Defying The Odds

What are the odds that you should be alive right now reading this article and my website? We don’t normally think about the likelihood of our existence on this planet but I believe that it’s something to ponder and be thankful for. We tend to not think about the odds behind being alive and breathing but it is quite fascinating if you do a little bit of research. According to Business Insider, the probability of you or any other human being existing comes out to 1 in 10^2,685,000.

That’s a huge number and leaves us with the very low probability of you actually existing at all. The odds of any of us actually believe according to this calculation is quite slim. In order for all of these events to align, your parents have to have met each other, fallen in love over a period of time, etc. for you to have been born as you are. When you consider the odds, the process of creating life is truly a miracle and is a reminder that we all have defied the odds at the first moments of our life.

When we consider the unlikely event of our births, it’s something that we should remember and take pride in. There are no greater odds against us than being able to experience existence as human brings after birth. If you are able to take into account how lucky and fortunate it is to be alive, then perhaps you’ll be able to defy the odds when it comes to how you live your life and meet the challenges that are in your way. No odds are greater than the probability of existence so when you keep that in mind, other goals that you have should not seem so insurmountable.

What must you do in order to defy the odds? Well, the first thing that you must understand is that you are going to have to put the work in. That is truly an undeniable fact of life is that the odds will be stacked against you when you’re first starting out but the only way to lessen those odds effectively is to put the time and effort in in order to have your best chance of success. If you do nothing at all and expect everything to instead be done for you, you’re not going to defy the odds and won’t be able to reach your goals.

When you’re working hard at a goal or an objective, there are always going to be the naysayers. If they are not somebody who has your full trust and confidence, it’s honestly better to ignore them than to take their critiques of you seriously. They know the odds are stacked against you and are rooting for you to fail. There is a clear difference between those people who give you sound advice to help you defy the odds and those other folks who would rather see you fail just for no other reason than they take pleasure from that happening.

If they are not giving you good advice or are helping you reach your goals despite the odds, then you need to cut those people out of your life. It’s okay to have critics when you are trying to do something big with your life especially when you’re trying to do something new but it’s not okay when they are actively trying to undermine you and prevent you from trying at all. Whether it’s trying out for the basketball team, starting your own business, or pursuing your PhD, you’re going to have some people out there doubting you and your abilities. Those people are not worth your time and energy. You need to invest your time instead on those people out there willing to support you in your goals despite how insurmountable and challenging they may be.

If you think the odds are stacked high against you, it’s best to chip away at them little by little. If it’s a long-term project or goal, you can make progress to keep you going over time and make you feel better about what you’re doing. If you know that you are getting better or improving in some way, then you are on the right track.

To give you all some perspective, let’s take a look at three people who had the odds stacked against them in life but still were able to have major success in their pursuits. These three people are Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Edison, and J.K. Rowling.

Abraham Lincoln was the 16th President of the United States and helped to save the union from splitting into two thanks to his leadership during the Civil War. He is considered to be one of the greatest presidents in American history along with George Washington. Assassinated while in office, Lincoln is immortalized in U.S. society as a brave man who was guided by a steady moral compass in his commitment to freeing the slaves.

What most admirers of President Lincoln forget is that his path to the Presidency was set back many times with failures and shortcomings. Unlike other American presidents including our current one, President Lincoln was not born into wealth or privilege. He was born into poverty and had to work from a young age to support his family especially after the death of his mother when he was only nine years old. Although he was not able to have consistent access to formal schooling, young Abraham was an avid reader who considered himself to be a lifelong learner.

This love of learning helped him to pursue his profession as a lawyer and later as a politician. The road to becoming President of the United States was not an easy one for Lincoln as he lost eight different elections before winning the highest office in the land. As if that weren’t enough, he twice failed in starting businesses and also battled severe depression even during his presidency. Him and his wife, Mary Todd Lincoln, also lost two children that would have broke anyone but President Lincoln never gave up on his goals and his vision for the United States as a truly free nation. Even when the odds were stacked against him, he knew never to give in to failure totally and to throw in the towel. He kept fighting to succeed and that drive and determination is why we remember him as being one of America’s greatest presidents.

Thomas Edison is known as America’s greatest inventor. We often take the light bulb as an invention for granted since it is so ubiquitous today as part of our daily lives. However, if you can imagine it, the light bulb was only patented in 1879, which is a little more than one hundred and twenty five years ago today. What would have happened had the light bulb never been invented? Would we be able to power our modern, technological society without being able to harness electricity without this invention so easily? While there is much debate about who actually invented the light bulb, Edison is acclaimed as the one who patented it along with a 1,000 other U.S. patents to his name. In addition to the light bulb, he is also credited with developing the phonograph, the motion picture camera, and the stock ticker.

Despite the massive amount of success Edison eventually achieved, it took a whole lot of failure in order for him to be world-renowned. As an inventor, Edison had to work extremely hard to get his inventions to actually work. The most famous example of him defying the odds is when it took him over one thousand recorded attempts to get the invention of the light bulb to actually work. When a local reporter asked him, “How did it fail to fail 1,000 times?” Edison said, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”

As you can see from the quote above, Edison injected a little bit of humor and self-deprecation into his failures. When you’re striving to defy the odds, you have to make sure that the failures you’ve had don’t stick with you and that you are able to rise above them. If Edison gave up after try #500 and chose to quit, I would not be referencing his powerful story today. He had the tenacity and drive not to give up and chase his dream of being a successful and innovative inventor.

Most importantly, Edison believed in himself and what he was doing. A teacher of Thomas Edison once remarked that, “he was too stupid to learn anything.” Edison was also fired from his first two jobs as an adult when his bosses thought he was “not productive.” Thomas Edison knew his self-worth and did not let others opinions of him stand in his way. He worked hard at his inventions, did not let his failures stop him, and became an American success story. He is a perfect example of literally defying the odds.

Before millions of fans would stand in line for hours to read her latest book or to go to midnight showings with their friends dressed as wizards and witches, famed J.K. Rowling was a struggling author trying to sell the first Harry Potter book to different publishers. She was a single mother living on welfare in the mid 1990s and was only able to sell the first book in the Harry Potter series for only $4,000. Now, over two decades later, she is one of the wealthiest women in the world and is a living example of the ‘rags to riches’ story. The Harry Potter series has installed a love of reading for my entire generation.

I have my own fond memories of going to the midnight book releases and racing home to read the latest book in the series throughout the night when I got my hands on a copy. More than just her writing, she inspires people both young and old with her standing up for those who have less in life and advocating for the fair and equal treatment of all people. J.K. Rowling didn’t let the success of her book series get to her head but has used her wealth and resources to donate to the causes of anti-poverty and improving children’s welfare.

While there is much debate over her views of politics and religion, the Harry Potter series is not only the biggest selling book and film series of all time but also a needed reminder of how we should treat other people with decency and respect despite their similarities and differences to us. Her actions in her writing and in her philanthropic work show us the importance of observing and following the ‘golden rule.’ Treat other people the way you would like to be treated. Hopefully, we all choose to remember that due to her example.

What do these three men and women have in common? They never gave up and they never gave in. Even when the stakes were raised against them, they were able to turn things around to become great successes in their pursuits. Although they were born in different eras and had different callings in life, they shared the common trait of fighting onward even when the odds were against them. That is why I am imploring you if you are reading this to keep going and keep fighting.

You have to defy the odds even when they look slim. Sometimes as shown above in the stories of these storied people, the greatest successes can come when all hope seems lost. You’re going to have to work harder than ever, you will have to put up with obstacles and barriers thrown in your way by life, and you will hear comments from the critics and naysayers but you must keep doing your best. To bring a pop culture reference into this weighty yet meaningful article, you must remember the words of the Jedi Master Yoda from the Star Wars series, “Do or do not, there is no try.” Good luck to you if you’re reading these words and I wish you much success in your endeavors.

Sources

1.) http://www.businessinsider.com/infographic-the-odds-of-being-alive-2012-6

2.) http://www.abrahamlincolnonline.org/lincoln/education/failures.htm

3.) https://www.uky.edu/~eushe2/Pajares/OnFailingG.html

4.) https://lifebeyondnumbers.com/people-defied-odds-find-success/

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‘Sideways’ – Film Review and Analysis

notdrinkingmerlot
“Miles is not drinking any Merlot!”

Sideways (2004) is an excellent film about the topsy-turvy nature of middle-age life and how to cope with the curveballs that life throws at us to challenge us. Critically acclaimed at the time and nominated for many awards, Sideways, directed by Alexander Payne is a good tale about male friendship, how to deal with mid-life problems, and finding love and purpose during difficult times.

The very title of the film ‘Sideways’ is symbolic of the best way in which wine bottles should be preserved by being laid on its’ side in order to age properly. Also, men and women who are going through their mid-life ‘sideways’ must embrace the challenges that lie ahead and the changes that come to them with this part of life in order to grow and mature as a person.

The basic premise of the film ‘Sideways’ involves two middle-aged men who are close friends, Miles Raymond (played by Paul Giamatti) and Jack Cole (starring Thomas Haden Church) that decide to take a week long Bachelor’s trip up to the wine country of Napa Valley in California to celebrate Jack’s upcoming wedding and the end of his singledom. Both of these men are in their forties and have a sinking feeling that the best of life is behind them.

Miles is in a depressive state due to the fact that he feels like a failed writer due to the uncertain future success of his yet-to-be published book. While he has a steady job as a high school English teacher, he feels unfulfilled by his life and wants to achieve greater success as a novelist but has yet to break through. On top of that, he has gone through a recent divorce that he has yet to recover from fully and is newly single.

Luckily or unluckily for Miles, he has a friend, Jack, who is hoping to have a good time for his last few days as a single man. Jack Cole, Miles’ friend is an actor who may be past his prime. While he used to be a TV soap opera star years ago, now, he is mostly relegated to doing voiceovers for silly commercials and seems to be getting tired of the acting business. Jack loves his fiancé but has the problem of not being able to control him when it comes to women.

Unlike Miles, Jack is not a big wine connoisseur and is more into playing golf and hooking up with a local woman before he takes those fateful steps down the aisle. Jack is hoping to not screw up his marriage but he obviously misses the single life while his friend, Miles dreads being single again. Jack may love his fiancée but he is also hoping to get involved with the real estate business that his soon-to-be father-in-law is running in Los Angeles, which Jack wants to be apart of in order to get away from acting once and for all.

Beyond just writing novels and teaching his students, Miles’s true passion in life is wine, which is why he proposes Jack that they go to Napa Valley to drink some great wine, play some golf, and eat some good food together. While Jack enjoys all of those activities, he has other plans in mind for his last days as a single guy leading to hilarious and disturbing results for the both of them. Before Jack wants to get married, he wants one last fling as a ‘single’ guy before he becomes the husband to his wife. In the meantime, Miles encounters a woman he never expected to meet.

Maya, (played by Virginia Madsen), is a kind and intelligent waitress at a local restaurant in Napa Valley known as ‘The Hitching Post II.’ She is someone who Miles has encountered before during his previous solo trips to Napa Valley. While they were friendly to each other, it’s only on this Bachelor’s trip to the wine country where Miles with the help of Jack’s support gets to know Maya better. Maya and Miles really hit it off with each other especially over their shared love of good wine and they start to develop a relationship.

Luckily for Jack, Maya knows a local wine keeper, Stephanie, (played by Sharon Oh), who has a lot of the characteristics that Jack likes in a woman. The two men end up dating and hooking up with both women but with unforeseen and negative consequences. Jack’s adulterous philandering almost catches up with him and causes Miles a lot of unneeded stress. Miles also suffers during this trip from the lack of hope for his novel in finding a publisher to sell and advertise it.

He also struggles to give up on his ex-wife, Vicki, who he did cheat on leading to their divorce and breakup. The almost breaking point for Miles comes when he finds out that his ex-wife, Vicki, got re-married and has a newborn daughter causing him to regret his divorce from her. While his wife has moved on from him, he still struggles with the fact that his book is going nowhere, he is single in his 40’s, and has no legacy or children at the moment.

Despite all of mid-life struggles that both Miles and Jack go through during the film, they remain loyal and true friends despite the pain and suffering they cause each other. Miles and Jack are almost complete opposites of each other in terms of their personality and character. Miles is serious yet forlorn and an intelligent, well-spoken man while Jack is a cocky womanizer who never really grew out of his teenage years.

However, despite their differences from each other, they do help lift each other out from their problems. Jack gives Miles encouragement to keep working on his novel and to self-publish it if he has to. He wants Miles to succeed at starting a relationship with Maya and really gets him to start going out with her. Miles saves Jack from himself multiple times throughout the film and even though Jack’s integrity is compromised, Miles is there to clean up the damage and makes sure that his friend follows through on his marriage commitment to his fiancée, Stephanie.

Every character in this film is flawed in some way and even though each of them, both men and women, are in their forties, they still have some growing up to do and don’t have everything figured out when it comes to life. Each of these characters has their own personal demons with Miles having depression and a lack of success in his passion and Jack being an adulterer and a compulsive liar.

While they are not perfect men and the women they are involved with make that clear to them, they are still good guys at heart and want to do the right thing. Life has thrown them ‘Sideways’ and they are trying to keep up with all of the curveballs that they must dodge and move forward against. It is really no surprise to me that similar to ‘Lost In Translation’, this film has become a cult classic that can warrant multiple viewings.

While it may not be your typical feel good movie, it’s a ‘real’ film about ‘real’ people who are trying to succeed both personally and professionally against the odds. If you decide to watch ‘Sideways’ for the first time, you’re going to be rooting for each of these characters to find happiness. They are endearing to us as the audience because they make mistakes and have setbacks just like those of us watching the film. In addition to the brilliant acting especially by Virginia Madsen, Paul Giamatti, and Thomas Haden Church, the adapted screenplay is brilliantly written and thought out.

Even though most viewers would consider it a dark, morose film, it also has a lot of comedy in it and some great lines about wine. There are a lot of moments in ‘Sideways’ that will make you sad, happy, angry, and even make you relate to the characters themselves. A great film overall directed by Alexander Payne, Sideways was released way back in 2004 but still remains a popular and heart-warming film that will leave you satisfied. I highly recommend checking ‘Sideways’ out when you get the chance and to remember after watching the whole film to never order a tall glass of Merlot again.

How You Think Affects Everything You Get

1. Your mind is a fertile garden patch. Failure to cultivate it allows weeds to run rampant. 

As the popular saying goes, “Your mind is a terrible thing to waste.” In order to get the most out of your brain, you need to put your mental and intellectual capabilities to the test every single day. Whether it is reading the newspaper, doing a crossword puzzle, or solving a Rubix cube, you must exercise your mind as you do so for your body. If you don’t do anything to stimulate your learning capabilities, it’s likely that you will be left behind in life to some degree. Especially in this day and age where there is an unlimited amount of information to be accessed by the average person, there is simply no excuse as to why someone can’t cultivate their mind to improve themselves and become smarter.

You don’t even need to spend your whole day learning because it’s likely that you’re already a busy person. However, it only takes an hour or two a day of active learning in order to get ahead in life and improve a little bit. For example, you could spend that hour or two each day learning a musical instrument, studying a foreign language, or reading a chapter or two from a new book. The possibilities are seemingly endless but you need to take the initiative in order to make it happen. As an adult, nobody is going to hold your hand and force you to learn new things.

This isn’t like it was in school growing up where you had set periods of learning and a teacher there who could guide you to improve and become more knowledgeable. After high school or even college, you need to take initiative when it comes to learning and empowering your mind to become more open, agile, and responsive for the increased amount of knowledge that you want to retain. You can hold the weeds at bay if you’re willing to plant some flowers there instead.

2. Thoughts lead to feelings, and feelings lead to actions and actions lead to results. If         you don’t like the results you’re getting, reexamine your thinking.

You may not be able to control the thoughts or the feelings that enter your head but you need to control how you act and react to them. There is a direct correlation between your thoughts and feelings and your actions that come later. It’s important to think about why you are experiencing these particular thoughts and feelings, and if they are constructive or not to be having in your mind. You need to make sure that the actions that you are willing to undertake as a result of your feelings are done for the right reasons and are not just based off of poor impulses.

Part of being a mature adult is realizing that you have control over your actions and you should weed out the thoughts, emotions that are completely negative in nature and won’t get you very far in your goals and in your results. The effort that you put forth in your actions is a direct result of the effort you put into your thoughts. For example, if you feel confident about the subject material for a biology exam and are thinking about the topics you need to study and master, then you will be more likely to turn those positive thoughts into real actions as you crack open the books to study for this exam and then take the exam the next day with good feelings of confidence from putting efforts behind your original thoughts.

However, if you choose to focus on the negative aspects of your thoughts and emotions, it will likely cause a downward spiral, leading you to make mistakes and achieve less than desired results. With positive thoughts and emotions come the positive efforts of hard work that will often lead to good results. You really need to believe in yourself internally before you can have external success in the world and that all begins with your thought process and how you feel about yourself as a person.

3. Don’t deceive yourself. Confront reality, as it exists, even when the facts are brutal! Once you do, and then take action based on that reality.

Reality can be difficult to cope with but it is absolutely necessary to be able to handle even when the facts are not in your favor. In anything in life, you need to have a sound understanding of the facts and figures before you can start taking action regarding the subject you’re researching.

It is very easy these days to wrap yourself up in falsehoods and misleading information, which is why it’s more important than ever to seek out the reality of things in order to not confuse or distort your understanding of it all. The facts that may make you depressed, angry, or disturbed but the facts are the facts and they won’t be handed to you automatically. Any good student or researcher will know that you have to check and verify the facts on any subject before moving forward with taking any serious actions.

For example, when it comes to the issue of climate change and global warning, the facts matter a lot which is why so many scientists spend years in their field compiling data, doing research, testing out hypotheses, etc. before they decide to take substantive action to reverse this problem or lessen its’ effects. There are a lot of people out there who wish to distort the truth or dismiss it entirely but when you do not have a consensus on an important global issue like climate change, the problem will get worse and not better especially if no action is taken.

Reality must always be confronted even if there are some harsh truths that we as human beings must deal with. Part of being a mature, responsible adult is seeking out the facts in a situation and getting to the truth of the matter regardless if you like what the outcome is or not. Once you have the facts, you’ll be clear to take action and to do the right thing in your mind.

4. Worrying about things you can’t control creates a negative feedback loop that will cause you unneeded stress and anxiety.

Worrying is useless when you think about it. It doesn’t do anyone let alone yourself any good to think about the things that may happen in the future but also may not happen otherwise. You can only really know what’s going to happen exactly for today or maybe for tomorrow but beyond that you can never really be sure about what is going to happen to you.

Worrying can really be a mental block that can prevent you from making progress in your daily goals or from being successful in whatever you set your mind or your body to. By worrying all of the time, you’re not going to be able to do anything useful with your life if you’re worried about something bad is going to happen. By doing that, you’ll create a negative spiral of negative thoughts that you may not be able to get out of so easily.

When you decide to worry about something out of your control, stop yourself right there, take a deep breath, and push those negative thoughts out of your head. Instead, you must think positively and act positively in order to create the change you need and to become a better person in different areas of life. Worrying will get you nowhere and will create an endless loop of negatively. You have to be willing to take some chances, face some risks, and do your best effort in order to get to where you need to be. Worrying is a wasteful endeavor when you could focus your mental energies in a way that is more positive and productive overall.

5. Harnessing your thoughts to drive tangible, positive outcomes – It’s not enough to stare up the steps, you have to step up the stairs.

Thoughts must become actions in order to make things happen. You can think as much as you want about what you’re going to do, but unless you put actions to words, you won’t be able to get anywhere. There’s an important saying when it comes to this subject, which is, “Watch what people do, not what they say.” There’s also another saying such as, “Actions speak louder than words do.”

If people aren’t willing to follow through with their actions, you can be sure that they won’t be able to advance or progress that much with their goals, dreams, or aspirations. The difference between someone who’s a big talker and someone who actually walks the walk is quite stark. Success and progress doesn’t just come out of thin air. You need to be the person who is willing to take action after forming a plan of how to make the outcome positive or successful. This applies to a number of things in life that we often strive to achieve.

Whether it’s being the first person in your family to graduate from college, or working extra hours for that raise, or going back to night school to get the skills you need to apply for that job, positive outcomes must come from actual efforts and hard work. Good things come to people who put actions behind their thoughts. Anybody can talk a good game but the ones who really stand out in life are the ones who go the extra mile to achieve their goals with planning, taking action, and doing their best.

View From The Top

Tired and thirsty, my friend and I had finally reached the glorious peak at ‘La Piedra’ or ‘El Peñol del Piedra’, which loosely translates in English to ‘The Stone.’ It was quite a physically taxing climb up to the top of the rock as my legs burned and my feet became sore as my friend and I ascended the 750 steps along with some steep hiking up a good-sized hill to get to the base of the ‘La Piedra’ rock.

I came to Guatepe partly after hearing from friends in Medellin on how beautiful and unique it was and after seeing various pictures of the stunning landscapes that make up this tranquil part of Antioquia. I was skeptical of the place and didn’t think that it would live up to the hype but I am happy to say that I was completely wrong. Out of all the places I’ve visited and the landscapes I’ve traversed, Guatepe is a really special place to visit. The area is made up of dozens of intertwining, clear blue lakes surrounded by the greenest forestry you could imagine with soil rich in different colors. My friend compared it to the southern United States and thought that it was similar to the state of North Carolina. To me, that’s part of the beauty of Colombia in that there are so many varied landscapes. You could sometimes wonder whether or not you’re in a different country entirely depending on if you’re in Atlantico or in Antioquia.

The landscapes were beautiful, the air was clean, the people were friendly, and the view from the top of ‘La Piedra’ was unbeatable. A 360-degree vista of all of the lakes, hills, and greenery that make up Guatepe was quite breathtaking and peaceful to behold. It helped that my friend and I had great weather to enjoy where the skies were clear blue and the bright sun was shining down on us.

It was really pleasant to take pictures, to soak up the view, and to have a cold drink after the long journey to the top. I consider myself to be in pretty good shape but walking up the steep 750 steps is not for everyone and it really is quite the challenge. While it’s not insurmountable, your feet and legs feel the pain and you wonder when the full view is going to come into play. At ‘La Piedra’, they really make the tourists and the visitors to the rock work for it. There are no escalators or elevators. You have to pay for admission and if you don’t make it to the top, you don’t get your money back. Like a lot of things in life, you have to invest yourself physically and mentally in order to reap the benefits.

Similar to many other moments in life, I reflected on those 750 steps of ‘La Piedra’ as being a necessary yet temporary struggle to reach the top and enjoy the view. For me, it wouldn’t have been as worthwhile at all to check out ‘La Piedra’ if there were an escalator or an elevator to shortcut the journey. I believe that I enjoyed the view from the top of ‘La Piedra’ much more given the fact that I was tired, hungry, and in need of a rest. The struggle was tough enough for me that as a result, the ultimate reward became more fulfilling. If the climb up had been much easier, it simply would have been less rewarding. Because the views from this rock were magnificent, I was willing to climb the 750 steps to get to the top. Sometimes in life, the struggle is worth the reward.

Whether it’s traveling to a new country, starting a new job, moving to a new place, or working on a blog, there’s going to be some struggles and setbacks involved. Sometimes, you’re going to have to decide whether the sacrifices you make and the challenges you have to overcome are enough to justify the rewards. Nothing in life is as easy as it seems and if it appears that way, you may be let down when the reward or success you’ve seen from it doesn’t feel as good as a result. It’s important to realize that working hard and trying new things can lead to failure but it can also lead to a success that’s more whole and fulfilling.

Putting blood, sweat, and tears, into a project, a job, or a relationship takes a lot of work but you can rest easy knowing that it was your labor, which brought it into fruition. If everything in life is simply handed to you, you may feel happy and experience pleasure from it in the short-term but it’s likely to make you miserable in the long-term. Being able to exert yourself in the world physically or mentally can give you a much more lasting feeling of success and contentment. While I would have been happy with the ‘view from the top’ had there been an elevator for tourists like me to go to the top, I felt much more relieved and excited from the view after step #750 because it was the sweat and the toil to get up there physically that filled me with contentedness and satisfaction.

Before I left Guatepe, I wanted to see more of the area so I rented a kayak in the morning and set out by myself. I untied the canoe, got ahold of the equipment and the oars, and pushed the kayak out into the open waters. The day before, I had viewed Guatepe from the top but now I was back on level ground exerting myself physically stroke by stroke on a two-seater kayak in order to enjoy the scenery, and the peaceful quiet of a Sunday morning.

For anybody who’s done kayaking by themselves before should know, it’s a struggle at first to steer the kayak and to move in sync with the tide. Like the day before, I was challenging myself physically and thus, I felt more rewarded when I was able to glide by the birds chirping, the local residents fishing, and taking in the sheer greenery of Guatepe. I have to say it was a good way to end my weekend trip to that part of Antioquia, which is a truly beautiful and well-preserved area of Colombia.

I hope to get across to my readers that it’s very likely in life that you’ll get the most satisfaction from those challenges you endured and personally overcome. Whether it’s that huge rock in Guatepe you climbed or that successful business you started on your own time and with your own money, these efforts will create sustainable happiness and noticeable self-confidence. It’s not easy to get to the top and that’s why you have to work hard and exert yourself in order to enjoy the view.

 

Return to Colombia

bilingueprogram
“Yes, there are quite a lot of us in our group of teaching fellows for Colombia Bilingue. Pretty cool.”

After my first experience of living and working in Colombia was cut short rather unceremoniously, I decided not to give up on volunteering here as an English teacher and worked hard over the past three and a half months to return to this beautiful and lively country. After going through visa, medical, flights, and other forms of tedious paperwork all over again, I remained committed to what brought me to Colombia in the first place; a chance to improve the English proficiency of my students and to inspire them to look at the world a bit differently than before.

I have arrived here again in early July to accept the role of ‘English Teaching Fellow’ with the Heart for Change program and Volunteers Colombia organizations with the additional support of the Colombian Ministry of Education. I was extremely excited to hear that I had been accepted to this program in mid-April of 2016. Since then, I’ve worked diligently to prepare myself for the responsibilities and duties expected of me during these next six months to a year.

I’m quite proud to be among 240 English Teaching fellows who have come from over 30 countries around the world to be apart of this mission. It’s truly inspiring to meet and see other teachers come from nations like Iceland, Iran, Kenya, Serbia, and elsewhere with the goal of making Colombia a bilingual nation. This effort to improve the English language proficiency level of Colombia’s students is a massive undertaking and a worldwide effort. I am glad to once again play a small role as an ESL teacher in making Colombia more proficient in the English language.

After arriving in Bogota, the capitol of Colombia, the other 240 fellows and I underwent a week of intensive teacher training in order to prepare us for the job that lies ahead. While the topics that we went over were mostly review for me given my past experiences, I was grateful for the refresher and was impressed by the job done by the UNICA (Institucion Universitaria Colombiano Americana) in helping prepare us for the program’s start.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to explore much of Colombia’s capitol city of Bogota but I was able to walk around and check out the historic district along with the Plaza de Bolivar. In addition, I was able to dance some Salsa, eat some delicious Ajiaco soup at La Puerta Falsa (highly recommend), and practice Spanish again with the locals. Hopefully, I will be able to return to Bogota soon because there is a lot to do there and it’s a bustling metropolis on the same level as New York City and Mexico City.

What someone would notice immediately about Bogota is the unpredictability of its’ climate and it’s weather patterns. It could be sunny and warm in the early afternoon, completely cloudy an hour later, and then rainy and cold in the evening. If a direct comparison can be made with a U.S. city, the weather of Bogota would most closely resemble Seattle for better or worse.

Bogota is tucked in close to the Andes which allows visitors an excellent view of nearby towering, green mountains that jut out beyond the modern array of skyscrapers and office buildings. Bogota, like other Colombian cities, are urban oasis’s surrounded by rivers, mountains, and tropical jungles. Thankfully, from what I have noticed, there is a healthy balance here between nature and civilization, which is lacking in other places.

After having finished the initial paperwork, received my certificate from UNICA, and flown on to Medellin where I’ll be working full-time as a co-teacher in a public school starting next week, I am happy to close a past chapter in my life and open up a new one which has a positive, optimistic outlook. The first six months of 2016 were tough for me personally but I’ve put the past behind me and am ready for what comes next.

I look forward to finishing the work that I started back in January 2016 here in Colombia and hope to do some good work for my new students for the next six months or more. It’s been a wild ride with ups and downs, but I’m happy to continue riding the rollercoaster and seeing where I end up. For now, I’m fortunate to be back here in Colombia and won’t let this second chance go to waste. Todos Por Un Nuevo Pais!

‘The Shawshank Redemption’ – Film Review and Analysis

Few other modern films capture the power of the human spirit more than The Shawshank Redemption. Directed by Frank Darabont, released originally in 1994, and starring Morgan Freeman as Ellis ‘Boyd’ Redding, Tim Robbins as Andy Dufresne; this film was not originally successful in movie theaters when it was released to the general public.

However, since then, The Shawshank Redemption has become a cult classic which has skyrocketed in popularity even after its’ release twenty years later. It is often considered by film critics to be one of the best Hollywood movies of the 20th century. Personally, I have watched this film multiple times and consider it to be my all-time favorite movie. If I’m channel surfing late at night and I see that The Shawshank Redemption is on AMC, HBO, or another movie network, I’ll often stop what I’m doing to watch the film already in progress. It’s that good of a movie and is timeless in its’ themes and its’ overall message.

More so than just the brilliant acting by Mr. Freeman and Mr. Robbins, along with the great directing by Frank Darabont, the cinematography is quite flawless and the film has a consistent flow to it. It also has an engaging plot and setting that suits the overall themes quite well. The Shawshank Redemption is a very human story with a lot of powerful, and emotional scenes that have captivated millions of viewers. It’s rare to come across a film today that can tug at your heartstrings and make you really feel deep emotions about a fictional story and characters. The Shawshank Redemption is able to pass that test and remind you of what it means to be human. The film highlights the triumphs, the tragedies, and the deeper meaning that we seek within our own lives.

Andy Dufresne is a young, smart, and ambitious banker in Portland, Maine who is accused and later convicted of murdering his wife and her extramarital lover. At first, he appears to the audience as a cold, detached, and remorseless person who very well could have committed that awful crime. The other main character, Ellis ‘Boyd’ Redding, a long-time prisoner at Shawshank state prison is unimpressed by Andy’s appearance at first sight and remarks how “a stiff breeze would blow him over.” As the saying goes though, “Don’t judge a book by its’ cover.”

Throughout the film, we learn through the eyes of Red more about Andy and what he’s like in terms of his true personality and character. We don’t know whether he killed his wife or not because he pronounces his innocence to Red and the other prisoners. Red is resigned to his life in prison and tries to make the best of it by being ‘the guy who can get you things.’ His friendship with Andy blossoms due to a simple, haphazard moment when Andy asks Red for a rock hammer to carve chess pieces. It’s an unusual request but it gets the two men to talk to each other and to break down the stereotypes that Red has of Andy, and Andy has of Red.

Andy must deal as best as he can with his new life as a prisoner whom may in fact be innocent of the crime that he was convicted of. As Red states knowingly in the film, “Prison is no fairy tale world.” Andy has to cope with the vindictive warden of Shawshank prison, played by Bob Gunton as well as the malicious head prison guard, Captain Byron Hadley, who is played by Clancy Brown. He also must fend off some sadistic fellow prisoners who wish him physical harm and sexual violence. It is clear to the viewer that Andy, despite the injustices he has encountered in Shawshank and outside of Shawshank prison, maintains the ‘hope’ that he’ll survive his ordeal and eventually win his freedom. Despite his friend, Red, warning him about the dangers of seeking hope in a place where none can be found, Andy reminds Red that “Hope is a good thing, maybe even the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.”

The most memorable scenes of this film still stick out to me after all of these years. My favorite is the famous ‘Suds on the Roof’ scene when Andy risks his life to give his fellow prisoners a one-time allowance of beers while they tar the roof of a factory by giving the prison guard, Hadley, some financial advice on how to deal with the IRS. Andy knew how much it would means to his fellow prisoners if they could enjoy a beer or two while doing hard work in the hot Maine summer sun. In that scene, he also showed a lot of bravery by confronting Hadley about if “he trusts his wife with money or not.”

Another notable scene that stands out to me is how Andy continuously asks the state of Maine for extra money to give to the Shawshank prison in order to build a memorial library in honor of another prisoner, Brooks Hatlen, who committed suicide regrettably after finishing up his sentence. Andy keeps writing letters for months on end but finally receives the funds he needs after a few years to build the memorial library. Because of this library, many prisoners like young Tommy Williams, who Andy takes a liking to, end up reading books and even receiving their High School GEDs (General Equivalency Degree).

Lastly, there is an extremely beautiful scene where Andy is collecting records for the prison library and ends up putting an Italian opera record over the loudspeakers for all of the prisoners to hear. He locks himself in the room so the guards and the warden can’t get to him. For a few minutes, the opera music flows openly through the walls and the bars of the prison. As Red puts it succinctly in the movie, “For the briefest of moments, every last man in Shawshank felt free…”

After nineteen years in prison and many tumultuous events, Andy knows that his destiny no longer is meant just for the walls and bars of Shawshank prison. He dreams of a coastal city in Mexico known as Zihuatanejo, where he can run a hotel and begin his life anew. Andy implores Red to join him one day and help him out with his business since he’s a man who “knows how to get things.” While Andy remains hopeful and optimistic even when his future seems grim, Red is skeptical and dismissive of Andy’s “pipe dream.”

Despite the long odds, Andy doesn’t let the negativity get him down and puts effort toward realizing his dream of getting out of Shawshank and making his way to Mexico. This courage and perseverance shown by Andy has a lasting effect on Red by the end of the movie as they have become close friends who have known each other for almost twenty years. Red realizes the innate truth behind Andy’s belief in everlasting hope and to “get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.’”

Some people who have not taken the time to watch The Shawshank Redemption regard it naively as just another prison movie. However, this summarization is far from the truth. Similar to The Green Mile, it’s a story about finding hope in the least hopeful of places and never giving up on life when it seems rather cruel or unjust. It also has a constant theme about the power of male friendship and how Andy and Red have bonded together over the years despite their initial differences.

The Shawshank Redemption was never a summer blockbuster or a critically acclaimed behemoth of a film but it is widely regarded now as one of the best American films of all-time. Many people have cited this movie as having changed their lives for the better when they were going through difficult times in their personal or professional lives. Above all else, The Shawshank Redemption is a story about one man’s ability to remain hopeful during the most difficult and harsh circumstances. As Red states at the end of the film, “Get busy livin’ or get busy dyin.’ That’s goddamn right.”

 

Dealing with Adversity

Historical-Perspective-When-Adversity-breeds-Resilience-top-I.J.-Singh
“There is always something positive that comes out of something negative.”

“Remind thyself, in the darkest moments, that every failure is only a step toward success, every detection of what is false directs you toward what is true, every trial exhausts some tempting form of error, and every adversity will only hide, for a time, your path to peace and fulfillment.”
―Og Mandino

Anybody who has ever lived has faced adversity and struggles that test one’s resolve and fortitude. How someone deals with these challenges and setbacks can show you their true character. I used to live under the assumption that everything will go smoothly if you work hard, play by the rules, and do your best. Recent events in my life have shown this hypothesis to not be true. Life is not fair sometimes and it is extremely important to adapt to this fact rather than to fight it head on.

We can curse our misfortunes but it is much better to move on and look to the future. The worst thing that someone dealing with adversity can do is to wallow in self-pity and to be endowed with guilt. The past won’t change but the future is still in your hands to shape. I am glad that I am aware of the realities of the world now while I’m still young rather than to be surprised by them at a later age. If a goal you strived for vanishes into thin air or a dream that you thought would be yours disappears, it does no good to consider what might have been but to plan instead on what could still be.

I would be lying if I didn’t say that over these past two weeks I’ve felt a range of emotions ranging from anger to sadness. I was in denial at first about what happened to me and why it happened to me. Initially, I could not accept what I could not change. I went through the five stages similar to the popular model of ‘Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance.’ Luckily, I did not suffer a personal loss or suffer from a serious ailment but I was crushed by the news that I would not be continuing on the adventure that I started eighteen months ago when I filled out my first application form.

It is difficult to deal with these painful emotions and feelings but it is far better to embrace them rather than to let them bottle up inside of you and fester on and on. I would have loved to continue the good work that I was doing and to finish the job that I had signed up for. Unfortunately, life has other plans for me and I am willing to embrace the challenges that lie ahead. Luckily, we live in a world where there are plenty of opportunities and possibilities available to those of us who are willing to work hard and to use our knowledge.

Clearly, I am not the only person to ever suffer setbacks and misfortunes. Many exemplary leaders and icons of history were unsuccessful in their initial hopes and dreams before greatness found them later on in their lives. The 16th President of the United States, Abraham Lincoln, had many personal misfortunes and professional failures happen to him before he became elected to the highest office in the land. He lost lovers and family members, failed in business, was defeated multiple times for elected office, and dealt with mental health struggles all throughout his life.

However, he never gave up because he knew what he was worth, had faith in himself and his abilities. He displayed a strong intellect and a strong drive to be great. President Lincoln had a lasting impact on my country and the world. This would not have been possible if he had simply given up when he encountered all of these adversities and disappointments. His story is a continual inspiration for me and for others who have been dealt a personal or professional blow to their lives.

How would our world be different today if inventors like Edison had given up after his 900th try at inventing the lightbulb or if geniuses like Einstein had listened to those teachers / headmasters who told him that he was lazy, dumb, and not worth the effort? If you don’t have confidence or don’t believe in yourself, you are not going to get very far in life.

While it’s pleasant to have other people think highly of you and give you praise, there will be other times where they’ll tell you that you’re not good enough and that you don’t belong there. If there is anything that I want the readers of this blog post to realize is that you can’t let anybody else stand in the way of your goals and dreams. They may have good intentions and think that they know what’s best for you but you have to decide that for yourself.

When I was younger, I was naïve to think that everything would go smoothly in my life and that I could control every outcome. Especially after what happened to me recently, I know that this notion is unrealistic. There are certain aspects of your life that you have some control over and there are other aspects that are completely out of your control. I do not regret the past nine weeks that I spent in Colombia, and I am proud of the good work that I was doing. I am happy for my fellow CII-8 trainees and wish them all the best as they become volunteers and move on to their communities for the next two years of service. I was grateful for the opportunity and have some good memories from this experience that I will remember fondly.

The future is unclear at the moment but I look forward to the opportunities and possibilities that lay ahead. I know that I will continue to write and develop this personal blog that I started eight months ago. I believe that there are many adventures that lie ahead for me in my life. I will continue to have faith in myself and my abilities. Dealing with this particular adversity will make me a stronger and more mature person in the long run. I have a strong mind, a strong body and I am confident that I will get through this momentary setback. Your past does not define you and the future is yours for the taking. Always remember that.