Make a Big Impact in Your Life

I owe all my success in life to effective communication. This includes my professional life, my love life, and my social life.

In this article, I’d like to share two tips for effective communication in your professional life.

It’s just three small tips with huge payoffs! Read on…


In my professional life, I work as a sales engineer, data scientist, and master of duct tape. I stick things together to make them work in a high technology field. It’s one of the most affirming and exciting things I’ve ever done in my life and I look forward to going to work every day.

How did I go from “zero” to “hero?”

I didn’t go to school for computer science or data science, I have a degree in Civil Engineering. I worked as a Professional Engineer for over 20 years. So how did I get here?

I got into this field by luck, curiosity, hard work, and communication. I had started a blog on data mining that turned into a full-blown career in the startup world and data science, and I couldn’t have done it without communicating complex ideas simply and effectively.

It appears that recruiters are searching for those communication skills as well:

However, the difference between a good Data Scientist and a GREAT Data Scientist is often not found in their technical ability or their amazing mathematical genius. Data Science exists to provide a service to business and business is run by people. If Data Scientists cannot comfortably communicate with their non-expert colleagues and bosses, then their effectiveness is greatly reduced. They need to communicate easily with people, to understand, to interpret, to translate.

How did I go from “zero” to “hero?” By learning public speaking, writing with style, and making pretty pictures.

Take a Toastmaster’s class

One of the best things I ever did for my career was to take public speaking classes. Before those classes, I used to only speak to other engineers. When I typically started a conversation with them I would say, “I used a c value of 0.95 for that section of impervious cover.

They’d nod their heads and understand what I said perfectly. A non-technical person would be scratching their heads wondering if I was speaking in a strange language.

…I seem to make people cry a lot…

Over time I learned that it’s the non-technical person that was in charge of budgets and/or making business decisions. If they have no idea what you’re doing or you can’t persuade them that your project is critical, they’ll allocate time and resources elsewhere.

You must communicate effectively to non-technical people to persuade them for that important win, budget, monies, or decision.

So what’s the solution here? Is it making pretty images or large displays? Is it writing at a level for non-technical readers, or is it being able to speak clearly? The answer is all three.

Achieving proficiency in all three is completely feasible but it does require some time on your part.

How do you do it? How do you start? You enroll in Toastmasters.

Yes, you get your ass up in front of people and work toward becoming a certified Toastmaster. To achieve that status you need to give 10 speeches, each one with a specific focus.

The first one is the hardest, it’s the icebreaker. You have to get up in front of people and introduce yourself for 3 to 5 minutes.

Then you progress into speeches to inform, to persuade, or to evoke an emotional response (I seem to make people cry a lot).

My current career relies heavily on the skills I learned being a Toastmaster, as does my partner’s career too.

The best part about joining Toastmasters is that it doesn’t break the bank. Yes, there’s a membership fee but it’s nominal and you have clubs in churches, libraries, and schools. Just visit Find A Club link and enter your zip code. Done!

Joining Toastmasters all those years ago was the best thing I ever did, it yielded the highest professional return in my life for the smallest investment of time.

Elements of style

I met Robert in graduate school. He was a Canadian man in his late 60’s, retired, and living in the States with his wife. He woke up one morning and enrolled in business school where I was.

“Tom, this book made a big difference in my writing and I hope it does the same for you.”

We hit it off and worked on many class projects together. Over the semesters he started to share his life with me. I was impressed and inspired by the life he had led up till then.

As a son of Chinese immigrants, he settled in Canada, worked in a dry cleaner, then owned a pizza parlor, started and sold a newspaper, and became a writer.

He was the most interesting man I’ve ever known up till that point and he remains a good friend to this day.

As our graduate life came to an end, we went down to the local pub for a celebratory drink. We had spent a good 3 years together, writing, learning, and presenting. We reminisced about all the good times and commiserated on the bad times.

You’ll never remember all the Macbook versions out there but you will remember the Apple logo.

After the second drink, he reached into this bag and handed me a small sliver-looking book.

He looked squarely in my eyes and said, “Tom, this book made a big difference in my writing and I hope it does the same for you.”

Robert handed me a book titled “Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr. and E.B. White.

It’s a tiny book that packed — and I mean packed — elements of writing compositions, style, and grammar.

Over the years that gift has made a big impact on my writing and I refer to it when I need to edit a lengthy text or just need some inspiration.

Thank you, Robert, you have no idea how your thoughtfulness has impacted my life.

Visuals, it’s about the visuals

The last item that made a big impact on my life is understanding that the majority of people in this world are visual learners. That means they learn best from pictures and visualizations.

A single photograph can inspire a call to action or change the narrative of war.

I took up photography many years ago as a way to express my creative outlet and have spent countless hours reviewing and analyzing photos.

In that time I’ve learned a few things about images and visualizations.

The most effective and powerful images are the simple ones. I’m not talking simple flowcharts, but the ones that are stripped down to their bare essentials and focus on my key thing, whatever that thing may be.

Every commercial and every advertisement we see seeks to focus your eye on one thing.

You’ll never remember all the Macbook versions out there but you will remember the Apple logo.

How many Nike shoes did you have? You’ll remember the swoosh first.

When you create visuals and images, you have helped the viewer train their eye to the most important part of that image. That’s how you make an impact.

To see a non-commercially inspired set of images, I suggest you visit an art museum. Walk around the halls in the different periods, see what images resonate with you.

I’m partial to the abstractive art and Wabi Sabi types of Art. I like minimalistic art because it makes a powerful statement that leads viewers to read into any way they see fit.

You will need to figure this out for yourself and see what works best in your career!

TL;dr

Sign up for Toastmasters. Learn to write better. Make pretty pictures.

Managing Your Time with Stoicism

And you run, and you run to catch up with the sun, but it’s sinking

Lately, I’ve been reading Seneca as part of my exploration of Stoicism. As I get older and weepier, I’m drawn to philosophical things. I’m going to be freaking 50 years old in just over a year. If I were to die today, I would not want to go gently into that good night, but I would die satisfied. My life is awesome and I have a wonderful family and children. We live a life of adventure and I have a deeply meaningful career. Still, I want more! MORE!

I watched the video below and it made me pause a bit. I realized that I could squeeze more out of life if I paid attention to where I was wasting my time, so I wrote down in my journal a few big items that I need to work on. I recommend you journal AND watch the video below. I’ve added my keynotes for your reference below:

To live well we must be constant students of life

  • Seneca’s essay “On the shortness of life” reminds us that time is a non-renewable resource
  • Treat time as a commodity, people guard their property but squander time
  • The amount of time we get is uncertain, you could die at 20 or 100 years old
  • Death creeps up on time wasters
  • Make the most of time, it is an amplifier when used properly

Don’t invest your time preparing for life

  • Seneca pushes us to live right now and not to delay happiness
  • Your typical life is work till 60 years old, retire, and then be happy. Why wait for happiness?
  • What usually happens is you are too old to enjoy life when you retire and regret not making the most of life
  • Plan the big things in life but don’t delay living your life

Live life for YouR own self

  • Being busy with things we don’t like is the greatest distraction of your life
  • We waste time at jobs we don’t like, relationships we’re not happy in, etc
  • Invest your time into making a life worth living

Practice Premeditatio Malorum

  • While you waste your time by procrastinating, life goes on
  • Researchers call the dissonance of “short-term gratification vs long-term commitments” as time inconsistency
  • To fight this, use Premeditatio Malorum which is a form of negative visualization
  • Think of what could go wrong with your long-term task and then make plans to achieve it. This will offset the distractions

Make Long Term Rewards Immediate

  • The need to procrastinate is the most powerful RIGHT at the start of work
  • When rewards are years away (i.e. diploma, career, et), you tend to procrastinate
  • To overcome, you must bundle a reward at the start of the task
  • You can eat a piece of cheesecake when you lost 10lbs or give yourself time to browse the web once you finished those pesky spreadsheet tasks

Make the Most of your Free Time

  • Too often we waste our free time with stupid stuff. Gossiping, drinking at the bar, etc
  • There’s plenty of time to do everything we want if we just stop wasting our free time
  • We work hard to earn money and free time, so why waste that precious free time
  • Use your lunch hour to explore the city, write in a journal, play an instrument, read, etc
  • To beat mediocrity and start living your life, make the most of your free time

Spend time reflecting on your past

  • Present time is transitory (it’s moving), the Future is uncertain, and the past is unalterable
  • Seneca says to pay attention to the past, so you can be effective today
  • Personal note: Journaling is a wonderful way of capturing the past

Stop Wasting Time in Life’s Trivialities

  • We are all guilty of wasting our time on trivialities (Social Media)
  • Social Media sucks your time away
  • When you’re happy, you fill your time with activities that are valuable and meaningful to the vision you want for your life

Invest your time creating new memories

  • While you preoccupy your time with trivialities, death approaches that you can’t escape
  • Invest your time into creating new memories and philosophies
  • Memory is more enduring than grief (Ed. Very true. I call it Adventuring)
  • Memories may be fleeting but they deliver more happiness than anything else
  • Do yourself a favor and take on challenges and adventures, learn to play music, travel, etc

Invest your time in Philosophies

  • The Study of Philosophy is the most invaluable teacher
  • Study as much philosophy (current, past, etc) as you can because it will help you in your life
  • Your life will expand and your wisdom will grow
  • A Philosopher is a lover of wisdom: truth, virtue, life, and death

Seeking Bodhisattva

My posting activity has started to drop off again. This is partly due to a large workload and traveling schedule. I’m enjoying my work immensely but my blog is neglected as a result. A few weeks ago I even considered shutting this blog down because I feel like I’m like an “old man shouting at clouds.”

I’ve come to realize that my skills are not in coding but in communication.

I know that many people find value in my old RapidMiner tutorials and videos but my heart isn’t in making any new ones. My YouTube channel is also neglected partly because I work for H2O.ai now and because there’s so much free content on Machine Learning and Data Science out there now. I think that’s awesome.

There’s never been a greater time to get into Data Science and Machine Learning than ever before. There are so many ‘rock star’ programmers, Kagglers, and technologists out there now. You can’t NOT be amazed how fast the ‘AI’ space is changing, for better or for worse. I consider myself lucky to have joined near ground zero and love the fact that I’m a part of it now.

BUT.

I’ve come to realize that my skills are not in coding but in communication. Sure I code stuff, mostly to make my life easier and automating the boring stuff (great book BTW), but my expertise is best used elsewhere. Sometimes I don’t even know what this means but I feel alive when I talk to prospects or customers and help them go from a ‘zero level AI person’ to applying ‘AI’ to their problems and helping solve them. I seem to be good at connecting the dots and using tactics and strategies to solve problems. I think that’s the Engineer in me.

Someone scrawled on a wall “Be the Bodhisattva you seek.”

I’ve also become more politically aware and active over the past few years. The reason? Trump. I won’t devolve into right vs left discussions here as I find them useless BUT I’ve always been an environmentalist. This current administration has attacked so many people and groups because of their color of skin, who they love or identify as, and religion. There are so many fights to fight and mine is the environment.

Our entire planet is under assault from climate change, habitat loss, extinction, and pollution. All in name of money. Yet I’ve blogged about trading and investing. I’ve blogged about making money. Am I as complicit as credit card companies that approve gun transactions to a future school shooter?

While technically I’m not cutting down trees or killing baby seals, my recommendations, actions, and investments might support doing just that.

Am I part of the problem? Yes, I believe so.

Many years ago I took a course in world religions. I was most enamored with Buddhism, not in the classical sense but more of the Zen version. I learned about Bodhisattvas and how they chose to “out of compassion, forgo[sic] nirvana in order to save others.” Granted, I’m an atheist but I found Bodhisattvas interesting. Then I read a piece of graffiti that made me question everything. Someone scrawled on a wall “Be the Bodhisattva you seek.”

I can spend hours in flame wars with people on Facebook or Twitter about climate change and not change anyone’s position. I’ve realized that relating and compassion are much more powerful than attacking someone’s position.

I think I can help shape the dialogue in a healthy and sustainable way.

Everyone wants to drink clean water, breathe fresh air, and eat healthy food. It doesn’t matter what your political leanings are, I think this is a universal fact. However, if you tie this to work and jobs, then things get interesting. Let me give you an example:

“I don’t care about some endangered animal, I have my family to feed”

“Climate change is fake news because China wants us to be less competitive and you’ll lose jobs”

“The wind isn’t blowing tonight, so you can’t watch TV”

“There are so many job-killing regulations”

Take your pick or make your own, there are hundreds of these divisive messages out there. Why? Because of money.

As a former Civil Engineer, I can design water and wastewater plants. I’ve designed groundwater recharge systems and wetlands. I fully understand how humans impact the land, sea, and air AND I think I can help stop this onslaught. Armed with Data Science and AI, I think I can make an impact. I think I can help shape the dialogue in a healthy and sustainable way.

What does this mean for the blog? I don’t know yet but I want to become the Bodhisattva I’m seeking.

How Blogging Led to My Personal Growth

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been blogging now for over 15 years. I’ve written 100’s of posts, some short and some long. I’ve had my shares of ups and downs here but in the end, I’m glad I stuck with it. It’s made me realize that blogging has led to my personal growth. Blogging has become a career!

What’s happened is that I’ve been reposting and repopulating old posts from my archive. I took these posts down a few years ago thinking they were of no use, but now I realize I was wrong. Sure there was some cringe-worthy type of posts back then, but I look at them now and smile. I’m so far removed from them now and I realize I am so different now.

As I repopulate these posts I can’t help but remember where I was in my personal and professional life. I also notice how busy I was. My posting frequency is proportional to how crazy my work and personal life are. Yet still, I wrote at least a few posts a year. 

Year 2007 to 2009

Back in the early 2007-2009 era, I spent a lot of time blogging about Forex, Stocks, and using AI to trade the markets. It was during this time that I first wrote my RapidMiner tutorials. They brought me a lot of traffic and I adored the attention. I market timed and moved money in and out of my accounts, thinking I can beat the market. Lo and behold I was wrong. 

I made a sharp career change. I couldn’t believe how fast things could change, but they did for the better.

I also held onto some crazy ideas back then about Objectivism and Libertarianism. As I grow older I realize that this selfish way of living is a folly. Life does not have to be a zero-sum game. Yes, invest in your future but also invest in deep relationships, love, health, and Nature. Cultivate those and you’ll find balance and true wealth. 

Year 2010-2014

In the 2010 to 2014 era I saw some big changes to this blog. I ramped up my blog posts around Machine Learning and what was to become Data Science. I created a lot of YouTube videos on how to use RapidMiner and it generated even more traffic for me. I was still working full time as a Civil Engineer but I began to dream of moving into the Machine Learning space. As luck would have it, RapidMiner moved to Boston and got VC funding. 

In 2014, RapidMiner offered me a job as a Sales Engineer and I accepted. I made a sharp career change. I couldn’t believe how fast things could change, but they did for the better. 

I learned that passion, learning, and dedication can change your life. If you want something bad enough, you must chase it. You must work hard and learn, face the obstacles and work through or around them. After some time, you’ll see how far you’ve grown and how successful you can be. 

Year 2015-2017

From 2015 to 2017 I cut my teeth as a Data Scientist. I learned so much about Data Science, Marketing, and especially Sales. I’ve come to realize that I LOVE working in Sales. No matter how crazy and stressful it can be sometimes, it matches my personality. It’s who I am. The stars have aligned!

I’ve always loved public speaking and presenting and now I was presenting to CTO’s and CIO’s all over the USA. Yes, the travel burned me out but I learned how to compensate for that (now). I did make A LOT of bad decisions for my health. I ate too much, drank too much, and sat in my chair. While at RapidMiner I gained about 40 lbs, something I’m working off now. 

It’s been a wild and rewarding ride ever since!

I left RapidMiner in 2017 to start my own Data Science and Engineering consultancy. I built up a client base in both fields but left after a serendipitous phone call in July of next year, more on this next.

In the end, those years were tough working years. I loved every minute of it. The startup life was and IS for me. I looked back and kicked myself for not making the leap sooner. I learned that you can’t hide who you are, you must BE who you are. The longer you hide from that, the more miserable you will become. I know it’s scary and I’ll admit that I was scared, but there comes a time when it’s now or never. I chose now. 

Year 2018 – present

I worked in my own consultancy for over a year before I got a phone call from my now colleague J. We had met back in 2014 when she was a new hire at H2O.ai. She reached out to me because she had an extra ticket for H2O World in New York and offered it to me. I declined because I had some client meetings but I did tell her that I left RapidMiner last year. 

That call set up a chain reaction where two weeks later, I had an offer to join the Sales team at H2O.ai. I made preparations to close down my consultancy in September 2018 and joined the team. It’s been a wild and rewarding ride ever since!

I owe it all to Blogging

I owe everything to Blogging. I do. I took my passion for AI and turned it into a career. Along the way, I’ve met so many awesome people and now I’m surrounded by so many awesome people. I’m part of the Maker culture where you “make stuff” happen and I’m humbled to be there. It’s crazy, wild, stressful, adventurous, hard, enlightening, and plain awesome. 

I would’ve never been here if I resigned myself to my fate back in 2007. Do what scares you, do what you love. Make your world sing.

Do it!

If you’ve ever wondered if you could blog yourself to a new life, you can. I share some tips on how to do it in my How to Blog Yourself to a New Life post.

Humility and Equanimity in Sales

Dear Friend,

I’ve been meaning to write about the importance of humility and equanimity in sales. From my personal past observations, it seems these are attributes only a few salespeople have.

What are humility and equanimity?

Humility is defined as:

“a modest or low view of one’s own importance; humbleness.”

Equanimity is defined as:

“mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper, especially in a difficult situation.”

The Monkey Brain

Recently I was enlightened by a sales colleague about the concept of the Monkey brain. It was from a book he read.

The Monkey brain is hubris, fight, flight, any emotion or reaction that ties us back to the days when we started walking upright.

Our reaction must be the same, always.

When you give a presentation, it’s the Monkey that says “you’re going say stupid things” or “you don’t look pretty enough.” When you sign a great sales deal, it’s the Monkey that says “YAH! I’m the King/Queen, nothing can touch me!”

The Monkey Brain is not enlightened. It is the attachment to this world, it is that prevents you from achieving moksha. It is what causes the downfall of many a Salesperson.

Leave the Monkey Behind

When you are in Sales, you are essentially asking someone to trade resources (money) for something you have to offer. Your offer must be more of a perceived value to that person that they are willing to part with their money.

This offer. It can be anything. It can be a product or service.

You must sell it so that your organization can survive.

It is the Monkey that goes out hunting for the tribe.

The Monkey gets scared if the potential sale appears to be falling through.

The Monkey parties when the sale goes through, just like if he killed food to bring back to the tribe.

The Monkey falls into the same trap every time because it is the Monkey Brain.

You must leave the Monkey behind.

Humility and Equanimity

Humility is not of the Monkey, it is an understanding that you do not understand everything. Humility is looking inward to oneself and finding that Monkey, hiding in your emotional trees and quieting him. Humility means that you will try your best and do your best, but not let the Monkey control your fears.

Equanimity is not of the Monkey as well. When the Monkey wins, he is elated and thumps his chest. When the Monkey loses, he gets angry and depressed. In life, we will win and we will lose. We will learn and we will make mistakes. It is how we react to the good and bad that is equanimity. Our reaction must be the same, always.

We are doing our job when we win and we are doing our job when we lose.

Be Humble.

Be Equanimous.

What If No One Ever Saw Your Photography?

I came across a curious YouTube video a few weeks ago where the creator went into a philosophical discussion about creating photos and having no one ever see them.

He referred to Vivian Maier, a woman that died in 2009. She had let her storage place lapse two years prior and all her contents were “won” by John Maloof, Ron Slattery, and Randy Prow. In her storage space were decades of developed and undeveloped film of her street photography work.

© Wiki Media Commons

Vivian spent all her free time photographing over decades and never showed anyone her work. It was only just before her death that her work was shown and took the world by storm.

Can you imagine a person like her in today’s world with an iPhone, Instagram, and Facebook?

I can’t.

She was a Socialist, a Feminist, a movie critic, and a tell-it-like-it-is type of person. She learned English by going to theaters, which she loved … She was constantly taking pictures, which she didn’t show anyone. via Wikipedia

She never posted her work on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram. She never did it for the likes, recognition, or adulation.

If the right people didn’t find her work, after letting her payments lapse, she would’ve died in obscurity. No one, except her living relatives, would’ve known who she was and her odd quirks.

My initial reaction was “OMG, how lucky we are to know her work” but how many Vivian Maier’s are out there? And how many will we never know?

Why Shoot if You’re Not Going to Show?

In today’s FOMO world and siloed social media, we’re driven to create content and share our photographs. If our creative work is well received we might get a like or a comment. On the surface, this instant feedback is good. You can learn faster and course-correct as needed.

But the darker side to instant feedback is that you get hooked on it. You might tie up your entire self-worth or voice as a creative in little likes and hearts.

I find that incredibly upsetting. We are more than just social media likes and hearts, at least I’d like to think we are.

Plus, developing your style and your voice takes time. It takes making mistakes, falling, and getting back up again, time after time, to develop who you are as an artist and photographer.

Perhaps it might be a good thing NOT to show your work for a long time or even at all. You need time to find your voice and develop your style if you want to be an artist.

Some find themselves faster than others, and some — like yours truly — can take decades.

Here’s a mental exercise. What happens when you do show your work and it’s not well received? Do you then change your style to match what general society likes or wants? If you were to change, what is the reason why? Is it for the likes and hearts?

If you couldn’t care less about the likes and hearts then it begs the deepest and hardest question to answer, why do you shoot at all?

This, dear friends, is a question I struggle with. Why do I even shoot at all? What is my voice? What is my style? What is my message? Do I even need to have a message?

Box of Positives & Negatives

My partner and I moved our entire family to a new house 5 years ago. When we did I boxed up all my old positive slides and negatives in a box and promptly forget where I put them.

A few weeks ago I found them again and was amazed at some of the old work I did. Granted, I have to scan them in (and I’m lazy that way) but I held the positives up to the light and remembered.

© Thomas Ott

I found my old landscapes from New Mexico and my 3-week exploration of the desert Southwest. I found my scrap metalwork at Port Newark. I found my old flower work.

And I found 100’s of negatives that need to be sleeved and stored. A lot of work that I will reserve for the winter if I have time.

© Thomas Ott

That box of positives and negatives reminded me of Vivian Maier. She photographed and stored her work, never to be seen again. I photographed and stored my work and forgot it. Did Vivian forget her work too?

A Life Worth Living

If I died my family would probably throw them away, a large part of my life gone. I would hope they would at least look at them before they tossed them away, but the probability of that is very low because everyone lives digitally now.

My images, good or bad, are pieces of my life. They provide a window into my past life, a place where I’ve been.

Then there are photographs of me that other people have taken. One day when they die and their work gets thrown away, that photograph of me will be thrown away too.

Will my life have been meaningless? Watch this NY Times video, it hit me hard.

In a world where photography is cheapened, a world where we hustle, a world where we live and die by the likes and hearts, is there any true meaning to photography left?

I say yes.

Its meaning can take many forms but its first and foremost’s meaning is what it is for you.

This is you. When you snap that shutter, it’s you.

A self-portrait is you. A photo of that rock you took, is you. A photo of your loved ones, it’s you. A photo of your lover, it’s you.

This is it. This is your life, the wonderful meaning that is you. Photography is just another way to bring meaning to your life if you let it be.

If you let photography be the avenue for your self-discovery and your meaning then the likes and hearts don’t matter. They become noise around you, and you are the signal.

Your work matters, if it’s only for an audience of one.

A Resurrection of the Spirit

In Nietzsche’s “Human, All Too Human” he says that the Resurrection of the Spirit is based on the following:

On a political sickbed a people is usually rejuvenated and rediscovers its spirit, after having gradually lost it in seeking and preserving power. Culture owes its peaks to politically weak ages.“

After seeing the rise of Trump, the Tea Party, and the full-frontal assault on a woman’s right to choose and voter rights, there is a big attempt to preserve power by the Right in this country.

While we are not out of the woods with this level of Fascism in our country, and we need to root it out of the darkest corner and fight it tooth and nail, I can’t but help but wonder if we’ll usher in a newer American spirit.

There are bright spots emerging. My children are more open with their lives, they express themselves more. They connect and communicate with their peers in ways I never did at their age.

It’s not just the technical aspect of that connection, but it’s a big part, children these days are exploring the meaning of their sexualities, partnerships, social justice, and environmental justice.

While it remains to be seen, some of these idealistic kids will get into politics and eventually outnumber the old white-haired men that are desperately trying to hold on to power and nostalgia of an age that never existed for nonwhite people.

Yet, to get there will require turmoil and upheaval, and we haven’t seen the last of Trump-like Nazis, riots, school shootings, racism, and assault on women and minorities. Let’s hope that there are more good people willing to step up and “hold the line,” so we can build a new country, one that is more inclusive and kind.

I have hope that it can be done.

A Time For Remembrance

I will remember this year for the rest of my life. The words I would use to describe it would be “shit-show” and “chaos.” Some good things happened but they pale in comparison to the life-altering storm I had to endure this year.

We all were isolated from Covid at the beginning of the year and life in the Ott house was chaotic. All four of us crammed into a room doing school zooms, meetings, and working.

While this sounds like a terrible situation, this led me on a path of self-introspection. It led me to dive into Medium and I found a wonderful group of writers that resonated with me. Their voices inspired me to evaluate my life through a different lens. They made me work hard on the unsolved questions I struggled with for years.

The eye must see all sides — Codes of Karate

I didn’t notice the gathering of storm clouds as I started working on myself. I boarded my ship and set out to sea, hoping to sail around these dark clouds.

The storm hit me hard in March this year when my parents and aunt were rushed to the hospital with full-blown Covid. I lay awake at night expecting to get a phone call that one had passed away. I felt relieved when all three came home, beaten to shit, but alive.

I thought the storm was over.

How wrong I was.

My father’s health deteriorated faster than ever and he had to be rushed back to the hospital in July. He barely made it out alive.

Then our dog started to fade fast. She was suffering from the same ailment that was killing my father, congestive heart failure.

We were away at Cape Cod when she shut down. She was dying and we weren’t there to comfort her.

I know they say it’s the last act of love you give them is when you put them to sleep but it doesn’t feel that way. There are no words to describe this and you never forget the emotion of giving the “order” to end a cherished living being’s life.

I remember crying with my daughter in a small condo overlooking the bay in Provincetown. My partner and son were out fishing. They came back home to see us a blubbering mess and instantly joined in.

A few days later we returned home and retrieved a small box. We buried her behind the fence, where she always ran to when she got loose.

Now that death had claimed a family member I thought the storm was over. My father was on the mend and we all were vaccinated. We started talking about having barbeques, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.

I was expecting sunny weather but the clouds never lifted. The sea remained choppy. Little did I know that I was just in the eye of the storm.

My father called me up one day and asked If I could take him to get french fries. He was feeling better, recovering from his last hospital stay, and was getting his taste back. He was still too weak to drive himself, so I drove down and got him.

He went to sleep that night and never woke up.

I knew exactly where he wanted to go, a local hot dog joint where we would go from time to time, a real father and son place.

On the way home, he got very quiet and after a few minutes told me about his big regrets in life. It was such a heavy conversation, but it sounded like he was making peace with himself. True to himself, he shared these regrets as a warning to me. He shared his wisdom with me so that I wouldn’t make the same mistakes.

I dropped him off and felt an impending sense of doom. Did my father know his time on this mortal plane was coming to an end? I don’t know but it felt like a lightning blot struck the mast of my metaphorical ship and I had no way to sail around the storm that brought me to the darkest point of my life.


“How did your tests go?” I asked him.

“Good results, we can talk about them on Sunday.”

“Sure thing Dad, let me talk to Mom real quick.”

“Ok.”

Those were the last words I spoke to my father. He went to sleep that night and never woke up.

I was in New York City for work when my mother called me in a panic, telling me my father wasn’t waking up. I told her to call 911 right away. She hung up the phone and called 911. I started a phone chain and called my sister. She immediately dropped everything and headed to my mother’s house. I dropped everything and called an Uber to my mother’s house.

“good people sing, bad people have no songs.”

It felt like a giant rogue wave collapsed over me and my tiny ship. I felt like I was drowning. The storm raged around me like never before.

They say people grieve in my different waves and they’re right. I was in a state of shock for weeks and it wasn’t until his memorial in December that I started to feel the waves of grief wash over me.

Silly things set me off, like this sweet little video.

and this one,

Music and singing remind me so much of my father. He loved to sing. When he got together with his brothers and sisters there would be so much singing and laughter.

I remember this one time when I was around 10, we went to Red Lobster for dinner. My father’s best friend and his wife were visiting us from Germany and we all wanted to celebrate.

Next to us sat three women at a small table. Suddenly a group of waiters and waitresses came clapping and singing happy birthday. They marched over the table of women and placed a small cake with a candle in front of them. They all clapped and the women were laughing.

I look up to the heavens and think of her…

Then my father and our visiting guests started singing a birthday song in German. The women listened in a near trance with tears in their eyes by what they heard, a song that was sung by strangers, filling their corner of the restaurant. Everyone applauded and laughed.

This wasn’t the first time nor the last my father would do something like this. He would tell me (loosely translated from German) that “good people sing, bad people have no songs.”

My father was the kind of guy that everyone liked when they met him. He was a brave adventurer that came to the USA with a small suitcase to strike out on his own. He worked in a Deli for a while and then met my mother, who is also a brave adventurer in her own right.

My father wasn’t a perfect man but he had heart. He wore his heart on his sleeve and loved his family very much. I see a lot of his good qualities in me.

As I prepared for my father’s memorial I found a family photo I took on Christmas 2019. It was the last time we were all together before Covid ripped us apart.

I look back now and remember. I think about how in an instant your life can change for better or for worse. I think about my father’s life and the wisdom he shared with me.

I take stock of my life, and I can’t help but feel blessed.

Despite this being one of the worst years that I can remember, many lighthouses in my life helped me navigate safely through this treacherous storm. Those lighthouses, my fellow writers, are you. No matter how bright or dim, you helped shine the way toward safety in this storm and for that I’m grateful.

Thank you to Elle Beau, Demeter Delune, Zara Everly, Joe Duncan, Edward Riley, Mysterious Witt, and Yael Wolfe. Your words, comments, Twitter banter, and inner lights have sustained me through this storm. You are truly Queens and Kings.

Now that the storm clouds are clearing, I catch a glimpse of the North Star. I see her shining brightly in the night sky. I see Ursa Major and Ursa Minor in the heavens around her and I feel the cold winter air sting my face.

I exhale as the sea calms around me. I look up to the heavens again and think of her, my partner. I think of the bears, my children.

They were there for me in my time of need and I feel their love around me. My partner was there for me the entire time, through the darkest nights when the waves raged around me and when I thought all was lost. Her light pierced through the thickest clouds and helped me give my last measure of strength to make it through the storm. I would be so lost without her.

She is the Queen that rules my celestial heavens and I’m honored to be her King.

She guides me to a new dawn.

Emerging Masculine Warrior Spirit

Feminine Warrior Spirit is Calling for You

Influencers talk a lot about it and we see many books around this subject. The shortest example of Warrior Spirit I’ve found is that it’s internal mastery of yourself and often a positive attitude to resolve or avoid conflicts, internal and external. This is my story of how it found me and what it means to me.

Albuquerque, 1995, Summer, Saturday morning. I woke up on my cold linoleum bathroom floor. Dried vomit was caked on my cheek and my head was pounding.

Ms. Tequila dug deep and showed me where my inner wounded boy was hiding.

That Friday evening started as any Friday evening when you’re young, dumb, and have crazy friends. It was lots of laughter, booze, and partying. The weather was divine that night and we had free reign of the complex pool. Good times were had until Ms. Tequila showed up at the party. She came with a friend and introduced herself to me. We made small talk and I went back to being the host of the party.

Somewhere in the middle of the party Ms. Tequila took my hand and led me to a dark corner to have her way with me, and I let her. I was 24, living in a city surrounded by a desert, and until that evening didn’t realize all the unresolved issues I had with my ex-girlfriend. We had broken up the November before and I thought I had processed all the ‘emotions’ associated with that affair. My ‘date’ was good at uncovering my most hidden emotions, and I thank her for that.

Without ripping the lid off this relationship coffin, I will tell you this, our relationship was deep, passionate, and loving. It was the first time I connected with someone on such a deep level and I believe she did too. Our nights were filled with laughter, exploration, and vulnerability. The down part of this relationship was that it was doomed from the start.

We didn’t break up because of cheating or some other form of incompatibility, we broke up because we were young and had our paths to walk in life. We found each other on the same path and walked together for a short time. Then we came to a crossroads and parted, each one of us looking over our shoulders until we couldn’t see each other anymore.

Birds of prey swooped down from imaginary perches and ripped their talons into me.

Ms. Tequila dug deep and showed me where my inner wounded boy was hiding. She opened the door and coaxed him out. We talked and she showed me how deep my feelings still ran for her. This led me to go into full ‘no one loves me’ mode as I began to unpack and mourned love lost.

By the time my guests started to leave, I was sloppy drunk. I took one last shot as the last guest left and sat there in the dark. Ms. Tequila had to leave too but she told me all will be better in the morning. I sat there in my dark living room until the room started to spin. I ran to the toilet and started to purge. I purged and purged and purged.

I purged like no tomorrow and all my sad emotions seemed to stream out of me into that toilet bowl, heave after heave. Then I passed out on the floor and fell into the darkest of blackness ever.

In the pitch darkness of my dreams, I saw something. An enveloping presence came to me. It had no discernible shape and whatever shape I recognized, it became it. At first, I thought it was a worm and then a snake. Then it was a wolf. Then there were many wolves and then vultures.

After all, that’s what we’re taught to do, isn’t it? Don’t cry and be a man?

Birds of prey swooped down from imaginary perches and ripped their talons into me. Even a little mouse appeared and nibbled at my flesh. All these animals surrounded me and ripped my body to shreds. I can still hear their cackles and grunts as they ate everything that was me. It sounded like a nightmare and I should’ve been running in my dream but I felt incredibly at peace. I felt like something good was happening to me.

As soon as the feast was over, they all vomited out my bones and left me in a big pile. In a flash, the enveloping presence put my bones back together again and my body was restored. Then everything went black again till the morning.


The morning after was horrible. I felt like complete shit, but something was different. The night before brought out many unresolved issues from my breakup and I was now ready to address them.

… I have a goal to do better.

Why did it take so long to resolve this inner conflict? Simple. I did what every average man does in our current society. I pushed it deep down inside myself and hid it where no one can see. After all, that’s what we’re taught to do, isn’t it? Don’t cry and be a man?

I realize now, after looking back to that party on that fateful Summer night that my Warrior Spirit had awakened. I believe that spiritually (and physically) I purged out a whole host of hidden issues and trauma that I carried with me to that day.

Was my life a bed of roses afterward? No, certainly not. Did I make mistakes going forward? Yes! Quite a lot.

Am I the perfect man, father, son? Far from it but I have a goal to do better. The Warrior Spirit taught me to work on myself, to do better.

Do better.

Do better in my life. Explore and meditate on things. Do better in my relationship with my wife. Do better in rearing my children. Do better for me. Do better for my community. Do better for the less fortunate.

We no longer honor Feminine Warrior Spirit.

I believe that we all have Warrior Spirit and that Spirit has no real gender. For me, it’s Masculine. Others find it to be Feminine and even others find it to be genderless. It’s energy and connection to the Divine and when we tap into it, we awaken something in ourselves.

It’s a connection to the deepest parts of the cosmic web we call life. It’s an ocean of love that we shouldn’t be afraid to swim in. It’s the tallest mountain that we must climb for ourselves.

But all is not well.

There is an abundance of Feminine Warrior Spirit but the Masculine is lacking. The ranks of brave Masculine Warriors have dwindled over time. Many got lazy and defected to the fleeting distractions of modern society. They got confused and no longer work on themselves. They no longer listen, reflect, and change for the better.

They don’t resolve inner conflicts and treat Feminine Warriors as lesser beings instead of as equal ones. They lost the ability to see their illumination and the ability to tap into their power.

We no longer honor Feminine Warrior Spirit.

They are calling out to us and we ignore them. They are asking for us to come back to the light but we cover our ears and ‘grab women by the pussy’.


Masculine Warrior Spirit is needed to start the healing the world needs, and most importantly now! Our Mother Earth is burning. There is too much violence and too much confusion. Awake Men!

I know that things are changing in the world for us Men and we shouldn’t be afraid. It’s a good thing. We’re at a spiritual crossroads and all life hangs in the balance. Without us, there can be no balance.

A call for help has been sounded by our sisters, mothers, and lovers. Don’t be afraid to let your inner child out of the emotional prison you were taught to build. Let them out into the light and let the Warrior Spirit training begin.

I’ll meet you on the other side.


Special thanks to Yael Wolfe and her I Can’t Live in the World of Man Anymore post for inspiring my post. Thank you.

woman wearing white karati g under blue sky

How the Codes of Karate Can Guide Your Life

I practice Isshinryu Karate, better known as ‘whole heart style.’ It’s this ‘whole heart style’ business that I want to share with you today. Simply put, the whole heart nature of this style of Karate seeks unity with the Self and seeks our place in the cosmic fabric of Life and the Universe.

I will be sharing our 8 Codes of Karate with you, a simple philosophy that you can use to find unity with your Self.

#1 — A person’s heart is the same as Heaven and Earth

Eastern philosophies always seek to understand how we are woven into the fabric of the universe. As individuals, we often feel alone in this great universe, even if we are part of a family or in a relationship. What the first code of Karate tells us is that we must first seek unity with the Self.

There will be times to rest and times to run.

It’s the same as conventional sayings such as “follow your heart” or “there is a place in my heart” for something. Once you have found your personal unity, you become the same Heaven and Earth. You are woven into the fabric of the universe and you will feel at peace.

#2 — The blood circulating is similar to the Moon and the Sun

Similar to the first code above, in Nature, there are ebbs and flows. The tides come in and the tides go out. There’s a time to sow and a time to reap. You should know that you are the same. There will be times to rest and times to run.

…there will be times for you to fight or take a stand…

Knowing that energy, relationships, and life go through this process of ebb and flow will let you ‘swim with the tide’ as opposed to fighting it. You must not fight it but succumb to it and all will be ok.

#3 — The manner of drinking and spitting is either hard or soft

The third code of Karate is similar to the second one. If you haven’t guessed it by now, most of the codes build upon one another. This code highlights the Yin-Yang relationship.

In Karate, the Yang part (masculine) is often associated with punching, kicking, and being aggressive. The Yin part (feminine) is associated with blocking, moving out of the way, or redirecting energy.

Once we become unbalanced, we fall metaphorically.

This is the same in life, there will be times for you to fight or take a stand, and other times to block and move out of the way.

#4 — A person’s unbalance is the same as a weight

This code is much deeper than what you read on its surface. Yes, there’s a lot of balancing we must do when we execute moves in Karate, but your unbalance can be much more than standing on one foot.

A person’s unbalance can be things like overeating, speaking too much, or yielding to temptation too much. Once we become unbalanced, we fall metaphorically. If we eat too much junk food (unbalance), we become fat (weight).

Wisdom and happiness are not always black and white and it’s ok to be move through the gray colors.

This code asks you to strive for balance in your life. It’s ok to eat Twinkies if you like them, just don’t do it every day! Find those things that weigh you down and adjust your balance.

#5 — The body should be able to change position at any time

In Karate we are told to move. If you make a strike or parry, then move out of the way. The same holds true in life. Similar to Code #2 and #3 above, life is going to change and you need to adjust accordingly. The same can be said for your thoughts and beliefs.

Action speaks louder than words.

If new information or life shows you something different, you must not be too rigid but keep an open mind for new possibilities. Wisdom and happiness are not always black and white and it’s ok to move through the gray colors.

#6 — The time to strike is when the opportunity presents itself

One of the best moments in Karate is when your opponent makes a mistake and you see an opening to strike. You don’t think about it, you just act. Simply put, you strike. This Code is much more than just punching, it can be applied to all facets of your life.

Take the time to look at problems from all sides…

Opportunities come around every so often and there will be times when you must seize them or they’re gone forever. Offered a new position at work that you always wanted? Say Yes! Want to tell your significant other how you really feel about them? Do it.

Action speaks louder than words.

#7 — The eyes must see all sides

Code #7 builds on several of the other Codes, especially #5. Sometimes things are not as they seem and we can be confused or mislead. Take the time to look at problems from all sides and see if it really is a problem or a lie.

There are many people in this world that speak about things that are not true…

Another conventional bit of wisdom would be ‘walk a mile in someone’s shoes.’ Let’s face it, we all have prejudices that we must overcome, and understanding them is the first step to seeing a person or a problem in its true light.

#8 — The ears must hear in all directions

The last Code is similar to #5 and #7. You must carefully listen and seek to understand the true nature of a problem before deciding. In our hyperactive world, this can be very hard to do but it’s best to listen first before speaking or doing.

…do 50 pushups, 50 crunches, and 50 squats.

Expanding your listening ability to 360 degrees can help understand what a person is saying and if they really mean what they say. There are many people in this world that speak about things that are not true but in a manner which many people believe to be true.

TL;DR

If you have just skimmed this article without reflecting on the codes, then do 50 pushups, 50 crunches, and 50 squats.

If you have read the Codes of Karate and reflected on them, do 50 pushups, 50 crunches, and 50 squats.