ryan’s wife Karen on his behalf.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

When I was about 4 years old, we moved in to an old white house with a big backyard. Well it wasn’t exactly a “big” backyard by today’s standards but to my 4 year old eyes it looked huge. What was wonderful about that back yard is that it connected to neighboring houses yards so it created a huge playground. It had a detached garage that sat along one side and it made for the perfect backstop for kicking a soccer ball or playing kickball or baseball.

Shortly after I moved in, I met a boy who was my same age that lived in the house behind me and it was beginning of a lifelong friendship. Our bond has grown over the years and I think of him more like a brother than a friend. Our early years, we spent a ton of time in that backyard and broke quite a few windows on that garage. Which eventually lead to my dad deciding that our “backstop” needed to have something other than glass in that window and installed wire mesh over the opening. Our neighborhood group of kids grew over time and our connected back yards became the hub of all our childhood friends.

Recently, I finished reading A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving at its heart it’s a book about a lifelong friendship and growing up together and then tackling challenges that adulthood brings. Irving gets right to the heart of the story of the book with his very first sentence which he comments in his notes is one of his very favorite first sentences he’s ever written:

“I am doomed to remember a boy with a wrecked voice-not because of his voice, or because he was the smallest person I ever knew, or even because he was the instrument of my mother’s death, but because he is the reason I believe in God; I am a Christian because of Owen Meany.”

And don’t worry – his mother’s death is not a spoiler; it literally says it on the back cover.

The setting takes place over several time periods from the 50’s to the late 80’s. The beginning focuses on their early childhood with description of games and conversations that the boys had from their grade school days and then expands to the Vietnam Era and ends in the books “present” day Reagan Era. Some of the conversations the boys have were spot on reminders from my childhood. The main character lives in an old house and talks of playing hide and seek in all the various hidden nooks and crannies. As they age so do their conversation and Irving does an excellent job capturing each time period.

I highly recommend this book. If you enjoyed some of his other works, like The Cider House Rules or The World According to Garp, you will definitely enjoy this one.

After I finished the book, it reminded me of a photo that my lifelong friend texted me a while ago. It had a picture of a bunch of kids playing outside, and it said something similar to “At some point, you and your friends played outside for the last time together and didn’t know it was the last time.” I thought about that a lot and wondered what that last time was. What were we playing? Why was it the last time? I’m guessing it was due to our families moving and our lives transitioning in to our tweens/teens. But I will always think fondly of that time in our big back yards, and sorry, Dad for all the broken windows.

Published by Ryan’s wife, Karen, on his behalf.

Elon Musk Biography

To say that Elon Musk is a control freak with an extreme Type A personality is putting it lightly. Elon Musk-Tesla, Space X, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future is a biography about Musk that was published a few years ago. The author opens the book by writing about how Musk did not want him to write the book. Then Musk agreed to work with him but he got editorial control. The author holds his ground and they come to an agreement that Musk would be allowed to add in some footnotes.

The book starts with Musk’s early childhood and upbringing. One of the things that drew me to this biography was I hoping Musk would discuss his autism and how that effected his life. But unfortunately when this book was written he had not made that public knowledge yet. The author does share some interesting tidbits about his childhood that definitely demonstrates it though. His Mom described Musk as a child as, “Brilliant but precocious. He would sometimes drift off in to a deep trance, and would sometimes just not even hear you when you were talking to him.” As a child, Musk read two complete sets of encyclopedias and programmed his first video game at an early age.

As an adult, Musk was at the heart of the dot com boom. He started several companies with a vision that was often early before it’s time. One of his companies lead to the creation of Paypal, where he was eventually dismissed as the leader of the organization by the board. Leaving Paypal, he took over Tesla and started Space X. While the companies for the most part are on financial stable footing now, they both were near bankruptcy at several different points. His hands on approach and non-stop work ethic definitely helped the companies thrive.

While his passion and his drive is second to none for his companies, his businesses seem to leave little to no room for family and friends. I walked away from the book wondering if he was lonely and or if he had any true bonds with anyone. The book reminded me of one of my themes…time. How do you want to spend your time? I know my answer, I want to spend it with my family and friends.

Published by Ryan’s wife, Karen, on his behalf.

The Great Gatsby + The Family Across the Street

Well, “Old Sport,” it’s time for another couple book reviews. I’d suggest grabbing some of those fancy ice cubes and pouring something tasty in a tumbler and sit down for a read.

I had not read The Great Gatsby since high school, so over 30 years (yikes, where did that time go?) Honestly, I could barely remember a thing about it other than there was some unique rich guy in it. The writing style takes a bit to fall into but soon you are transported back to the 1920’s era. Having recently watched Dowton Abbey and its America version counterpart on HBO (the name escapes me at the moment) helps set the imagery for the timeline of the story. My picture now of the 20’s consists largely of people sitting around drinking and talking. And trying to get invited to elite parties or talking about who attended which party.

At its heart, The Great Gatsby is a quiet love story about a chance missed and the hope of getting another opportunity. It’s a quick and light read about a time gone by.

Also, I’m combining this review with one more: The Family Across the Street by Nicole Trope. A friend offered me a collection of his books to choose from, and the title of this one jumped out at me. There was a Netfilx show this year with some super long title like “The woman across the street in the window who drinks” or something close to that. Karen and I always cracked up when we saw the main actress Kristen Bell (normally known as Princess Anna in our house) pour a huge glass of wine. Having parented during the pandemic and remote learning we could totally relate to her pouring style. Unfortunately, this book “The Family Across The Street” had nothing to do with the show. There’s going to be some minor spoilers ahead so if you might read this book, I would stop reading now.

Cutting back – I’ll just have one glass of wine…

Okay, still here? Spoilers ahead, last warning.

The Family Across the Street is part mystery and part thriller. The book involves just a small amount of characters that live on an average street in your typical small town. The book opens with a delivery driver trying to deliver a package to a house (the aforementioned “house across the street”). The woman will not open the door to talk or sign the package and the driver tells her he will have to drop it at the post office then. Some more odd conversation occurs between the two, and the driver leaves with the package. Meanwhile the nosy neighbor across the street has been observing the odd stuff going on at the house all morning. The delivery driver and the neighbor sense something is off and the story spends quite a bit of time deciding whether they should do something or not. Inside the house, we soon find that the woman and her twin 5 year old children are being held hostage by a family member. This is where the book turns dark and honestly I didn’t care for it, but some reason I kept going. It has a “twist” at the end that is tries to give the reader an “OMG” moment but for me it fell flat. It just was trying to do a twist for the sake of twist that barely fits logic with the overall story.

Book Report: Coming Back Stronger

As I approached my 40’s, I started following more an more athletes that were playing in the NFL til their late 30’s or early 40’s. While they maybe weren’t on my favorite team, I still had a healthy respect for what it takes to keep your body in shape at that age to play a game you love. I just try and keep my body in shape so I can walk and move comfortably!

I wandered into the library looking for a book to read. My goal has been to have a mix of fiction and nonfiction. As I just had finished a couple of fiction books, I checked out the non-fiction section and Coming Back Stronger, Unleashing the hidden power of Adversity, by Drew Brees jumped out at me for some reason. He falls in the category of the old guy that played a long time that I respect.

When I started the book, I noticed that I could instantly relate to him on the non-football side of his life. Within his first few chapters, he mentioned that “I’m not one to keep tears back”; and for those that know me on the personal side know that I’m not either. Just this morning, I saw Angela Landsbury had passed away and the news played her song from the Disney movie Beauty and the Beast. I felt the tears swelling up, because certain Disney songs will always make me think of my kids. My daughter wearing her Belle dress and posing for a picture next to the Belle. My son playing the role of the Beast at the Magic Kingdom on our family vacations.

As I read further on, I discovered that he also knew that his wife was the one for him from the first moment he saw her in college. He described the all to relatable spark he felt that he knew his life was forever changed. As some of my close friends know, I felt the same thing the first time I saw my wife…I just knew she was the one. She is one of the strongest people I know and I am so lucky to have her.

Reading this book also helped me with a mental shift. He talks about how he used to be motivated by people who had told him what he couldn’t do and now “I’m motivated by people who belive in me”. I’m going to work on being motivated by the positives and not the negatives. Brees further mentioned “Find the positive in every negative.” Sitting where I am right now, it’s easy to get stuck in the negatives of the day and my current situation, but I’m looking for positives. There was yummy popcorn handed out during the Monday Night Football game…I’ll take that as a positive!

He finishes his book by talking about his key mental growth focus:

1) Find a mentor
2) Don’t Give up
3) Turn your defeat in to triumphs
4) Dream
5) Hope

If you have read this far and going through a tough patch or a rough day….just look for one positive…embrace that positive…then look for a second…but find one. It’s there, you’ll find it.

Posted on behalf of Ryan by his wife, Karen.

Book Report: Dark Matter

As most of you know, I loved reading comic books growing up. The first comic book I ever got was an issue of Green Lantern from the pharmacy in Culver. I remember going up the comic book rack and seeing all the choices. Luckily, they had my favorite character at the time from watching Super Friends on tv…Green Lantern. As I continued reading more comic books, I discovered one of my favorite series was called “What if…” The What If books would be something like What if Superman landed in Russia instead of Smallville or What If Batman’s parents lived.

A friend loaned me a book called, Dark Matter, by Blake Crouch. I don’t recall having heard of the book but he also wrote the Wayward Pines series which sounded familiar. He told me it was good read. I don’t know if he picked this book in particular from little he know of me, but after I finished it I didn’t think it was a random selection.

Dark Matter at its heart is a mystery/thriller with a little bit of science fiction thrown in. For those that don’t care for sci/fi I wouldn’t let that stop you from reading this great book. Dark Matter opens with it’s main character Jason finishing a nice night out with a friend and as he’s going home his night takes a turn for the worse. Jason is kidnapped, knocked out and taken from his wife and son (don’t worry this isn’t really a spoiler and I’ll keep this spoiler free).

This is where the book reminded me of the “What If…” comics. “What if you wake up and the world as you know is very similar but then completely different?”

We follow Jason on his mission to get home, back to his real home. There are some definite good twists in the book that I did not see coming. I don’t want to share much more as I would go in to spoiler territory. But I would definitely suggest picking it up for a read.

Please note: updates to Ryan’s blog are posted by his wife, Karen, on his behalf.

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