Through faded cloth holes, I watched at least two dozen children staring at me with anticipation and wonder. With gawky grins, beady eyes, and every bit of attention their tiny bodies could muster, they locked onto me as I walked through the door. These kids followed my every movement as I marched through the living room towards the back of the three-bedroom house. And why wouldn’t they? Resting against my shoulder, I carried a contraption that would make any kid go absolutely nuts.
Somehow I found myself at the home of some middle-aged woman who had hired an entertainment company for her son’s birthday party. As a mass of kiddos swarmed around me, I made my way through the screen door into their backyard celebration.
What was my attire on that beautiful September afternoon? Well, I was wearing my finest orange dragon mascot suit, of course. It was the kind of mascot suit you would expect to see at a college basketball game. A hula-hoop was stitched halfway down the inside of the suit’s colorful tummy giving the appearance of a large belly that could be rolled around to make kids laugh. Sewn to the back of the costume were two baby blue wings made of cloth and wire. The wings matched the color of the wispy mess of hair on the top of the padded dragon head I was wearing. Ohh, it doesn’t stop there, friends. Fighting for the right of “most ridiculous” was my red size seventeen sneakers pitted against the two roll-out noisemakers attached to my mask’s nostrils. These noisemakers were the same as those used during a New Year’s Eve celebration. Whenever I would blow into them from inside the mask, they would unroll and squeal, causing the dragon’s nostrils to flare.
If a large mythical dragon was not enough to captivate the elementary audience, I was also equipped with a weapon that would make any professional plumber proud. That Weapon of Mass Interruption; my toilet paper cannon. The contraption looked like a mad scientist’s arts-n-crafts project. Expertly strapped to the end of a small electric leaf blower was a pair of paint rollers that aligned perfectly at the end of the blower. The angle was precise so that when the air would blow, it would catch the toilet paper and spin it with surprising speed. This was a machine meant to turn a kid into a small mummy at the flip of a switch. When the time would come, I would activate my weapon, causing a rush of air followed by a flurry of white ribbons. Streams of two-ply would be released all over the kids, bushes, garden, and any unsuspecting family pet searching for fallen scraps of birthday cake. It would take less than a minute to go through the two full rolls. Of course, more “ammo” was mounted near the back of the leaf blower, providing additional rounds if the kids were not satisfied with the first. They never were as kids are always ready for more excitement.
To my left was a man in his early thirties announcing colorful directions for the next game the kids would be playing. His name is Taylor Griswold. Taylor is one of those rare kinds of humans that always gives more than they take and leaves you energized after every conversation. The youngsters were mesmerized with Taylor’s performance and in awe by his stunts. Taylor is good. As his mascot assistant, I followed his lead as well as I possibly could. I didn’t possess the skills or showmanship Taylor had, but there is grace in fumbling around as an oversized stuffed animal, I suppose.
During his college days, Taylor represented Auburn University as their official mascot, “Aubie the Tiger,” and won the UCA National Mascot Championship. Later, he was the mascot and dunk team director for the NBA Detroit Pistons basketball team. You may have even seen Taylor as well. He has been on TV shows like America’s Got Talent, the CBS Early Show, and Fox Sports. Using all that experience, he developed his own business, EPIC Entertainment, where I met him. I found myself in the presence of greatness…
As Aubie the Tiger, Taylor had made it into the Mascot Hall of Fame. I had never made it into a hall of anything myself. I was a young kid in my twenties, and I was working for a non-profit teen center I helped start. There is a reason they call it a non-profit. I was broke. Like broke, broke. I met Taylor during attempts to find businesses that might help support our endeavor. While looking for funders, I had a lunch meeting with Taylor, and we became friends. After hearing me out, he gave me the offer to come work alongside him at a few of his gigs to make some cash. Taylor inspired me during our talks, and I needed the money, so I jumped at his generous invitation. Really, I was just excited that I could pay for next month’s rent and maybe a few additional packs of Top Ramen. You know… the big life.
Just a few days prior to wielding a toilet paper gun at a child’s home, I was standing in Taylor’s living room. I had the padded mask off; however, the rest of the suit remained. I was provided the necessary mascot training needed to work part-time for Taylor's company. I learned that day how easy it is to underestimate people and their craft. I strolled in thinking I would wow Taylor with how well I could master whatever he might throw at me. Nope, not what happened. Taylor had acquired years and years of experience as a professional mascot to be an expert entertainer. On the flip side, I’m pretty sure I got booed off the stage at a middle school talent show once. With the patience of a monk, he taught me how to be his assistant. I had walked into his house just an ordinary man but marched out as Kazoo, his company’s orange dragon mascot. I felt like a superhero.
Just three days removed from that mascot graduation, I stood before those candy hyped youngsters with Taylor in that lady's back yard. Dressed as a dragon and armed only with a toilet paper cannon to defend myself, I fired round after round of toilet paper. The excitement mounted as each passing square of Charmin drifted over the birthday boy and his friends. In my mind, I was the Rambo of toilet paper entertainers as I watched the kids dance and scream beneath the waterfalls of toiletry.
With confetti everywhere, streams of toilet paper swirling overhead, and a couple of dozen kids buzzing around us like a beehive, Taylor was directing the chaos like a master. Watching him at his craft was truly impressive. Still, I noticed that the most energizing aspect of Taylor was the person he chooses to be behind the scenes. Whether on stage or off, Taylor always lived with intentionality and purpose, which was something I desired more of in my own life. I glanced around at the circus act unfolding before me, and for a moment, time seemed to slow down. This surreal pause of reality endured long enough for a fresh new thought to form clear and tight within my mind.
“How in the world did I get here?”
This thought had little to do with the mascot education I received a few days prior. It was also not a question about geography or location. It was one of those big life questions disguised very simply. The questions I was really asking myself were:
“What am I doing with my life?”
“What is my purpose?”
“Am I living right?”
I suppose such a bizarre situation could cause anyone to step back briefly to examine their life. These questions came innocently enough and were not accompanied by any guilt, pressure, or worry. I wasn’t having a life crisis or some insecure freak-out, just a moment of existential clarity. The thoughts were the same ones that everyone has but regularly drown out with daily distractions and the usual hustle of life.
Realizing I did not have an answer to those weighty thoughts, I just stood there, absorbing the depth of that moment. I knew I'd need to explore those answers long after the sugar-crazed children moshing around me were gone. As the birthday event progressed, I continued to ponder the questions behind my furry, sweaty mask, knowing something big was stirring. But this was all to come with time. In this story, I was just a young man in a dragon suit.
WHAT STORY ARE YOU WRITING?
Considering your life and how you're living are important questions for everyone to ask occasionally. Because this thinking branches off into all other aspects of life, it provides a unique perspective. It also helps determine what kind of story you want to create in the future. Working through those questions help clarify life and act as a compass moving forward. I know it eventually was me. You can explore these same questions in your life as well. So I’ll ask you as well…
How did YOU get here?
We all have a past, and we all come from somewhere. You did. I did… we all did. At some point back, when we lived in Wombsville, we found out that we were about to go on a big adventure called life, and we blindly said “Okay” without ever knowing what would come next. From that point on, every day was a pure exploration of the world around us as we attempted to figure out what to do.
As babies, we flailed. When we were toddlers, we toddled. In our kid years, we were goofy and tripped all the time. As middle schoolers… well, we were just the most awkward critters of them all. But somewhere along the way to where we are now, we stumbled through some pretty awesome adventures, met amazing people, and experienced a bunch of epic life events. I know I had, and I'd put money on it you did as well. Even if you don’t recognize it yet.
We rarely see how great these moments are as they were happening, or we forget them as soon as they pass us. Somehow we neglect the majority of these experiences, people, and events that brought us to where we are today. It’s like we are living a story just to forget it. However much we may even want to erase parts of our past, all our experiences impact who we are today and the person we decide to be tomorrow. If we don’t celebrate, learn, and grow from our past, then our future will come to reflect it. This is coming from a guy who grew up in Podunk, Oklahoma, where the epicenter of excitement and social activity was Walmart. Don’t let your beginnings define your story. It’s on you to take the mess and memories of life and work them into something good for your future. It’s all a part of the story you’re living.
THE LIST BEGINS
Listen, I talk a big game about the value of remembering your past, but in reality, my memory is pretty gawd awful with my own stories. Generally, I am always looking forward to the next exciting thing that may arise. I seek the next project I want to start or music festival I’d like to attend. I know what I’d like to do in the future, but if you asked me what I did over the weekend, my mind would probably go blank. Sure, I can recall high points, but I don’t really savor everything that’s happened or keep those moments alive once they’ve passed. Because I try not to linger on bad times from the past, I wash away the good memories as well. Too often, I neglect much of the life I’ve lived. That's not what I want. I’m sure you don’t want that either. Life isn’t always pretty, but I don’t want to miss out on it.
Now, just to be clear, I’m no Captain Incredible, myself. I get bored, make mistakes, fail often, fight self-doubt, and am as insecure as the next fella. Despite all that, my adventures have introduced me to incredibly talented friends and some of the strangest individuals to roam God’s green Earth. From this, I’ve been able to participate in many experiences and craft amazing memories. Memories that should remind me daily of who I am and the value I have.
Unfortunately, it can be easy for me to forget all this. I lose sight, and my inner voice will absolutely bum me out. You know that voice. I bet you hear it occasionally as well. It’s that lurking whisper that hides in the back of your mind telling you aren’t good enough, your life isn’t worth much, and that you will never be capable of ______________. You fill in the blank. This voice will try to discount where you’ve been and what you've done. I never met a person that hasn’t discounted themselves because of that voice. You have more life in you then you realize and more story ahead of you then you could ever believe… that is, if you care to search for it.
There was one particular day when I was having an especially difficult time shaking that voice away. This wasn’t long after that big life question hit me in the mascot suit, and it was still lingering fresh on my mind. With those profound questions and voices of insecurity swimming around my thoughts, I was a cocktail of contemplation. This is when something suddenly clicked into place. I am the author of my own story.
My fears, anxiety, and insecurities had been trying to dictate a life I didn’t want to write, and I was done with it. Meanwhile, those big life questions were simply asking me what kind of author I’d like to be. They felt like an invitation for me to live my life, instead of allowing other people, culture, or some dark inner voice to control my story. It was freeing.
Sobered, I sat back and let it all sink in. I thought through the highlights of my life and felt a bit better. Relieved of the pressure, I kept tracing back my history and recounted how many stories I’d filed away and forgotten. Amusing and memorable moments flooded me, spreading a smile across my face. I hadn’t thought about many of the lost memories since they had occurred. I ran down a rabbit trail of dumb adventures I’d been on and experienced those times again. After reliving a few of my favorites, I was inspired. I opened the Notes app on my phone and typed in:
A W K W A R D L I S T
I wrote out all kinds of crazy life moments and odd happenings from my past. Initially, my stories stayed true to the title as I listed my awkward encounters; however, the stories drifted towards memories of all kinds that were worth keeping. Although some of the events I listed were mortifying when they occurred, in hindsight, they now just made me laugh.
Soon after, I named these ridiculous events with entertaining titles. I figured this would be an easy way for me to jot down my stories without exposing the embarrassing moments of my friends or myself if someone found my list somehow. Russian hackers, perhaps. I just kept the details of the stories in my head for safekeeping. These are some of the first memory titles I ever wrote down.
Road Trip With The Morgan Freemasons
The Goodbye Napkin
Zach II’s Llama
Lone Star Stare Down
May I Borrow Your Coffin?
Meace, Moose; Geese, Goose
Peacocks Are Just Deer In Disguise
Intriguing at least, am I right? Even more so if you knew the full story behind them… The quirky names inspired me, and I knew that somehow, someway this was the first step towards answering that great and powerful question, “How did I get here?” This list was reviving pieces of my story lost to my past and long forgotten. I wove this list into my daily routine and shared stories with close friends. Several started their own list as well, while others had stories they wanted to add onto mine. Something about the process was shifting my perspective and repelling those darker voices inside that whisper how dull life is or how insignificant I am. I kept writing…
It doesn’t take long to fill up something like this when you consider all your past experiences as well as the new adventures you are living out each day. After years passed, my simple list snowballed into something bigger, and I moved the content over to a journal. The original intent of the Awkward List was to gather all my entertaining, awkward moments into one place, though I knew it was more than just dumb entertainment. This wasn’t just a collection of awkwardness. I looked over my list and realized why it had the power to shift my mood and perspective the way it did. All the stories in it reminded me of what I find meaningful in life. They reminded me that my stories have depth. I saw purpose in my relationships and the importance of the community around me. This opportunity to look back over my life was refreshing. I looked it all over again with those big questions in mind and asked, “Am I on the right path to a good life… am I writing a story that has meaning?” I knew my answer was staring back at me in the mess of notes, stories, reminders, life lessons, goals, and thoughtful scribbles on those pages. I stared at what it had grown into and knew it was leading me in the right direction.
THE AWKWARD WITHIN YOU
There is something you need to know. You have an Awkward List to write as well, maybe you just haven’t realized it yet. Buried deep down within your are stories of depth and purpose that you've overlooked or forgotten. You could fill volumes of your own life journals or awkward lists with what's inside of you waiting to be discovered. If you have doubts, then I challenge you to try it for yourself and see what you find.
I dare you. Double dog dare you, even... just give it a chance.
My friend, let me enlighten you on what you'll be putting into this list of yours. It’s the stuff that makes you up. Your life and the stories you live daily. The memories, experiences, awkward moments, growth, and dreams you keep inside of you. It’s embracing the bigness of who you are and the significance of your existence. It’s taking lessons from the past while chasing purpose for your future. For the organized list makers out there, think of it in three ways:
REMEMBERING AND LEARNING FROM YOUR PAST
Like finding an old photo album, a childhood toy, or that distinct smell of Play Dough, this section is all about bringing the stories of your past back to life. In all of history, time, and space, there has only been one of you written into existence, and that is a narrative worth remembering.
After retrieving those memories from the land of the forgotten, its time to learn from them. Never thinking back on your own story is like looking into a mirror and immediately forgetting what you look like. I mean, it’s ridiculous. Take that trip through memory lane to be a student of yourself. You will realize that you have seen and done way more than you had thought.
EMBRACING YOUR PRESENT
Carpe freakin’ Diem! Seize the day and conquer the now. Legitimately, it is all we can control anyway. Many people live like sheep, getting led where ever others guide them. Surrendering control of their destiny, they allow hurts of their past, and fears of the future dictate their every move. Not you, though. You get to squeeze every drop of awesome out of life and change how you see the world.
CRAFTING AWESOME INTO YOUR FUTURE
It’s all about your trajectory. Where are you headed, and how are you going to get there? Set your aim on the amazing, bigger than life things to come and pull that trigger. Its time you dream a bit larger, focus on the stuff that matters, and change wishful thinking into actions that make it all a reality.
Your Awkward list is yours to write and design; however, you choose. It’s your life, and you are the author. My path and your path are different, but I want both of us to live a good life with depth, fulfillment, and purpose. This could be your starting place to make that happen.
WELL… START WRITING
A buddy once made an excellent observation about life. Inactivity can mean death. If you have ever played dodgeball, then you know that the rules are dodge, duck, dip, dive, and… dodge! But, if you take too long to decide, then you will quickly get caught with that awful smack of a rubber dodgeball against the side of your face. Insta-death. It’s okay to get out in life sometimes, but do it knowing you lived hard, worked hard, and played hard. This is why this book is meant to be interactive, not just read. Experienced, not just observed. It’s a vessel to hold the awesomeness of your life. All the stories and strategies provided are about giving you a guided opportunity to capture your story and live it more fully. If you want the mechanics of how to start an Awkward List or journal, then I suggest checking out the Next Steps section towards the back of the book at any point. However, I started my list through exploration and getting creative. This may be a good starting point for you as well.
Now, I realize that a list or a journal is not some secret sauce to existing right or elixir that solves the problems we all face. Acknowledged, accepted, and signed off on. No, it’s not all that, however, it is an avenue to sort out, organize, and capture this mysterious and confusing thing we call life. This book isn’t really about any journal or writing out some list; it’s about your life and how you can live with depth, fulfillment, and purpose every day. It’s time for you to become the author of your own story and take your life seriously.
If all this talk about writing is getting you all fidgety, rest friend. Chill. I promise I will not hunt you down to make sure you’ve scribbled through a stack of papers about your life. Yes, I think you should actually warm up to the idea of a journal as an avenue to intentional living; however, the thought, mindset, and actions behind it are the key ingredients needed to actually affect your life. After all, the Awkward List is just the launchpad for taking a bigger look at your life story.
So… Wherever you are in your life, this is an invitation. No, not to become the next Kazoo Mascot and toilet paper a mass of kiddos… This is even bigger. I am confident that you have more to that story then you realize, and the pages ahead will give you the strategies and perspective to help you do just that. Trust the process as you make your way through the chapters to come; each is designed to add another layer of depth and insight into your world. Take a risk, give it a chance, and deep dive into who you are. Your next decision is the same one you get to make every day going forward.
Will you write an epic story with your life?
Start your journey: