Posts from: April 2012

The Hardest, Coldest Room in Afghanistan

I’ve talked about how difficult this process has been moving to Afghanistan. It’s still strange to say it, to realize I’m not on some movie set—I’m far away from home. I could not give up and just walk. For me to actually get home takes over a month of planning. I’m not going anywhere for awhile.

One of the most difficult parts of this journey has been entering the DFAC every day. The DFAC is the chow hall. It’s made up of two kinds of people: contractors and military. We do not really blend. The military is jealous of us (and its members have said this to me) because we make better money and we can go home anytime (within reason, see above). Contractors are jealous of the military because, well, there is no reason. What I’m jealous of when it comes to the military is the camaraderie, the brotherhood and unity.

The military always have someone to sit with in the DFAC. I usually sit alone.

It’s not that I don’t enjoy sitting with the guys I work with, it’s just I see them all the time. And I want to branch out, make some friends. But at 38 years old I feel like the kid in crutches at the new school, or Forrest Gump wandering on to the bus, looking for a seat.

It’s a bit lonely here.

Now in pure geek fashion, I have retreated to the arena of wearing my iPod Shuffle and listening to podcasts.But I hope to sit with someone and have an actual conversation about nearly anything. But the contractors stick to themselves, eat robotically (some have been here in this base for 3 years), and the military have their own jargon and look at me like I’m Joe Privileged.

I am Joe Privileged.

And I have to eat 1,020 meals here in the DFAC (or on another base) and most of them I’ll eat alone, listening to my podcast, watching people laugh and joke at tables. I’m working on sitting with people, making an introduction, being friendly, saying hello, but it’s hard. And coming from my own universe of collegiate housing, I’m looking for “programs” to be a part of. Events where I can just hang out, make some friends.

For example, tomorrow is a poker tournament. I will be there. I will shake some hands, say hello, how are you, my name is Ryan.

It’s just the yearning to be known, the longing to be welcomed and invited to sit and eat is about as primal as you get. And I’m unsure how I’ll adapt to year of this kind of isolation if it doesn’t change. Now, I’m trying, and I don’t expect it to shift over night, but I find myself looking more and more for other podcasts.

Because that is starting to be easier.

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Only72 hour sale! (This helped me get here!)

About two years ago, I started kicking butt in my career and personal life. Just tearing it up like Yoda after a Red Bull. I was hitting my stride in getting stuff accomplished:

  • Spoke at Comic-Con.
  • Spoke at three conferences for my profession.
  • Got an article published in an internnational magazine.
  • Did a webinar. (And got PAID for it. What. Up.)
  • Joined a Crossfit gym and got in some shape (which I’ve faltered in as of late.)
  • Started a blog.
  • Got interviewed on a podcast (Geek Girls! What UP!)

But what turned me around, what got me going is that I purchased  some e-books through the sale. I read a ton about getting my butt in motion, getting your name out there, letting people know your talents and skills (so they approach YOU). And you all know me, I wouldn’t be hocking this if I thought it wasn’t a good product (and you get a ton of information. And we all know how much Ryan loves information)

Here’s what they are offering:

Products in this sale:

“The $100 Startup” by Chris Guillebeau.  (Hardcover w/ shipping included) <– first time they are shipping a physical product.

Better Blogging ($137 in value) 

  • Corbett Barr – Creating, Marketing, and Designing A Blog That Matters
  • Susannah Conway – Blogging From The Heart (eBook version)

Passion-based Business ($137)

  • Jonathan Mead — Identifying Your Passion Module + Workbook
  • Scott Dinsmore — Live Off Your Passion (eBook version)

Freelancing ($111)

  • Ashley Ambirge — You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts
  • Men With Pens — Freelancer Package: Write for Web, Guest Posting Guide, Beyond Brick & Mortar

Confidence & Courage ($129)

  • Johnny B. Truant — Tao of Awesome
  • Marianne Elliot — 30 Days of Courage (w/ Yoga Module)

Selling & Advertsing ($144)

  • Pam Slim — Ethical Selling That Works
  • David Risley — Double Your Ad Income

Technology & Systems ($171)

  • Joshua Kaufman — The Personal MBA Guide to Small Business Infrastructure
  • Free The Apps — How to Make iPhone Apps
  • Brett Kelly — Evernote Essentials

Artists & Writes ($130)

  • Alyson Stanfield — Turning Your Hobby into a Career (download & audio program)
  • Chris Guillebeau — Unconventional Guide to Publishing

So if you are looking to pick up some great information, out of the box stuff, I’d really recommend it. You get a copy of Chris Guillebeau’s new book, $100 Startup with it as well.

Here’s where you can peruse this information and get a great deal if you are looking to start a side business or learn some skills! 

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I Don’t Start Well, Cause I Don’t Start At All

I’ve always wanted to start my own business. But I just can’t seem to get the right idea. I can’t seem to find an idea that is infused with confidence, something that glows in the night. And I have notebooks filled with ideas. What are they, my readers?

Public Speaker: Speaking to parents about preparing their kids for college and not being a helicopter parent.

Writer: Geek stuff, college, Christian experiences, singleness.

Coaching: Life coaching to geeks, etc.

Conference: Starting a conference for geek culture and higher education. (Might do a kickstarter)

I’m not sure what to do. I’m not sure if I can make a living at ANY of the following. I mean, I can kick the crap out of a blog (this blog has had WAY more readers than my other blog Wider audience and I’m publishing every day.) but a blog isn’t going to pay the rent. I’m not sure how to market myself, discover my passion (I’ll post about that later. Passion.), or find what I’m supposed to do.

I know this: I like to talk, communicate and make people laugh. That’s what I want to do the rest of my days. I want to inspire people.

But there is a broken component in my soul where every time I try to start something. . . .I get notes flying and research done and then when it comes to actually creating the content, I freeze. I’m a kid who won’t jump of the diving board; I can’t seem to get the confidence to do it. But one reason I’m here is that I can try my hand at some businesses, being authentic and if I fail, I have a safety net. (I’m going to have a rule: I can not spend more than $500 to start a business.)

Right now I’m reading (for the 5th time) Escape from Cubicle Nation by Pam Slim. Since I’m in Afghanistan, I can focus on the book and get a plan. I recommend everyone read this book.

So I’m working on defeating this perfectionism. I don’t know if I’m afraid of rejection, failure, criticism, or if I’m just plain lazy. Maybe I should be a comedian (when I get people to laugh, my spirit just soars, but I like to swear and I shouldn’t swear, but I’m really good at it.)

But I’m glad that I’m back on the writing circuit, trying to write about 1,000 words a day. I’m hoping to hone my craft, become a better writer, a cleaner storyteller.

And I’m glad you are joining me on this journey. Your encouragement has been a great light in my life.

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One of the Saddest Parts of Afghanistan

If you’ve had the distinct pleasure of meeting me, you’ll know that one of my peeves is how single people get treated in the church. I could go on and on about how married people have it great, yadda yadda, blah blah blah.

Here in Afghanistan there is one single, sad, solitary fact: everyone has to function single.

Everyone is cut off from their loved ones. Soldiers and civilians leave their husbands or wives behind and even though I’ve had my struggle with homesickness, I can’t imagine leaving a wife behind who is pregnant and taking care of two other kids.

No one is depending on me back home. Granted, I’m missed, but no one is neglected since I’m gone.

A couple of days ago I was in the chow hall, and a soldier from another base was there. He’s tall, skinny and from the south.

“James, what are you doing here, man?”

“I’m on emergency leave. I’m here to get home.”

“What happened?”

He grabbed a to-go carton, filled it and we walked out to the airfield where the choppers pick you up. He opened his to-go carton; it was filled with just onion rings and steak. He cracked open his Pepsi took a swig.

“My 6 month old is in the hospital due to malnourishment. My wife is in jail. They found meth paraphenalia in the house. So I have to go back home, get my kid and sort this out. It should take me about 2 days to get home. Hopefully. It may be longer.

“I’ve been sending $3,000 a month home to her. Now I know where it went.”

I’ve counseled a lot people, but this was new territory for me. Meth. Jail. Broken home. Kid in the hospital.

I didn’t know what to say, so I just said, “I’m sorry man. I’ll be praying for you.” We chit-chatted from there. He has plenty of support, friends and family that can gather around him. He doesn’t know what to say to his wife, or if he’ll even visit her in the jail. He doesn’t know if he’ll come back to Afghanistan or if he’ll even have a choice to stay. I slipped him some money, told him to eat when he could. Told him to focus on his family and not the anger with his wife just yet. Make sure the home is set up and everyone is safe. Go from there.

We shook hands and he went to check on his flight. I sat there finishing up my meal watching the choppers fly by, soldiers getting on and off. I thought about all of their stories, their unheard tales and hidden heartaches.

I know the marriage has the capacity for such great joy, connection and intimacy. But when it self-destructs, the pain and suffering is catastrophic.

I hope Specialist James makes it home quickly. I hope his boy is well.


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A Greater Life Of Simplicity.


Just getting to Afghanistan is an ordeal. Paperwork, training, and arrangements filled my days right before I left the country. I jumped through hoops, got secret clearance, and had to cancel just about everything: insurance, magazine subscriptions, and the rest of the it.

But a challenge I wasn’t ready for was the huge amount of stuff I’d accumulated and what to do with it. Books, movies, and just clutter. And I’d seen Hoarders. I’d seen how people could get emotionally attached to stuff. And I’d sit on the couch (I miss my couch) eating Oreos (I miss Oreos) thinking, These people are crazy. How could they possibly love that towel, or couch, or can of beans that’s 10 years old.

Oh, my. I got it. I felt my hands start to cling on to all the things I’d surrounded myself with. I felt like I was actually going to miss these objects. Like I’d be less without them. So I started just giving stuff away, throwing it out and just going a bit crazy. But I figured if I can do without for a year and I can purchase it again, then it can go.

Probably one of the smartest moves I made was asking people if they would “caretake” some items for me: TV, dining room table, desk, games. We just agreed, when I return from Afghanistan, I’d get those back. Sold my car for $1,000 with the option to rebuy it when I got back (Spoiler: I’m getting a Mini-Cooper!)

But I wound up packing up my life into four bins: clothes, books, misc. My big items were being enjoyed by other people, and I felt a bit free.

Now I live in a B-hut (wooden shack). My room is about 12 square foot. (I used to live in a 1400 square foot apartment. Three bed. Two bath. Sigh.) I’m trying to keep my items down to a bare minimum, but I wind up buying a couple of things here and there: a 2nd pair of gym shorts, a magazine, etc. (I’m actually going to subscribe to magazines to I can get some “mail” like a normal person…)

I don’t mind it, really. I like having less stuff so I can focus on the experience of this place, the projects I have in front of me, and the pursuit of a meaningful life.

I’m hoping this doesn’t fade and I go back to my consumer ways. I want to use the money I earn here to build a business, a life that isn’t 9-5. I just have to figure out what that means and build content. I just don’t want to buy stuff; the money I’m earning has to bring me forward (cause I’m not coming back here to Afghanistan. No siree.) If I can live on what I have here and be fine, I can do it anywhere.

So I’m welcoming this simplistic lifestyle. Now, do I wish it had less mortar attacks, yes. Yes, I do.

Let me ask you, what can you give away? Sell? Live without? I’d start today. The clutch of stuff, the power it can have over you is just brutal.

If you want to read more about minimalism and simplicity, I’d start here:


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What I’ve Had to Learn/Relearn

Here’s just a short list of what I’ve had to learn here in Afghanistian.

  1. Bring a flashlight at night or even if it’s going to be night soon.
  2. Always go to the bathroom when near a latrine. Just try.
  3. Hand sanitizer is less optional here.
  4. Shower shoes—mandatory.
  5. Learn how to safecrack to get the perfect temperature of water when showering. Your work will last only 3 minutes.
  6. Drink water (and this place has billions of bottles of water)
  7. Check the stall for toilet paper before you make ANY kind of commitment.
  8. Take a risk and say hello to someone. They will tell you their story. Everyone has a story of how they got here
  9. Never take bedding for granted. Get quality. (Although I failed on finding just plain old bedsheets on Amazon. Wound up getting them at BBB…horrible mistake. Target/Walmart would have worked.)
  10. Pack light. This may be my greatest error.
  11. Your Amazon Kindle will save you every time. Carry it with you wherever cause in Afghanistan you wait for everything
  12. When you have jet lag, do not nap. Ever.
  13. You can’t bring a bag into the DFAC (chow hall).
  14. Postage is free so all those stamps you brought—-useless.
There are about 100 more, and I’ll keep adding to the list. But just to say, learning the culture, absorbing it and acting accordingly is exhausting. But I’m sure this is making me into a stronger person.


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How Chris Guillebeau Convinced Me To Go To Afghanistan

If you are new to the blogosphere, there’s someone you need to delve into. You can find Chris Guillebeau’s blog: The Art of Non Conformity here. Chris writes about freedom, travel, and not conforming to the 9-5 job system we have set up. He leads the World Domination Summit, one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended. It featured innovators, entrepreneurs, authors and legends.

Over the past six months, Chris’s blog has been focusing on taking risks and traveling. Now Chris travels all over the world and he wants to hit every single country on the planet. Yes, every country.

His posts would ruminate in my brain and he was the catalyst for making this decision. I needed to take a risk, a risk bigger than myself, bigger than anything I thought that I could accomplish. When this job landed in front of me, all I could think of was risk and adventure.

Because after this adventure, when I get off the plane in Florida, San Diego or Illinois, I don’t want to go to a 9-5 job anymore. I’m going to spend it writing, teaching, presenting or foot modeling. I don’t want to have to fill out paperwork when I want to go on vacation and get permission. Cause to me, that’s just another word for “parole.” I don’t want to go on parole and report in.

Now this might burn me in the near future. A friend of mine may have scored a sweet job with the FBI and I might want to solve crimes with him. (Note: due to this job, I have secret clearance.) But that’s a shot in a million.

I’ll have a nest egg to start a business and if I fail my writing/presenting life (which i have no idea how to do it, but hey, I got a year to figure it out!) I can go back to something else (not go back to Afghanistan. I’m not going back. No, sir.)

So Chris, I’d like to thank you for convincing me to take this journey. I’m hoping to shake your hand at either this coming World Domination Summit or 2013!

If you are at all interested in Chris’ work and products, I’d really recommend going here and checking them out. You will get quality work that could change your life and direction.

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I Have a Secret Disease

I’ve had this disease for as long as I’ve known. It’s cost me peace and money—more than I can count.

My disease is called: FOMO. Fear of Missing Out.

(From the Get Rich Slowly blog) FOMO, according to JWT, a marketing communications agency, is “the uneasy and sometimes all-consuming feeling that you’re missing out — that your peers are doing, in the know about, or in possession of more or something better than you.”

I’ve always felt this way. If people were reading a popular book, I had to read it. If there is a popular anything I would consume it as quick as possible to say, “Oh, yeah, I’ve read/seen/heard that.” Now I missed the boat on music. I have horrible musical tastes. Ask anyone.

I’m ravenous at Comic-Con. If something is exclusive, I will throw a baby out of a wagon into a crowd of zombies to get the exclusive button that only 12,000 people get. Cause if I’m the 12,001th person, I’m livid.

I used to be addicted to my smartphone. What was the Facebook status? What’s my twitter say? What was that email? Tanga is having a sale? What am I missing? 

But coming out here has really started to destroy this disease. There isn’t anything popular here or socially urgent I mean, I’m not going around saying, “Game of Thrones. Am I right? AM I RIGHT?” It’s more like, “Mortar attack today. How about that?” Yeah, um, how bout that.

You see I’m missing out on everything here. Not just Avengers or Mad Men. Not just Game of Thrones Season 2 (I’m reading the books!)

I’m missing out on people’s lives. I’m missing out on births and milestones, parties and celebrations. I’m missing out on fireside chats and late night coffees, Las Vegas trips and really great food. Now a lot of guys watch countless hours of TV and movies. Now I enjoy that stuff, but I want to make sure that I’m producing and creating out here. (see my goal section) I don’t want to watch everything. I’d like to work on my writing and other mad skills.

But why am I so addicted to FOMO? Why has this disease latched on to me like a rusty bear trap?

Because when you grow up with a sense of  being left out, you will do anything not to let that happen again. I’m like a social hoarder. I need to consume to be accepted and that won’t fly here. I’m hoping to work on that and get over that, or at least get control of it. I want to socialize out of character, not what I know. I don’t want to be clever; I need to be authentic.

When I take responsibility for my choices and not let the wind of consensus fill my sails, I’m more myself, more authentic and true. And now that everything has melted away, I need to see what I really love and what I’m really passionate about (more on this later.)




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Understanding the Tears

32 When Mary reached the place where Jesus was and saw him, she fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come along with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. 34 “Where have you laid him?” he asked.

“Come and see, Lord,” they replied.

35 Jesus wept.

I have to be honest; I never understood that. Lazarus dies and Jesus goes to resurrect him. On the way, Jesus cries. I have a Master of Divinity and I just didn’t get that if Jesus was going to resurrect the guy, why would He cry? It’s like crying because you’re hungry and you are in the drive thru. You are getting a burger—why the tears? 

And I think because of our emphasis on Jesus’ divinity we might not really delve into the perfect humanity of Jesus.

Once in awhile here in Afghanistan, my mind wanders to different friends from all my different worlds: church, seminary, school, career, etc. And occasionally the tears just explode out of me. It’s all I can do to not go into a full on crying jag (I know this blog is the most emo thing going right now. Don’t worry. I’ll have pics up and jokes soon. But if I don’t write about it, well, it’s not good for anyone.)

You see, I’ll cry over people I haven’t seen in years. The sound of their voice or a picture just sends me over the edge. Now, I didn’t do that when I lived in San Diego. But I think because all of my creature comforts have been stripped away, that I’m really vulnerable right now. And I’ve been overwhelmed with the knowledge and realization of how many good friends I have. The support has been incredible.

But those tears? What? I mean, I’m going to see my friends again. I can chat on Facebook, Skype (gilman21) or Google +. I can write them or text them. I’m not on an island. Why do those tears come?

My friends and family are far away.  Sure they are nearby on the internet, but there is a theology of location. That no matter how clear the picture is on the computer, or how funny the texts are, nothing replaces the eye to eye contact.

And I get Jesus’ tears now. Lazarus was far away. He wasn’t there. Sure, Jesus could raise him, and did. But separation impacts our humanity because this isn’t the way it was supposed to be. Jesus didn’t just shrug and lean on his power and divinity, his reaction was His humanity.

I think through this process I’m learning how to be more human. And I’m going to talk more about what I’m discovering.

When I asked someone about dealing with homesickness, he said, “When you feel the tears, you let them come. They will come out one way or another.” And I think if I ignore these feelings, push them down or rationalize them, then I missing something sacred; I’m missing the experience of delving into my humanity and feeling something deeply, missing my friends and family, acknowledging how much I care for them and they for me.

Cause if I don’t do that—who am I becoming?

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The Words That Change Paths.

Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me . . .the biggest lie there is.

So I’m working on a system out on the border of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Trucks are coming in with all kinds of cargo. My coworker is yelling at the machine we are trying to fix (They said the laptop was broken; it was much more than that.) I’m speaking to a young man, a private. He’s 19. He has two kids and a wife.  Two kids. A wife. He had his first kid at 17. He would be the same age as the college students I worked with. And then it hits me like a ton of bricks.

I’m twice his age.

We were talking about future plans and he wants to head to culinary school, but was afraid. He actually said, “I’m afraid to go to college.”

Why are you afraid?

My father. I’m afraid because of my father. I’m afraid he’s right.

The cars are passing us by. He’s holding his rifle. The clouds are streaming by a mountain in Pakistan. Everything kind of melts away.

He continued to explain, “You see, my brother was a straight ‘A’ student and I was and ‘A/B’ one. We could take college classes in high school, but they cost money. My dad paid for my brother’s classes. But when I wanted to take them, and volunteered to pay half, my dad said it would be a waste of money. I would never pass these classes.

So I just stopped trying.”

I put my hand on his shoulder and said, “Your dad doesn’t have to be right about that. You write the story of your life. You get to choose. You’re a bright young man and you should go to culinary school. If it doesn’t work out, I guarantee you won’t die from the failure. Your kids and wife will still love you.”

He nodded. And I’m gave him my email if he wanted to talk more about college.

He’s in the Army. Two kids. A wife. He has an amount of responsibility that I can’t even grasp. But he had words derail him, change his course.  A simple “no”. The message—you are not worthy. You come up short, wanting.

That changed the course of this soldier’s life. He just wanted to better himself.

And I have to ask, what are the words we’ve heard that have derailed us from our passion, our dreams? And dare I ask: what words have we uttered that have changed others?

I hope he changes his mind. I hope he takes a different path, a different story.

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