Monday, July 22, 2013


The strongest people are not those who show strength in front of us, but those who win battles we know nothing about

Be kinder than necessary to everyone you meet. Everyone is fighting some kind of battle.

One of the most dangerous things we can do is make assumptions about people. We see a man in a nice suit, or a perfectly manicured attractive woman, and think they must have it pretty good. And maybe  they do, but we never really know. Maybe they don’t have a care in the world, or maybe they are having the worst day of their lives.

Why do we do this?

It’s a quirk of our human nature to complete things. We see half an image or hear a small part of a story, and we fill in the blanks. We do this with people as well. We look at their clothes, or their job, or their appearance, and we begin to fill in the blanks about them. It happens in an instant.

But sometimes we’re wrong. Very wrong actually. I know this from my time working as a counselor and seeing some of these people.

That cheerleader? The one who thinks she’s so good looking and never talks to anyone? She’s painfully shy and also struggles with an eating disorder.

I’ve seen her.

That guy in the $3000 dollar suit with the beautiful wife? He must really have it made, ha? The guy seems like a real snob. That guy hasn’t slept in days. He has a severe anxiety disorder and suffers from depression. He’s attempted suicide and been to rehab. More than once.

I’ve seen him too.

 That kid who gets all A’s? Who seems to succeed at everything without cracking a book? He’s so lonely he’s in tears most of the time when he’s not at school. He spent so much time on his schoolwork that he never learned how to play, or laugh, or be a kid.

He’s been in my office.

This list could go on and on. Everyone is fighting SOME kind of battle, and some of them are much more serious than we will ever know. For one person, speaking in front of a group of people comes very naturally. For another, simply getting out of bed in the morning, driving a car, and filling out a job application is a monumental act of courage.

Which is where I think the “be kinder than necessary” part comes in. People are out there struggling with fear and worry and depression, but this may not be the part of themselves they are willing to show us. We work so hard at creating impressions for people, but sometimes this gets exhausting as well. As Nathaniel Hawthorne said hundreds of years ago, “No man, for any considerable period, can wear one face to himself and another to the multitude, without finally getting bewildered as to which may be the true.”

True. Very true.

I think we can start to get past this by occasionally revealing our own vulnerability. By asking for help when we are struggling, patience when we are having a day when we are not quite ourselves, and understanding when we need a little compassion. Relationships of any kind are a two-way street, and the judgments we make about others are not much different than those people have made about us.

Which leads us back to the idea of fighting battles. Who among us hasn’t wished that someone would cut us a little slack, or give us a break when we haven’t given our best, or just been a little nicer than usual on a day we could have used it? I bet every one of us. Maybe the answer isn’t to wait around for these things, but to instead extend them to others when we are feeling okay.  

Be kind.

Everyone is fighting some kind of battle. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

The Power of One

“The problem, often not discovered until late in life, is that when you look for things in life like love, meaning, motivation, it implies they are sitting behind a tree or under a rock. The most successful people in life recognize, that in life they create their own love, they manufacture their own meaning, they generate their own motivation. For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you. 
Neil DeGrasse Tyson

 That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Walt Whitman- Leaves of Grass

One of the joys of living in the time of youtube, is that you can find things from your youth that you thought you would never see again. For me it was finding old “Schoolhouse Rock” videos, or commercials from my childhood that really took me back. Maybe I’m just a sucker for nostalgia.

There was one video I saw as a child that completely changed my life. It was called “Powers of Ten” and it started with a couple having a picnic in Chicago. Then it magnified out by ten, over and over again, until, finally, it was in the deepest reaches of space. It made me realize how vast the universe we inhabited really was, and how small my little life was in comparison. At the time just going to Chicago seemed like going to outer space to me. The vastness of the universe was too large to comprehend.

And yet, cut to years later and I was living in Chicago myself, right by where the couple in the video was having their picnic. I even went and found the spot they were sitting and laid down and looked at the night sky, remembering as I did how powerfully the video had affected me. At least I’d made it to Chicago! Who was to say I wouldn’t make it even further someday. I was young and in a new city and the world was full of possibilities. It was very exciting.

I recently drove by the same park again, and I remembered what it was like to feel so young and full of promise. I don’t live right in the city anymore, and sometimes forget to look up and admire the tall buildings and architecture and wonder of the place, and that makes me kind of sad. Did I lose my enthusiasm somewhere along the way, or did I just kind of get acclimated to extraordinary things over time?

How could I become that star-gazer again?

I went back and found that old video, and thought about the title. “Powers of ten”, a reference to magnification, but maybe also something else. What about the power of one? What could ONE person do in the time they have been give here? How many lives could one committed, active, passionate person really touch if they devoted their life to such a cause? How many chance meetings and happy accidents and casual conversations changed a day, diverted a path, even altered a life?

I’m certainly not the first person to contemplate these questions. The great 20th century architect Buckminister Fuller once also walked along the shores of Lake Michigan, bankrupt, drinking too much, and contemplating suicide. He asked himself these very same questions, (not far from the very picnic in the video). He decided that his life would be an experiment in the power of one.

He went on to be one of the great inventors and thinkers of the 20th century.

The lesson here is that we all have this light, this power, this ability to alter a number of other lives. The possibilities are endless really if we stop and actually think about the implications. To do this we first have to release ourselves from the tyranny of our own regrets. Maybe you don’t like your job, or your friend didn’t text you back or you didn’t get a break that you thought you deserved. All little things on the surface, but they make up the soundtracks of our thoughts, and, over time, our thoughts define our reality.

We can get trapped there.  

Personally I’m challenging myself to think about this a little more. The next time I begin complaining about my life in my own head, I’m going to reframe the question. Forget about the things I don’t feel are “fair” about my life, how can I use the time and opportunity I have been given to help someone else?

So today, starting now, I decided to make a change. In honor of the fourth of July, and the sacrifices our soldiers have made for me to eat hot dogs and drink beer and watch baseball games, I’m going to offer to counsel our nation’s veterans. For no charge. If you know of someone who is on foreign soil, or is back from oversees, or needs a letter, a kind word, or more extensive counseling. I am available. I have two offices in the Chicago area. I am available via skype @joeyguse. My gmail address is I have contacted my local VA and given them my information to pass on to whoever may need assistance.  I pass this on not to brag, but to hopefully inspire someone else to explore what their power of one might be.

For me it was time to start practicing what I preach.

It’s a start, and I hope people will contact me.