Growing Pains

As the end of 2015 drew to a close, I had the “pleasure” of visiting a chiropractor for the first time. A few weeks prior I strained my back and just couldn’t get past the pain. It felt like I had compressed a couple of the lower vertebrae in my back and anytime that I stood on my feet for a period of time, my back hurt. If I sat too long, my back hurt. The pain would leave, and return frequently. So, I visited the chiropractor to find out what was wrong.

The X-ray at the chiropractor’s office revealed that my left pelvis (hip) was turned to the left. After years of displacement, the doctor explained, I had strained my back by moving or lifting something heavy. It was only a matter of time that the stress on my pelvis would cause an injury or require surgery to repair (or even replace) my hip.

The chiropractor explained to me that he was going to need to do a series of treatments to get my pelvis back into its correct position. Once it was in position, I would need to work at keeping it in place by stretching and doing some exercises. In time, I might need to do therapy to help me build up my muscles. You see, some of my muscles have gotten lazy, and some of them have been stressed because of my pelvis was in the wrong position.

On my first visit, the doctor did a few minor adjustments. My back, shoulders and hips made a cracking noise as he did the adjustments to put my bones back into their rightful positions. He explained that they had been out of place for so long, that they would naturally try and return back to the incorrect position. My body had grown so accustomed to being out of place, that it would feel uncomfortable and even hurt, to get my bones back in their proper places.

Believe me, it hurt. I felt like I had just played a game of tackle football- it hurt so badly. I had joints and bones hurting that have nothing to do with my hips or my back. My bones felt like they do when I’m running a fever and fighting the flu. It’s crazy how it felt. It took everything within me to not snap at people and to not be hateful because of the initial pain that my adjustment caused.

The main thing that is helped me to get through the pain was the realization that the pain I suffered from the adjustments was a small price to pay for how well I’m going to feel later. The doctor informed me that the adjustments will likely prevent hip surgery in the future IF I continue to use good posture and strengthen the weak muscles. I know the pain I am experiencing in these early adjustments will be to my gain. It’s to my advantage to experience this now, rather than avoiding the pain and requiring corrective surgery in the future.

As I reflect on my physical body, I can’t help but think of how it parallels our emotional bodies. How often are we uncomfortable or even pained by things in this life that hurt us? How often do we emotionally feel as if our joints are being pulled and twisted in their sockets? Maybe someone we trust tells something hurtful about us. Maybe we don’t get the big promotion that we thought we had earned. Maybe we have been mentally or emotionally abused and it has impacted our walk. We walk with a limp, or we cannot straighten our backs because of the pain. Our emotional bones feel out of place.

Fredrick Douglas once said, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.”  Recovery is a painful but necessary process. We need to embrace the pain and suffering that is sometimes required in the healing process. We have to know pain intimately at times in order to help us move from where we were to where we need to be.

It hurts so good to know that the pain of healing pales in comparison to pain of continuing to walk in our afflictions. Knowing that the momentary agony of setting things right will only last for a season is rewarding. Ignoring the emotional damage can further damage us or even destroy us if we don’t seek healing. We need to embrace the pain of change and recognize what is beyond the pain. You could say, we have to know pain to know gain.

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.

Pound and Cents

It’s funny the lessons you can learn in life when you least expect it. This past month I had the opportunity to travel to England. I have never been outside of North America before, so this was a big deal for me.

I did a little homework before I left. I knew that I wanted to buy some souvenirs for the family, so I wanted to figure out how much money I might need to exchange, and where to exchange my money. Did you know that England uses British Pounds instead of Euros for currency? Who would have thought?

The British Pound, like the Euro is currently worth about one and a half US dollars. So, I knew my bucks weren’t going to get me as far as I would like.

A buddy of mine suggested the best way to exchange currency was to use my bank card at the airport ATM. He said the rates are the most accurate, and the cost is lower there. I don’t know if that’s true or not, but that’s what I did.

A funny thing happened to me when I exchanged my money… First, I didn’t think about the fact I would need to tell the ATM how many Pounds I wanted to withdraw. Silly me. I thought I could tell the machine how many US dollars I wanted converted into Pounds for me. Not so. I did some quick math and guessed at how many Pounds I would need based on my estimates on the US dollars I had intended to spend. Whew! Quick thinking paid off.

The most interesting thing about the currency didn’t happen until later. When I made my first purchase, I had a real revelation. I bought a day pass for the public transit system so I could ride the city bus or “the tube” (subway) anywhere that I wanted. It was 15 Pounds and change, so I threw down a 20 Pound note. (So far so good…) Then when they guy gave me my change, he asked if he could give me a lot of coins because he had so many. Not a problem. When he handed me a fist full of coins without any paper money, I realized I had a problem. What are the coins worth?!!

The One Pound coins were clear. They use coins instead of singles, but what about the others? What is a Pence? He gave me 5, 10, 20, and 50 Pence. What the heck?! No half pounds and quarter pounds?

Suddenly I felt like a little kid. I had to Google and find out what I had in my hands. The size of the coins and the numbers didn’t coincide with US coins. I had flashbacks of when I was a kid needing to pay for something with my own money, and I didn’t have enough. I had counted wrong. I couldn’t even count this stuff! Again, what the heck is a Pence? I had no idea of the value of what I was holding in my hand.

That my friends is where the lesson comes in….

How many times have you met someone that has no idea what they possess? (I’m not talking money now.) Think about it. Think of a person who sings better than you and thinks it’s not a big deal. Think about the person who does math in their head while you scratch around for a calculator or at least a pen and paper! Think about the person who intuitively sees the needs of other people without having to be told.

Yet, if you were to ask any of these people what they possessed, they wouldn’t know. Most of them would say they “don’t have anything” or at best they would say they “don’t have anything of value. Like me with my fist full of foreign coins, they don’t know the value of what they have!

I would say that each of us have a fist full of coins that we’re born with (talents, attributes and behaviors) and so few of us ever discover the value of what we possess!

You may have bigger coins than I do, but my coins may be bronze and yours are silver colored. What does that mean? Nothing! Especially if you don’t know the value of what you have.

Without question, you will have a different mixture of coins than I have. None of that is really important. What is important is understanding what you possess and where you should be investing what you have.

Once I Googled the coins that I had, I discovered that some of the big coins were of a lesser value than some of the smaller coins. What was more important was knowing what I possessed regardless of the size of the coin. I was now able to invest my coins into purchasing something meaningful because I knew what I had.

How many of just never really realize what unique qualities we have? We’re always looking at what other people have and thinking they possess something of greater value than what we have. Perception doesn’t matter! What does matter is that we each need to understand what gifts, talents and abilities we have so we can invest them into something meaningful.

What do you possess? (skills, talents and abilities)

Do you realize what they are worth?

Where are you investing your possessions?

Are you spending them wisely?

(For those of you like me that didn’t know; there are 100 Pence to a Pound. Now you know.)