A Lesson of Love

October 20, 2014 § Leave a comment

I’ve been around horses for seven years now, and they still teach me new things each and every day.

A bit of background: I have been volunteering at my second home, Tierra Madre Horse Sanctuary, for five years now, and since June I have been out there at least four or five times a week while I look for work. (Actually, starting next week, I will be starting as a full-time worker as a ranch manager! More on that later.)

Today started out just like any other day. I have been running the ranch in the mornings and am in charge of turning horses in and out of the arena, giving medical care, feeding, dolling out mashes, and overseeing that the chores get done. We are always short on volunteers on Mondays, so I was running around getting things done. Make mashes. Make dinners. Check water buckets. Give mashes. Do wound care. Turn horses out. The most important thing is to oversee the volunteers – because when you’re in charge, anything that goes wrong on the ranch is your fault. Part of my job is to make sure everyone else on the ranch is safe at all times.

As my mind dipped into 10 or 11 different places, another volunteer and I went to grab Slayer and the Iron Man, two big Thoroughbreds that needed some serious exercise. Slayer went with my volunteer like a champ. Iron Man, on the other hand, promptly freaked out when I walked in his stall with a halter. Threw his head up, bit the horse beside him square on the butt, head butted me in the shoulder, the works.

Pissed, I scolded him and made him back up in his stall so I could get his halter on. Several of our horses need to work on their manners, as was evidenced to me not fifteen minutes before when one of our horses in the field bullied two more I was taking home and scared them enough to make them nearly run me over. I was burnt out from everything and more importantly, I was remembering last Wednesday’s adventure during which I was briefly dragged by another horse before I was smart enough to let go of the rope.

I got the stud chain to show Iron Man I meant business. Either he listened and behaved nicely, or there would be consequences. As much as I love all the horses on that ranch, I was not in the mood to get dragged again.

After I told the volunteers watching to clear the way for us, we walked out of his stall and as I predicted, Iron Man pranced around me and occasionally jumped up on his hind legs, butting into me and walking in front of me and overall being ornery. When we got up to the barn right across from the arena, he bolted and would have gotten away from me had I not turned him in a tight circle to slow him down. I spoke to him firmly and pulled my lead rope down to give him a little tug with the stud chain, telling him to behave himself until I finally got him out to the arena. Once I took the halter off he ran off, but stopped after a minute or two.

Seriously confused and just a little bit irritated, I went on about my day and while he and Slayer galloped around for a little bit, mostly Iron Man just stood and watched me. He didn’t want to play. He just stood.

Finally another volunteer and I went in there with them to try to get them to play and burn off some steam. Slayer galloped around as we bounced our awesome huge pink ball (what we use to get our horses to exercise), but Iron Man just stood watching me. He backed away when I tried to run beside him to get him to move.

Maybe he thinks he’s in trouble, I thought as I tried to keep approaching him. After all, I’d just yelled at him and used a stud chain. Maybe he was confused.

Iron Man stood blinking at me and I stared back, unsure if my treatment of him had been the right thing to do. Slowly, gently, I side-stepped toward him with my hand out, not looking at him and making no sound. (Horses get uneasy when humans make a beeline for them and walk directly at them like a predator would do. It’s always better to zig-zag your way to them instead.)

I put my hand on Iron Man’s neck and scratched him to no response. Ashamed, I realized that while I addressed his behavior earlier, I hadn’t figured out what caused it. I had dealt with a symptom of a problem rather than the problem itself. And as I threw my arms around his neck and buried my face in his mane, I quickly realized what had been the problem.

“I’m sorry,” I whispered to him. “I was crabby with you, baby boy. I rushed to get you into the arena so I could get on to my next task. I didn’t listen. I’m so sorry.”

And he melted. At my words, Iron Man thrust his face into my arms and nuzzled my hands and let me hug and kiss his face all over. I stayed with him for a long time and just held his face close to me, whispering and patting and listening. As my volunteer happily told me as she watched us, “He just melted like butter in a frying pan.”

When I finally walked Iron Man back to his stall, I took the long way and let him eat leaves from one of the trees outside the arena. Instead of hurrying him along in order to get things done more quickly, I let him take his time. And when he walked back like a champ, I took the halter off and spent another minute or two kissing his face and telling him how proud I was of him.

Being burnt out is a part of life. Being tired and having lots of things to do in a short amount of time is inevitable. But stressing out over getting things done rather than slowly, surely taking one thing at a time hurts everyone. And today, it hurt one of my best friends in the world.

By being firm and harsh earlier, I won the battle between Iron Man’s strength and mine and got him to do what I wanted. But by listening to him, by showing him understanding and unconditional compassion, I won back his heart.

And when I looked into those liquid brown eyes of his that shone with love and forgiveness earlier, I knew that his heart is all I ever want to win.


What I Learned From Failing the LEED Green Associate Exam. Twice.

June 10, 2014 § 1 Comment

I have kind of kept it on the down low on social media, but it’s no secret that I spent the months of February, March, April, and May studying for the LEED Green Associate exam.

Before I go any further, let me explain what that is to those of you who might not know.

There is an organization centered in Washington D.C. called the U.S. Green Building Council. The USGBC’s mission is to transform the way the country (and, in fact, the world) thinks about building development, construction, and maintenance by promoting and teaching about sustainable practices. They develop what is called the LEED Rating System, LEED standing for Leadership and Energy in Environmental Design. This system is a checklist of sorts by which designers can abide during construction in order to create a building that uses less energy, is located on a sustainable site, built with regional and feasible materials, uses water efficiently, and much more.

Last year on my study abroad trip, I got to visit the USGBC headquarters where I discovered their Center for Green Schools, an organization that is dedicated to building green school buildings for children. I fell in love. I am a huge proponent of sustainability education, and here this Center was teaching children about sustainability through transforming their surroundings. Since we spend 90% of our days indoors, what greater way to educate children about sustainability than to show them firsthand what sustainable surroundings look like? And on that brainwave, what better way to teach communities, states, and nations what sustainability is through building structures?

Now, within the U.S. Green Building Council and its counterpart that enforces the LEED Rating System, the Green Building Certification Institute, there are three different accreditations people can earn in order to become qualified to help with LEED construction projects and/or have a good chance of working for the USGBC someday. They are: the LEED Fellow, the LEED Accredited Professional, and the first test anyone would have to pass to obtain accreditation of any kind: the LEED Green Associate.

When I heard about a chance to attend a free workshop that would help me pass the LEED Green Associate exam, I jumped at the opportunity. I filled out a scholarship application for a free spot in the workshop and got up at the crack of dawn to be one of the first to submit it. I got it and attended the eight-hour workshop in the middle of February then bought five practice tests (read: 500 questions) to help me study. I studied an hour a day at a minimum until May 10th, the day I had scheduled to take the exam. I made flashcards, wrote out information repeatedly to help me remember the content, took every practice test I could get my hands on, and all but gave up my sanity during my last semester of college to study for the exam.

I pinned much of my future career on that exam. And after all my hard work, after pouring my blood, sweat and tears into studying during the hardest school semester of my life, I failed by one question on May 10th. The exam is 100 questions, all taken out of a 1,000 question database. In order to pass, one needs to get 85 correct. Because some of the questions are weighed a little differently, I scored the equivalent of an 84.

Disappointment does not even begin to cover what I felt upon seeing my score on that computer screen. I sobbed hysterically cried bitterly most of that day.

Because I had only failed by one question, I resolved to try again and scheduled another exam for the 28th of May, just short of three weeks after the first. Because it had cost me an arm, a leg, and my firstborn to schedule the LEED Green Associate exam the first time, my parents were kind enough to buy my second exam and a study guide I hadn’t had my first time around. I spent the two and a half weeks after my college graduation studying for the LEED Green Associate exam. Again. All day every day.

The 28th came around as quickly as the 10th had before. And I sat through the test for the second time that morning, working steadily through the 100 questions and doing my best despite several unclear problems I faced.

And then, as I was irritably staring at an impossible question to which there was more than one correct answer, a thought struck me with the force of a lightning bolt:

The test does not, can not, accurately sum up everything I have learned in the past four months.

I blinked and let that thought sink in for a moment or two.

I had learned so much since February all on my own. I knew more about the LEED certification system than most people in the country. I knew how to make a building more sustainable and I knew the steps to beginning a project and I knew what it took to see it through.

I knew how to educate people about sustainability through transforming their homes, their neighborhoods, existing buildings of all kinds, and new buildings. I knew about the design process and the construction process and the commissioning process and the lessened impact a LEED certified building would have on the environment once it was completed.

I had failed the LEED Green Associate exam by one question last time. To the world, did that really mean that I must know nothing when in fact I had spent at least 50 hours studying the material?

I was gripped with all kinds of other thoughts after that first one. What if I passed this exam and it got me a job I hated? What if I found out that sustainable building construction was not something I wanted to do if I were to get a job in that field someday? What if by passing the exam I would launch myself into a world I didn’t care for but could not escape?

Now, I am not religious by any means, but I do happen to be spiritual. And while I don’t know exactly what kind of divine energy is up there and am perfectly fine with not knowing, I do believe everything happens for a reason.

And so as I finished the exam and my mouse hovered over the submit tab on that computer, I closed my eyes and silently said the prayer I have repeated nearly every day for years.

Whatever needs to happen, please make it happen.

I clicked.

The first time I took that exam, I failed by one question. The second time, I failed by two.

And the first time I failed the exam, I cried. The second time I failed, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath and accepted it with all the grace I could muster.

As I walked out of the testing center in Downtown Phoenix and indeed as I sit here typing this, a recent college graduate with no plans, no job, and no prospects, I came to realize many different things:

I am okay with having my life unplanned.

I am okay with not knowing what is in store for me.

I am okay with not knowing what job I’m going to take in the next few weeks or months or years.

I am okay with not having a prestigious job lined up the instant I got out of school.

I am okay with working retail or other less than glamorous jobs in order to get by while I work on projects that I love.

I am okay with disappointment.

I am okay with failure.

Because in the end, I know I’m only 22 and have so much of life ahead of me. There’s no possible way for me to know what’s coming, but whatever happens will happen for a reason.

And I’m okay with not knowing that reason.

So. Am I still disappointed over failing the LEED Green Associate exam twice? Absolutely.

But on the day I failed the second time, I saw this:

79547245dce9b8144127115ed0d23bb0I may be pulled back now, but only because something great is going to happen in the future.

What will that great thing be? Will it involve the USGBC? Will I ever take the exam again?

I have no idea.

And that’s half the fun.

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