Birthdays, Barn Owls, and the Benefits of Personal Development

Dudefluencer: Benefits of Personal Development

Update (July 1, 2020): This post has been refreshed to reflect current research and to include additional information.

The average life of a wild adult barn owl is four years. That means today, less than a month away from being 30, I have survived 7.5 barn owl life spans. Except for Bernard “The British” Barn Owl, he endured 15 years before Brexit-ing himself off this Earth.

I like to imagine the life of a barn owl to be one filled with purpose. Subconsciously, in their brains, they recognize that they only have so many years to live, so they learn to fly. There is no time for tedious walking and sightseeing; barn owls have places to be, voles to eat, lollipop puzzles to answer.

Yes, that is a Tootsie Pop joke.

Two years ago on Rachel and I’s first date, we were trudging through the Alexandria Wetlands. Still unsure if our hands fit together, we settled for her arm around my stomach when I stopped and looked up. Perched atop a tree was an owl.

Wildlife biologist John Powers said “When Europeans arrived in North America they brought most of their negative feelings regarding owls with them. Few of their positive beliefs seem to have made the crossing…In general, European Americans considered owls to be birds of ill omen.” On the other hand, the rye stored for bread in Europe was often infected with ergot, an LSD-esque fungus that caused hallucinations, gangrene, and death.

So maybe we should hold off on trusting the same people who believed that if you owned a cat, you were likely a witch.

The truth is that most scientists believe that owls are an indicator of a healthy, natural order to the world around them. They are a sign of wisdom and knowledge.

I believe that seeing that owl on that April afternoon meant something important; it was a symbol of happiness and healthiness. But also, the next evolution of myself as a human being.

Personal development into professional development.

Since I sat down to write this piece, heck, since I published this piece, I’ve gone on multiple journeys of personal development. Or as Tony Robbins calls them: breakthroughs. I recognized that at some point, I needed to focus on personal growth, and self development. Without pushing myself out of my comfort zone, I’d never reach my full potential. That meant rethinking my long-term career goals, professional life, and personal goals. I needed to learn the benefits of personal development.

Rachel sat down with me, and explained how my behaviors shaped our relationship while I worked as a teacher. And she was right: I was moody, anxious, and exhausted. My burnout wasn’t the result of my employer, instead of my career. As someone who believed in lifelong learning, the sad truth about education is that when you ask yourself “What career goal do I want to work towards next?” there isn’t a clear answer. On a professional level, there’s no movement in education. You remain stagnant. Professional development is limited to new forms of grading and test development. I’d argue that my time in education was overall a positive experience, but I needed a clearer purpose. My personal development had no momentum and I lost the personal fulfillment that came alongside working with young people.

I took some time off after the school year ended before creating a development plan. Over that summer, I asked myself what my career goal was going to be? How could I best use the soft skills learned through education to create something that would teach me new skills, leadership skills, and develop my emotional intelligence.

That’s how we came to Dudefluencer. A place where I can take the interpersonal skills learned at work and apply them to helping a generation of men become more introspective, vulnerable and empathetic. With a personal development plan in place, I began writing and writing and writing.

And it took me a long time to get to the place I am now. With greater confidence, I can tell you that Dudefluencer feels like some place I can reach my full potential. But without doing the hard work, without my personal development, I don’t think I would have ever left education.

Gassy, bloated, and heartburn: Pepcid AC Apocalypse.

As I’ve been getting older, the fragility of my own life has been slowly creeping in. When I was 22 years old, my diet consisted of Lucky Charms cereal in the morning, a Buffalo Chicken Finger sub in the afternoon, and usually two dinners with at least one of them being pizza. Sometimes if I were lucky, both would be pizza.

Now, 2 barn owl lives later; I am beginning to recognize that my metabolism is starting to slow down. At the age of 25, your metabolism begins its decline, sometimes as much as 2-4% per year. I was used to being super thin for all my life until probably the last six months or so. 

I feel like every piece of pizza lays in my stomach for hours. The idea of 2 McDonald’s cheeseburgers, a large fry, and a spicy chicken sandwich at 11 P.M. on a Tuesday used to sound heavenly. If I were to try that tonight though, I’d wake up tomorrow so bloated I’d begin walking with a hunch to prevent the pain of my lower abdomen from getting worse. And don’t get me started on the weird gassy noises coming from my body every time I am trying to teach in class.

As for alcohol, I can’t even drink one of my shitty watered-down Canadian beers without getting heartburn. Which might be the oldest person sentence I have ever written.

Letting go of grudges sets you free.

But ignoring my newly-minted body image issues, I’ve begun to recognize that there is beauty in looking at life through the eyes of the barn owl.

I mean, imagine knowing that you had only four years total, from birth until death. I know that I wouldn’t still be holding onto so many petty grudges if my lifespan was that short. So maybe it might be time for me to begin forgiving.

Starting with James Coffey. I no longer hate you for ignoring me on the bus on our first day of middle school. Middle school kind of sucks, so I get it that you were trying hard to impress Samantha. She was after all the cutest girl on Bus 179. James Coffey, you have been forgiven.

Dave Matthews and his band, I no longer hold a grudge against you for inspiring a bunch of college burnouts to go live in a van and follow you around on tour. I also no longer blame you for making Frisbee a competitive sport and single handily bringing back the hacky sack.

Besides, I must admit in my old age; I’ve begun to dig your crunchy grooves.

Angela Lansbury, star of Murder She Wrote, I no longer hate you for being the only show my grandmother would watch every summer afternoon. Angela Lansbury, I should also note that I no longer have a weird crush on you.

Getting all of that off my chest makes me feel a lot better.

Upgrading the relationship.

The biggest change in my life since writing this piece wasn’t that I quit my job, it was that I got married to the most incredible, loving woman on the planet. I cannot tell you how lucky I am to have Rachel in my life. But getting to this step in our relationship took hard work. There was a lot of personal development involved: therapy, journaling, and practicing communication skills to build greater confidence in my ability to communicate with Rachel.

With Rachel, I feel like I am a better person. Before my personal growth, I thought we had a good relationship. Now I realize we have a great one. Self development in my personal life differed from my growth in professional life in that I needed to work on a different set of interpersonal skills. Again, I cannot say enough about the importance of communication in healthy relationships.

Something that really helped Rachel and I was entering premarital counseling. Together we wanted to make sure our relationship was as good as it could be. That required active listening, enhancing our emotional intelligence, and putting in the hard work.

But really, it’s all about the importance of listening.

The importance of listening.

Barn owls are also notorious for their hearing ability. They have the ability to locate and capture prey by sound alone. Their sensitive hearing enhanced by the owl’s facial ruff, a type of reflector that channels sound into the owl’s ears.

They are patient listeners, something I could learn to be better at before I turn 30. We often listen just long enough to be able to respond to whomever we are talking to but to truly listen to means to have the willingness to change.

And at 29 and ¾ years old, I’m pretty damn stubborn.

I didn’t listen to my mother when she told me not to wear my heart on my sleeve because she knew I was going to get hurt. I didn’t listen to my father when he told me not to stick tweezers in the light socket because there would be no way for you to get away with it in front of your high school biology teacher. I didn’t listen to my friends when they told me Jorts stopped being cool years ago.

I should have listened.

But there is just something about being young and this idea that we are always the smartest person in the room. I always believed that I knew everything.

And I’ve been proven wrong every single year. I wonder in my life would have changed if I had just listened to those who had more experience, more knowledge than me.

I could have been a better teacher, a better son, a better partner.

Barn owls don’t have the luxury of learning from their mistakes. Every moment of their life is critical to their survival.

Tony Robbins and breakthroughs.

Taking part in a Tony Robbins event requires a bit of self awareness. Not everything he says is worth listening to, and it’s important to take the good alongside the bad. And after taking part in his free online course the past seven days, I feel more empowered than ever. He pushed me out of my comfort zone into a state that’s filled with greater confidence. I’ve been goal setting. I’ve recognized my primary purpose of life. And most importantly, I now have a clear vision.

The old me would have brushed off a seven day session with Robbins; but I promised Rachel I’d go all out. And I did. Never before have I felt closer to reaching my full potential. We meditated, upgraded our career plans, changed our states. It’s hard for me to describe what a Tony Robbins program is like (in part because I haven’t been lucky enough to see him live yet), but I can tell you that I haven’t felt this motivated in years.

Immediately after announcing his Virtual Unleash the Power Within event, Rachel and I signed up and have tickets for his next live event. I didn’t realize it when I signed up for Robbins’ Comeback Challenge that a simple course, just seven days, could teach me all about the benefits of personal development.

Benefits of personal development.

Last year, about a week before my birthday, Rachel and I celebrated with my friends Scott and Jill in Philadelphia. As we laid in bed, still slightly intoxicated from our speakeasy tour, I realized that this was going to be the last year I could use the excuse “I’m dumb because I’m in my twenties.” Somewhere along the way, I also reflected on all that I learned over the previous nine years.

I learned that moving by yourself can be the scariest, loneliest, and most rewarding experience of your life. I learned that it is OK to admit that you are depressed and you need some help. I learned that for you to be in a healthy relationship, you need to communicate even when it is hard.

I learned the difference between being right and being righteous. I learned the difference between being in love with someone and being in love with a moment in time.

And now, I’m learning to reflect on what I get to learn in the future: What it’s like to be a husband or a father, what it’s like to be a homeowner, what it’s like to start picking out gray hairs every morning before work.

I’d like to believe that for every barn owl life span we live, it’s like a little mini-evolution of ourselves. We are born, we listen to the sounds on the ground, and we die. And it happens over and over again, but we continue to be reborn from our past lives with more knowledge.

We are significantly different from barn owls in that the average person lives 20 times longer. We have the time to learn from our mistakes, to continue evolving as a species. I’m currently on my 7th barn owl life, just a few weeks from 30. I count my blessings to be as alive as I am right now.

And as I counted my 13 gray hairs in my bathroom mirror this morning, I realized that I am not afraid of death, I am afraid of not evolving.

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If you enjoyed this, be sure to check out some of my other pieces here on Dudefluencer:

The Importance of Male Friendship
The Truth About Positive Masculinity
Everything You Should Know About Male Millennial Burnout

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