April 4, 1968

In memory of events that happened 48 years ago today. At times it seems like a lifetimes. At times it seems like yesterday.

It seemed like a normal spring day in the city.  The sun was shinning; although it looked like rain clouds would soon be coming in from the South-west.  The gentle breeze barely kept the flag afloat above the empty city municipal building.  People walked by and paid little attention to the building’s closed doors.  Nor did they bother to read the small hand written sign on the door.

In the heavenlies over the city there was a stirring like never before.  Death, Deception and Oppression were waging a war on the small remnant that remained in the city.  The ground work had been laid by Oppression and Deception.  They had worked tirelessly for years to establish a stronghold over the city.

Death had helped in the past, but today he and the others were more united than ever.  There were many other warriors with them, but it was clear that this battle belonged to them.

A few miles away on the South side of the city was a crowed of people outside a small motel.  Inside was a solid frame, dark skin, man that had risen to a sort of national prominence.  Tired from travel, and weary from the warfare of civil unrest that he had witnessed.  He made preparation to face “The Bear” one more time.  He looked in the mirror and noticed the darkness around his eyes.  He straightened his narrow tie and put on his sport coat.  He missed his wife.  “She’s been a real trooper to put up with all this,” he thought to himself.  The man opened the door to his hotel room and as he stepped outside he took a deep breath and sighed, “Here we go again”.

Deception stood unseen towering over a small framed man who paced the floor of an empty warehouse near the hotel.  Deception and some of his imps had teased the small man’s mind until he couldn’t think clearly.  Deception had a glowing smile that reveled his sharp yellow teeth.  His red eyes raced back and forth ever watching to make the right move.

There was a small piece of property that separated the warehouse from the street, but the motel was clearly visible from here.  The man looked out the warehouse window at the small motel  just across the street.  Deception moved into final battle position.  As the man looked out he saw a dark, solid frame man step out on to the motel balcony.  Deception stretched out his long index finger and began to stir inside the small man’s mind.  He whispered something to the man to the effect of, “this is the Christian thing to do”.  As Deception continued to whisper a dark caped shadow circled above the motel.  As the small man watched out the window , now fully entranced by Deception, he reached for a rifle that was resting on the ledge of the window.  He took aim at the solid frame figure and squeezed the trigger.  Deception laughed and Death now dropped from the sky to guide the bullet. He raced like never before.  This would be his bright and shining moment.  Death knew that if he guided the bullet past the small holy remnant that protected the solid frame man, it could mean total victory over the city.  It came almost effortlessly for Death.  Hate, Anger, Bitterness, and most of all Oppression cleared the way  for Death to do his deed.  Death pushed the bullet even faster with all is might.  He followed the bullet with a solid “thump” into the man’s chest.

Suddenly the solid frame man felt a sharp pain in his chest.  “What was that noise”, he wondered.  His breath was taken from him.  He grabbed his chest to ease the pain and he felt himself sink to the ground.  It all happened so quickly he couldn’t seem to help himself; he just reacted.  As he lay on the balcony he could hear the screams of the crowed.  He couldn’t tell what they were saying until he felt someone crouch over his body and scream, “Oh my God!  He’s been Shot!”

After all these years he had been so strong.  Now all he could do was lay there and rest.  He felt a peace, almost like a warmth, cover him from his head to his feet.  He closed is eyes and went to sleep, knowing he would never wake up again.

For a brief moment there was silence, then there was a loud shout in the heavenlies.  Death, Deception, and Oppression had won a mighty victory.  All the evil forces of darkness in the air rejoiced.  It was no small battle, but one that had gone on now for over one hundred years; and now the city was theirs.

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The Journey of a Lifetime

They say a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, but it’s never been clear to me exactly when we’re on a journey, and when we’re just walking around. For much of my life, I’ve just been walking and it has led me to some incredible places!  So, as I look back, it’s finally clear to me that it has actually been a journey after all. Recently, I was encouraged by two separate people, to share my journey with the hope that it might somehow encourage others on their journeys. I hope it does. So, here it is:

Let me begin by providing you with some basic details. I was an average student in school but a hard worker. I spent 25% of my time in high school in a Vocational School where I received A’s in Food Service and this enabled me to pull off a 3.0 GPA at graduation. Out of 325 graduates, I was about near the middle in my class.

Step 1: Culinary School:

Yep, you read it right; culinary school. I had decided that I wanted to be a chef. I took a gourmet cooking class at the local community college while I was in High School. I was serious. I had wanted to be a chef since 3rd grade.

A funny thing happened on the way to culinary school; taking the gourmet cooking class gave me the knowledge I needed to pass an advanced placement test that allowed me to waive my full freshman year of school by simply completing an eight week summer session. So, I was able to get my Associates Degree of Science in Culinary Arts in 11 months.

Unfortunately, years later, I found the hours in food service were not too kind to a person that wanted to be a family man. It became painfully clear that I needed to change careers so I could be at home during reasonable hours (AKA: daytime hours)! I needed a plan. I loved technology, so why not build websites?

Step 2: Building Websites:

I built enough websites to earn enough money to purchase a computer and put a couple dollars in my pocket. I also learned that customer service wasn’t easy. Many of my customers and potential customers had heard about the “gold rush” called the Internet, however, when the sites I built them didn’t deliver the “gold” they wanted, they felt it was the fault of the website.

During the time I was getting my feet wet building websites, I lost my last “real job before working for Hilton Worldwide”. I was one of two production managers for a bakery plant that was part of a small family owned grocery chain. The chain had 13 stores and we also sold some baked goods to some other clients. On my shift, we baked all the bread, breakfast items, iced all the cakes and loaded them up for shipping.

I enjoyed my job before they sold the plant. I had four managers and 65 hourly employees that I was responsible for. It was there that I learned to appreciate the work ethic of so many refugees that have come to America. About 75% of my employees were from Vietnam and most of them worked a full time job in the day and worked between 25-35 hours a week for me. I had workers from Sudan, Columbia, Bosnia and many other far away  places. Oh, there were Americans too!

When the bakery plant shut down, I took a leap of faith into a new career field. Our government had a wonderful program to help displaced workers at the time; they would pay for me to go back to school at the local community college. The school didn’t have a degree program for building websites at the time, so I took classes that were related such as: Photoshop, Illustrator, Quark Express, and even some Visual Basic programming.

As I mentioned earlier, the government paid for my expenses as a full time student. Full time status is 12 credit hours. The school had this crazy deal that allowed people to take as many credit hours as they wanted, but the school wouldn’t charge for more than 12 credit hours. That calendar year I completed 53 credit hours as I drew unemployment for six months and worked full time the remaining six months.

Step 3: Information Technology:

The remaining six months of that year, I landed a job making eight bucks an hour doing technical support for a high speed internet provider.

Microsoft Front Page was relatively new, and it made building a web page so simple that just about anyone could do it.  Art school students were banking tons of money building sites. I wasn’t a graphic artist, so I knew that career path in web development was closed for me. So there I sat, working in a call center, doing Tech Support.

If my memory is right, and my math correct, I was earning 60% less than what I had been earning as the Production Supervisor at the bakery plant. It was the first time in 15 years that I had worked for an hourly wage. We refinanced our home when I found out that the plant was closing, so we had some cash. Credit cards became our friend. It was a dark time financially. My wife and I had to learn to live by faith that we were going to be able to pay our bills.

There’s an old expression that “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”, well, I guess those years made us strong.

Step 4: The Learning Profession

Call centers are known for their high turnover. After a year of working there some of my buddies got hired on at Hilton Worldwide. They had recently purchased Promus Hotels Corporation and more than doubled in size, so they were hiring Tech Support folks by the bus- load. I got on the bus. I was hired the week before 9/11. They didn’t hire anyone else for at least six months after that.

I dared not recall all the dark days of working in a call centers. Losing my job and working for such a low wage in such a low position for such a long time weighed on me. I wanted to get out. I wanted to get ahead, but I didn’t know how.

One day the Learning and Development department did a presentation to team I was on. They were building some new learning that was web based instead of server based. I knew the tools. I could do this! Some months later, they were hiring. I landed the job!

The dots of my history began to form. I had always been interested in training. I had applied for training jobs in the food service industry and never landed them; and now, here I was in the training field. Ten years after losing my job, I was finally earning the same pay that I had been making at the bakery plant.

Step 5: CPLP Certification

After landing the job in the training department, I consumed all of the information I could about learning and development to grow my knowledge base. I was never a fan of the academic world and I felt there had to be better way to train people. I knew there had to be enough research “out there” to validate the “right way” to do learning. I wanted to know what it was.

I also realized that my Associates Degree would not allow me to advance in my newly chosen career field. Getting a Bachelor’s degree wasn’t much of an option. My college credits wouldn’t transfer, so I would have to start all over again. That was NOT something I wanted to do when I was in my early 40’s.

I found a certification program called “Certified Professional in Learning and Performance” from the American Association of Training and Development (ASTD, now known as ATD or the Association for Talent Development). Maybe I could get my certification to replace the fact I lacked a four year degree.

It was a great idea, but Hilton was not ready for it at the time. They were not going to pay for my professional development. I was on my own. Knowing it was something I needed to do to stand out from the crowd, to educate myself, and to increase my value as a learning professional, I dug out the credit card and away I went. After a long year of preparation, I took the knowledge exam and submitted my work product. I had flashbacks of my culinary school advanced placement test as I took the knowledge exam portion of the certification. It was one of the toughest things I had ever done, but I passed. Low and behold, I was CPLP Certified! I was the first CPLP in all of Hilton Worldwide.

Step 6: College Degree:

Six months after I completed my CPLP Certification Hilton Worldwide hired a true global Chief Learning Officer. A quick search showed that he was active in his ASTD Chapter in Washington DC. He had served on the board as President. Later, I would find out he also sat on the National ASTD Advisory Board (I’m told he was instrumental in ensuring the CPLP Certification came to fruition).

When I shared my resume with my new boss, he point blank told me, “You need to complete your degree, or you will never make it anywhere.” In hindsight, he may have not said it like that, but that’s what I heard. We discussed my concerns. He assured me that some school should and would accept my existing college credits so I wouldn’t have to go a full four years. I committed to research it before fully rejecting the idea.

I found a school that aligned with my work as Instructional Designer. The school was also reasonably priced. They would accept my college credits and I would only need to go for two more school years to get a BS Degree in Adult Education!!!! But wait, there’s more! They had an accelerated program that would allow me to go to school for 10 straight months (with a holiday break) and complete my degree!!!!! I was in!

After I signed up, I found out that Bellevue University’s online learning program had been voted one of the top 10 online universities by US News & World Report. Not only that, they are known for their research in Human Capital Development. I was in the right place.

I completed my degree on schedule and traveled to Bellevue Nebraska so I could walk down the aisle and accept my college diploma. My graduation was just months before I attended my 30 year high school class reunion. It was the first reunion I had attended. I was beginning to gain some confidence in my abilities 13 years after changing careers.

Step 7: The Future

Today, I stand amazed at my own journey as I look back on it. If I hadn’t been the one living it, I might be a skeptic. Did I really work full time and go to school full time (more than once)? How on earth did my wife homeschool our kids with so little support from me around the house? How did we ever survive on one income all of those years.

Along the way, I’ve met some awesome people. It’s the people that I have met along the journey that have made it all such a blessing. It’s the people that trusted me and gave me a chance to shine, and those who challenged me to do more, even when I was tired; I am forever grateful to them. They have earned my respect and as well as my gratitude. I could not, and would not, be where I am today without their support, their trust, and their love. I am humbled to walk among such greatness.

I don’t know what the future holds, but I know the dots just keep connecting and the journey continues on. No matter what I do, no matter where I go, I know it will be a great adventure.

So, what is the moral to the story? Work hard. Do your best at whatever is in front of you. Don’t lose hope, and don’t lose faith. I cannot promise you success, nor can I promise you riches, but I can promise you a life full of adventure. Embrace it. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Hold onto the things that matter most, and let go of the things that rust, rot and die away. When we look back, it’s not the toys that matter, it’s the joy that matters. Enjoy life. I wish you the best on your journey.

Leonard

Feel free to share your journey with me, no matter where you are. I would love to hear from you. leocochran@gmail.com

This is dedicated to the love of my life, my wife Paula. Paula, you are the chief among all of my supporters. You more than anyone know the journey and walked with me in the darkness and seasons of doubt. You encouraged me when I had lost faith. You cried with me, for me and on fortunately because of me, yet you still loved me. I thank God daily for you and I look forward to many more adventures with you.

What’s Your Story?

The question, “what’s your story” may sound like a cheap pickup line, but I ask it for a reason. Last month my wife and I met up with some friends in Nashville and attended Donald Miller’s conference called Storyline. The overall concept of the conference was simple enough, yet it was extremely challenging.

The concept is to use story writing principles to better understand your story and to help clarify your vision for your life. (That’s never a simple task.)What I loved most was what I see as the core theme: 1You are valuable, 2 You have a story to tell (or something to accomplish), 3 The world needs to hear your story.

Over the course of two packed days, Don Miller and a number of other people present this message to you. I laughed. I cried. I felt so small. And at times I felt like I could take on the whole world!

Allow me to dig into the core theme for a moment:

YOU ARE VALUABLE
On the surface that sounds simple enough, but how many of us haven’t forgiven ourselves for screwing something up? How many of us have had circumstances or even people tell is we are worthless, or we will never amount to anything?

We have to get past all of that noise long enough to hear the still small voice that speaks quietly in our heads; “you are valuable”, “you are unique”, “you are loved”. It’s then and only then that we can see ourselves as being valuable and being worthy enough to contribute to the lives of others.

YOU HAVE A STORY TO TELL
Having a sense of self worth is good, but it can’t stop there. Self worth alone will likely lead to pride. We need to understand that we are here for a reason. We are here for a purpose, and we have something to say. Our voice, our story, our “calling” is important and we shouldn’t keep it to ourselves.

How many times have you heard or read a biography of someone who overcame the odds? Hellen Keller could neither hear nor see, but where would we be without her? Thomas Edison failed over a thousand times before he made a lightbulb that worked. George Washington Carver encouraged farmers to grow peanut plants to help fertilize the soil for other crops, and the he had to figure out what to do with all those peanuts! People didn’t even eat peanut butter in those days! He locked himself away and prayed and fasted until he came out of seclusion with over a hundred uses for the lowly peanut. Theses people had a story to tell, and I believe you do too!

THE WORLD NEEDS TO HEAR YOUR STORY
What good is a story if it’s never told? Vincent Vango died a poor man, but we can appreciate his art today,BECAUSE HE SHARED IT with someone.

A song unsung is never heard and no one is the richer for it! Sharing our story only makes us stronger because we are giving of ourselves. There is no greater joy than to give something to someone that needs it. We must give and give selflessly without expectation. We ruin the gift (and our blessing) when we set expectations for a response to our giving. As Bob Goff said at the, “we can only hold out cups of water and offer it to people.”

One other question that we had to wrestle with at the conference was, “What will happen if you don’t share your story?”

Some years ago a guy named Joseph had a dream that his brothers were going to bow before him one day. Needless to say his brothers didn’t care too much for his dream and they were envious of the love and attention that Joseph’s father gave him, so they sold him into slavery. His brothers said he was dead and they went on living their lives without him.

Needless to say, Joseph’s life was filled with ups and downs. Years later because of all that happened, Joseph was in the right time with the right skills and the right attitude to save the lives of his brothers. This Biblical account of Joseph is a great example of someone who had a story to tell that the world needed to hear.

What if Joseph hadn’t shared his story? What if you don’t share your story? Remember, you’re valuable. You have something to say,and the world needs to hear it.

So, I’ll ask you again; what’s your story?

This summarizes the key points of the conference that I took away. Simple, profound, and challenging. By all means, feel free to buy the book Storyline since these few words cannot do it justice. Better yet, attend a Storyline event and see if you don’t walk away challenged.