Archive for the ‘ life ’ Category

Living The Dream


Say what you will about it, it is incredibly prevalent in almost all of our day to day conversations. So much so that sometimes it’s hard to even distinguish whether or not someone is being sarcastic or truthful.

This happens to me a lot. I speak sarcasm like a 2nd language. It tends to roll off my tongue without me even trying to. Sometimes to the point where people don’t know if I’m being serious or not. And while I like to keep people on their toes, it’s not always a good thing.

Usually, I am being sarcastic, but when I’m not and people think I am it tends to be unfortunate. Let me give you an example.

So, I’m at the coffee shop I work at and someone comes to the counter. I greet them and ask how their day is going. “Fine,” or something to that affect is said and, if their chatty, they will usually ask me in return how my day is going. To which I usually respond with, “Living the dream.”

Now, right off the bat that might sound sarcastic. After all, most people aren’t living the kind of life they dreamed about. Most of us aren’t in the work environment we dreamed we would be in. So, when someone responds with “living the dream,” what they’re usually saying is sarcastic and means something to the affect of, “I wish I was doing something else with my life.” Maybe not that dramatic, but you get the idea.

Here’s the problem…I’m not being sarcastic when I say that!

I really am living the dream. It’s a dream I’ve had for a little while now. A dream to become a greater part of the coffee community here in Raleigh. A dream to help create a place where people can experience the sense of community I’ve experienced through coffee. To learn and grow in my knowledge of coffee and the coffee industry.

I know not many people get to say that. Not many people get to say that what they are doing or where they’re working is what they dreamed about.

Herein lies the problem. Such a big problem, might I add, that it is automatically thought of as sarcasm when you tell someone that you’re living the dream.

So, it catches people off guard when I tell them, “No, really. This is the dream. This is exactly what I what to be doing with my life right now.”

It’s unfortunate that it does.

If that’s you, if you immediately hear “Living the dream,” and think sarcasm, then I want you to hear me now…figure out what your dream is and go do it. Forget about the obstacles. Forget about the ‘what if’s’, forget about what other people say and pursue that dream.

You only get one life. One chance to live out your dreams. Why waste anymore time not doing what you dreamed about?

And, by the way, you may fail. As a matter of fact, there’s probably a good chance you will. But, that’s no excuse for not trying.


Hi, my name is A.J. and I’m a cynic.

I don’t remember when it started. I don’t remember making a conscience decision to be this way. It’s not like when I was a kid I said, “You know what? Instead of seeing the best in most people, I’m just going to assume you’re wrong or have some ulterior motive.” No way man.

A cynic is defined as “a person who believes that only selfishness motivates human actions and who disbelieves in or minimizes selfless acts or disinterested points of view.”

What a crappy way to go through life, right?

Maybe you’re a little cynical at times too. Don’t we all want to be people who believe that people are capable of selfless acts? That what motivates the good deeds others do is not selfishness, but compassion and goodness. Why don’t we?

Maybe we’ve been burned before? Maybe we’ve had a bad experience that’s tainted our outlook on the rest of the world?

I don’t know about you, but I don’t like it. I don’t enjoy always assuming there is some other story. I don’t enjoy trying to figure out what’s not being said or what someone is really saying. I don’t enjoy believing that no matter what someone is doing that their real goal is selfish. I don’t like it and I imagine you don’t either.

So, how do we stop? How do we start to fight the urges of cynicism?

I think we can start by looking at what the opposite of cynicism is. The opposite of a cynic is a believer. Someone who trusts. Someone who has faith in others.

How do we stop the cynicism? We have to fight the temptation and the mental battle to distrust, to disbelieve and to not have faith in people. Because it really is a mental battle. It’s you fighting against yourself. When we choose to have faith in humanity we are waging war against cynicism.

Now, that doesn’t mean we start blindly accepting everything at face value and never search for the truth or remain cautious when something feels out of place. It does mean that we will have to start giving people the benefit of the doubt.

There is too much good in the world and in our hearts for us to see the worst in people.

I haven’t got this figured out, but I’m trying. Cynical, is no way to go through life. That much I know for sure.

Join me in fighting against cynicism and believing in people again.

May hope be with you.

On Death…


It’s a depressing statistic when you think about it. It doesn’t matter what you do, how hard you work, who you are, what your socio-economic status is…you are just like everyone else. You are part of the 100%. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

100% of humans will die at some point. There’s no way around. No one is getting out of this life alive.

Sorry to be so depressing, but it’s a reality we all need to be more aware of.

In 1722 Jonathan Edwards, an early American Theologian, wrote set of personal resolutions. #9 on that list was this:  “To think much, on all occasions, of my dying, and of the common circumstances which attend death.”

I know it’s morbid, but I’m sure that it gave him perspective.

This past weekend my wife lost a close friend she’d known since elementary school. It was a tough loss for her and for his family. But it wasn’t completely unexpected. You see, he had Cystic Fibrosis. So, for a long time they knew that his life expectancy was going to be much shorter than most. And as tough as this was for him and for everyone who knew him and loved him, I sensed at the funeral that this knowledge helped him live a life worth remembering.


(These are the balloons we released in honor of every year of his life.)

The funeral truly was a celebration of a life. Friends and family shared story after story about the pure goodness that was found in knowing him. His life was a blessing to others and everyone who knew him is better off because of him.

Living with the knowledge that your life will come to an end encourages you to live a life worth remembering. What kind of legacy will you leave? What will people say at your funeral?

While there were many tears shed at the funeral this week, I can assure you that everyone’s heart was filled with joy.

At the risk of being too morbid I encourage you to think much of your death. Not the way in which you will die, but the type of life you will live up until that moment.

I Put Sugar in my Coffee Today

I know…I know, but before you start to cast stones hear me out.

This past weekend I had the cool opportunity to do coffee samples for a friend of mine at an independent grocery store. It was a lot of fun. I made pour overs, gave out free coffee, used a Chemex and basically got to talk coffee with a bunch of people. My favorite part was letting people try great coffee. That always makes me happy.

However…there was something that I noticed. Even though we had sugar and cream on the table where we were giving out samples, there were quite a few people who refused the free sample by saying, “no thanks, I don’t like black coffee.”

There seemed to be this automatic assumption that if they weren’t a black coffee drinker then they weren’t welcome.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I usually drink my coffee black, but that’s because I drink good coffee. I spend the time and the extra couple of bucks to make sure my coffee is fresh and tastes great, but not everyone does that. I think the more really good, fresh coffee you start to drink the less you’ll use cream and sugar, but there shouldn’t be this stigma against drinking coffee with cream and sugar.

While I may be a purist and enjoy coffee black that doesn’t mean everyone else should have to.

Like I told the people who I was giving samples to, life’s too short to drink what you don’t enjoy.


So, yes…I put sugar in my coffee today (mostly because I tried to blend some old beans I had laying around and it didn’t turn out great so the sugar helped mask the taste), but it’s nothing to be ashamed of. If you’re a coffee drinker who has to put cream or sugar in your coffee to enjoy it don’t be ashamed.

I would suggest trying better coffee and maybe giving good, freshly roasted coffee a sip before you add what you have to, but life’s too short to drink what you don’t enjoy.


It’s the little things.

Yesterday I had the cool opportunity to do some coffee roasting with a friend of mine. It’s a really cool process to see coffee go from the green bean to the delicious light to dark brown color. Hearing the bean crack like popcorn is a really cool sound and is a great reminder of how through heat and fire are brought beautiful things.

I’ve had some great coffee in my day, but I’ve also had some really bad coffee and while there are a lot of different factors that go into making a cup of coffee enjoyable I’m always amazed at how little, subtle changes go into making such a big difference.

A few months ago I had a cup of coffee that tasted like burnt marshmallows. And while I love smores, I was pretty sure this wasn’t the flavor that the roaster was going for. Come to find out that the coffee was indeed over roasted and almost burnt. I figured that while the coffee was roasting he had walked away or started working on something else and let it roast for far too long on accident. I asked this roaster how long he let the beans roast over the ideal time and he responded with “15 seconds.”

15 seconds! Can you imagine only having 15 seconds to get something right? There are times where I just stare off into nothingness for more than 15 seconds!

While my friend and I were roasting yesterday we had some time to kill. After all, part of roasting coffee is just waiting for the roaster to be done. So, we figured, why not pull some espresso shots? So it began. The first shot turned out ok. The water went too quick through the grounds so it was a little watery. So we tried adjusting the grind. We made it a little finer so it would hold the water better. Apparently, we went too fine because it took about 20 seconds before the water even started to drip through. On our third try we made the grind a little coarser to cut the difference, but it still didn’t turn out right. After a couple more tries and checking to see if there was enough water in the espresso machine (there was) and some really shaky hands we stopped pulling shots and got back to roasting.


I did notice something during our experiments though. Even though we were using the same coffee, the same water and the same methods, each shot had a different, distinct flavor. The very little changes we made to the grind size of each shot pulled out different flavors and characteristics of the coffee.

The same goes with the 15 second over roasted coffee I drank. I don’t know about you, but I would call letting something cook for 15 seconds too long is a very little thing.

The same goes for life, doesn’t it? It’s the little things that make a difference.

Sometimes we think that we have to make these huge adjustments to our lives or these really big life changes in order for us to achieve what we want or be where we want to be. The fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the time if we will make better little decisions the overall trajectory of our lives will be altered in the direction in which we want to go.

Focusing on the little, day to day decisions in life is also good training for when we have the opportunity to make a big change and big decisions. Think about it. If you continually make small decisions that go against the goals you have or go against the direction you want to be headed, what kind of decision do you think you’ll make when you’re presented with a much larger opportunity. You’re going to choose in the same manner in which you’ve already been choosing.

I’m reminded of a great quote from the movie For Love of the Game: “A lot of little bottles make a big bottle.”

Your seemingly small and insignificant decisions carry with them more weight than you probably know. Give them more attention. Because when it comes time to make the big decisions you’ll already know what to do because you’ve been working towards the direction you want go each and every day.

Get Away (find your mountain top)

Sometimes you’ve just got to get away. Sometimes you’ve just got to take some time to be alone. To do some self-reflection. To ask the hard questions of yourself and answer those questions truthfully. And it doesn’t have to take a long time to do it.

For me it took about 45 seconds of staring at this to have that moment:


(please click on that picture to make it bigger and see how pretty it is)

We went skiing this past weekend and we couldn’t have picked a better couple of days for it. It snowed the whole time we skied Sunday night, and looked like this the next morning. Just perfect.

This picture came from a moment where I had a chance to head to the top of the mountain by myself for a few runs. I rode that lift on the left side of the picture to the top as I have since I was a kid and was caught up in the beauty of what surrounded me.

Skiing has always been an escape for me. Whether it’s been racing through slalom and GS gates as fast as I can, shredding up the snow with a bunch of friends, crashing hard on a jump I tried while trying to impress someone, or just making those long slow carves that makes the S shape on the snow. Some of the most peaceful moments I’ve ever had in my life were in this exact spot. On top of Beech Mountain right after they opened the lifts with hardly anyone else on the slopes. Just me, the snow and God’s creation.

I wouldn’t say I’m the most environmentally focused person ever to exist…I honestly enjoy the city more than the mountains, but there is just something about looking over this view that helps me refocus and think clearly.

We all have a spot like this. A certain bench in a park. A section of a bike ride. A view of a cityscape. A specific seat at a coffee shop. A trail through a national park. Whatever it is there are times where we just need to get away. To focus.

Maybe you haven’t found your spot. Maybe you haven’t had a moment like this in a long time. Maybe life has just gotten too busy for you to actually find time to stop. To slow down. To evaluate if the things you’re doing are actually what you want to be doing.

I would encourage you to find your spot. Maybe it takes a day trip. Go. Schedule it. Make time for it. If you can’t then cancel something so that you can. You probably didn’t need to do it anyway.

If you don’t take time to refocus and to get away you’ll never be able to catch up.

You’ll run out of gas.

On the drive home from this trip I kept the car in cruise control as much as I could. It just makes the trip easier. One of the things I’ve noticed about cruise control is that it takes into account the ups and downs of the road. When you start going uphill and the car starts to slow down it gives the car a little punch to make up for the lost speed. When you’re going downhill and gravity kicks in and the car starts moving faster it’ll slow the car down a bit so you will keep going the speed you selected.

We have to do that for our lives as well. Life keeps trying to throw us downhill and increase the speed of everything around us. If we don’t apply the brakes to our lives we’ll end up going faster than we want to and when you go faster than you’re supposed to that’s when you get in trouble.

Slow down. Get away. Be intentional and take the time you need to apply the brakes to your life so you can actually enjoy the ride.

Find your mountain top.

Something Shiny!!!

I love my younger brother, Tony. He’s the baby of the family so my sister and I pick on him a lot, but it’s only because we really love him. If I had to choose a phrase to describe my brother it would probably be, “something shiny.”

You see, Tony has ADD, and probably ADHD ;), and while that’s nothing to joke about because it can be serious and a real struggle for people, it’s been pretty hilarious at times watching Tony trying to focus. He literally gets distracted by shiny things…and it makes me smile. (I asked him if I could share this by the way.)

But then I got to thinking. Tony and I aren’t that different when it comes to attention spans. We both get distracted by shiny things. While he may get distracted by actual shiny things, I get easily distracted by shiny, new opportunities.

Have you ever had those “something shiny” moments? Those moments where you’re really focused on something, you’re really into a conversation or something and then all of a sudden, out of the corner of your eye (or your brain) you see something shiny? It becomes almost impossible to continue focusing on what you were so into and it takes every muscle in your retina to keep you from turning your attention to whatever that shiny thing is. Maybe it’s just me, but I have those moments a lot.

I’m an entrepreneur at heart. I love new things. I love starting things and I get really excited, really quickly about change and new, shiny ideas and plans. It’s really a struggle for me to finish things. I’m really good at getting things off the ground and getting other people excited about them, but when said thing has started I seem to lose interest pretty quickly and that’s when I start seeing shiny objects.

Those shiny things can come in many forms, but I have a hard time saying no to them. Because I love doing new things and I love starting things, I want to do as many things as possible. This has gotten to the point where I will say yes to things and events where I have already said yes to other things. Then I over book myself and I have to look like an idiot and go back to someone and say sorry and that I made a mistake because I got excited and didn’t actually plan.

I had a really cool opportunity tonight to join in on my first Downtown Living Advocates meeting as a core group member. The DLA’s mission is to be an organized voice for Downtown residents and I’m really excited to be asked to represent my neighborhood. During the meeting tonight they talked about a lot of initiatives going on and coming up for the downtown area and I literally wanted to volunteer for every single one of them. I showed restraint, but it wasn’t easy.

There’s a good chance I’ll probably end up being a part of at least one of those initiatives, but if I don’t allow myself to plan well, then I won’t be able to accomplish any of the things I want to do.

Not sure if there’s a point to this post other than a challenge for myself and maybe a warning for you. If you’re like me, every time you see “something shiny” you want to jump at it, help it get started, take it over and run with it…but it’s usually at the expense of something you’ve already invested in. Something you’ve already given time to. Something you’ve already committed to.

Getting involved in new things and getting excited about change is great…I love it. But, when we do that at the expense of the things we’re already committed to, then we not only do a disservice to the things and people we committed to, we also do a great disservice to our credibility.

A very wise person once said, “let your yes be yes and your no be no.” (Jesus) There’s also this great verse in the book of Proverbs that says “The plans of the diligent lead surely to abundance, but everyone who is hasty comes only to want.”

Let’s finish what we’ve started so we can chase after those shiny things that we get so excited about.


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