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Searching for a Way to Relieve Stress Caused a Self-Inflicted Crisis in My Life

The Author with the two reasons his life is so much better in 2018 — Bella (Left) and Ryder (Right)

After seven years of building my career and working to become one of the best in my profession, the decisions I made to change my life would have far-reaching consequences. In 2005, after three years as an IT Manager for a television conglomerate, I began to feel that I was working my life away because the job required 70 to 80 hour work weeks. My commute to and from the office did not allow any downtime as it was spent talking to management. I felt like I never could take any time off to recharge. When life overwhelms you, and you do not like your direction, you must either choose to change, or you risk letting life’s waves crash over you. In choosing change, sometimes you set yourself up for failure.

Belle Scarlett O’Hara of Belmont — aka Bella — 8 weeks old — April 2005

So, in April of 2005, I traveled to Rockingham, North Carolina and picked up a little yellow ball of fur who came to be known as Belle Scarlett O’Hara of Belmont, aka. Bella. Bella would be my first dog as an adult, and she would rekindle my desire to hunt again. Growing up, hunting and fishing were a large part of my life, and some of my earliest recollections are Dad and I dove hunting on Labor Day with Tar, a black Labrador Retriever. She was my trusty companion from birth until I turned sixteen. She and I would do everything together, and in 2005, my new yellow Labrador, Bella, was beginning to give me the same joy I had growing up.

Now might be a good time to provide you with a little insight into who I am and how I do things. If you have read any of my biographical articles here on Medium or know me personally, you no doubt understand that I have lived an eclectic life and have a firm belief that anything I want to accomplish, I can do it no matter how much work that accomplishment will take. When it came time to learn how to train Bella to hunt waterfowl and upland birds, I went to one of the best professional trainers in the country. Charlie Jurney of Beaverdam Kennels has trained hundreds of champion hunt test and field trial dogs, and he willingly passes training tips along to his clients. For six months, Bella lived at Beaverdam Kennels and learned her job of being a waterfowl and upland hunting dog. While she was learning to do her job, I was learning to do mine as a trainer. Charlie’s book, “Finished Dog,” brought home the concepts I was seeing employed by him with Bella.

Ryder at 12 weeks old — November 2005

In September, I picked up another yellow ball fur in Denver, North Carolina and he would become known as SC’s Hunt’em Up Ryder, and I would train him myself to hunt upland birds. And, he would teach me something as well, PATIENCE. From the time I was a little boy, I had no patience for anyone or anything that did not do precisely what I demanded when I demanded it, but Ryder in his own way taught me that I must wait and be patient while teaching him exactly what I wanted him to do. He was not a slow learner by any stretch of the imagination, but training dogs to do exactly what you want them to do takes rote repetition. In this required repetition, I learned patience, but in this adventure, I would gain even more through the trials by fire that eventually came.

In December 2005, Ryder, Dad, and I went quail and pheasant hunting at Rimrock Preserve in Statesville, North Carolina. While hunting at Rimrock Preserve, I heard about an event called the Upland Classic which would be occurring within the next few weeks at Rimrock. After seeing my first event, my competition needle was pegged, and I began tailoring Ryder’s training specifically for these events. And, once Bella completed her training at Beaverdam, she would compete as well. They took to these events like a duck to water, but my skill as a partner and half the score left a lot to be desired. My inexperience would cost us points, time, and ultimately cost us wins.

But, like everything else I have done in life, I found a way to overcome my inexperience through practice but stepping aside as the handler did more to make Ryder and Bella better. I had to return to work during a national event, and this timely event set the stage for the creation of two successful handler/dog relationships for Ryder and Bella.

With me on an airplane back to North Carolina to take care of my day job, my good friend Jeff with his English Cocker Spaniel, Cajun along with Ryder and Bella arrived at the 2007 Quail Unlimited National Championships to compete against fifteen of the best flushing dogs in the United States. From the opening run on Wednesday through the final qualifying run on Friday, Jeff handled Ryder, Bella, and Cajun solidly into the top five. When I arrived on Friday afternoon to check on the progress, I found out that my two dogs had performed marvelously for Jeff and were sitting first and second in the event. Saturday’s final round would tell the story.

Saturday dawned crisp and dry which made scenting conditions for the dogs, challenging. The running order was drawn and slowly the day’s runs were completed. It was apparent after Jeff and Bella’s final run that she had won the event with a total of 674 points. Ryder finished third with a total of 605 points, and Cajun finished fourth with a total of 596 points. This event set up the perfect partnership for my dogs. From 2007 to 2011, Jeff and the dogs would compete in many events. But for me, the success in the field set life decisions in motion that would deliver harsh lessons.

Ryder’s National Championship set the stage for the Author’s New Venture

In December 2007, I quit the job that I had come to hate. For a year and a half, I lived like a gypsy delivering dogs from one location to another for clients while trying to come to grips with what I wanted to do. At thirty-seven, I was going through a full-blown mid-life crisis, but the dogs were winning. In March 2008, Ryder and Jeff picked up the National Upland Classic Series National Championship to go with Bella’s Quail Unlimited Flushing Dog of the year award, but I was mentally lost and had no clue what I wanted to do. After Jeff and I handled Ryder to a reserve Bird Dog Challenge Doubles World Title in October 2008 at the Bird Dog Challenge World Championships, I finally figured out what I wanted to do.

In early 2009, I opened Marley Sporting Dog Supplies and built the business slowly. For the first two years, I followed the family principle of growing the business slowly, but in the winter of 2011, after several consecutive quarters of significant profits, I made the decision with my ego to go big, and in doing so, I set my business up for failure which would result in a severe mental and financial crisis for me.

Two-Thousand Eleven started very well with business continuing to prosper, and at the SHOT Show in January, I ordered $15,000 of new inventory on terms that would allow me to pay for the product by November of that year. By this point in time, the dogs were six years old and were still competitive, but the business was taking up all of my time, energy, and money. I could only enter them in events where I could sell merchandise because I had to make money to justify the travel and expenses.

By October 2011, it was clear that the business was failing, but I stubbornly held on. With the dogs qualified, I entered the dogs and went to the Bird Dog Challenge World Championships. It was during this tournament that I determined that I was spending more money than I could afford, and with a poor showing both in the tournament and in sales, I left Iowa for North Carolina knowing that this was the dogs’ last competition, but I vowed on that trip home to try to save my business.

But, in the end, the business failed. I blamed everyone and everything from the economy to my friends and competitors not supporting me. But, it failed because I did not manage it wisely. I did not make sound decisions when I saw my business and the economy start to falter. I believed my sheer force of will would keep my business afloat and allow it to succeed. I was wrong, and the downward spiral that occurred from this belief culminated in an epic crash that left me financially and emotionally bankrupt. It was time to start over from rock-bottom.

Starting over was challenging; mainly having to take a minimum wage job at a local convenience store while trying to rebuild and rebrand myself. While rebooting from Chapter 7 and mental bankruptcy, Granny, Juanita Killian, reminded me that God had control of my life and that everything would work out no matter the difficulty of the trial. I could not see the truth in this, and it would get worse before it got better. I sent what seemed like a couple hundred resumes to prospective employers with no response. No one seemingly wanted me.

To make matters worse, on August 27, 2012, Granny fell and broke her hip. She was in the hospital when I was told that I had been fired from the convenience store job. But, to make matters worse, on August 28, 2012, at 91 years old, Granny succumbed to her injury, and the wind left my sails entirely. With this last straw, I was done.

Out of the ashes of my self-inflicted misery came a glimmer of hope. I received a contract offer from a company in Hickory, North Carolina, and in September, I took the job. That software development first position allowed me to get my feet back under me and begin the rebuilding process.

From September 2012 until today, my life has come full circle, and I am now in a position to give back to my community. But the self-inflicted pain and suffering left the life lesson that ego and force of will are a double-edged sword that can deliver both positive and negative consequences. So, what did I learn from this experience?

I have learned I have a great support network of family and real friends. And that network kept me grounded and helped me overcome a self-inflicted crisis once I put my ego aside. I also learned that life is still too short. Life is meant to be lived for all the good, bad, and ugly moments because it is through those moments, the most memorable experiences occur.

Granny’s death began my rebirth, and for me, I will always believe she put in a good word with the Lord upon arrival in Heaven. I received the first of many breaks, a new job in September 2012, during what has become a renaissance period in my life. During this period, I patched the relationship with my parents, found a love for writing, and rebuilt a life that in many ways is better than before.

I am at peace with where I am, where I am going, and I have learned I do not have to prove anything to anyone anymore. Small incremental improvements over the past six years have made my life better and restored my self-worth and self-esteem. Out of this failure, I became a better son, a better friend, and a better human being because of the lessons learned the hard way.

So, my challenge to you is that if the storms of life are overwhelming you, remember that asking for help is not showing weakness but strength because there are times we cannot overcome crises alone. There are people in your circle who are willing to help even if your circumstances are self-inflicted. Set small daily goals for self-improvement and work towards achieving them. My goal as a writer is to share my life’s story so that you might find inspiration knowing that you can overcome the worst of life’s circumstances by applying the right mixture of help from others, faith in a higher power, family support, and love.

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