Archive for May, 2012

Revisiting our past, reunion style

May 31, 2012

Here in Northwest DC, late spring is a season of budding flowers, gentle breezes, and class reunions. Ah, yes, the class reunion. We all know it; we’ve all been to at least one, and often, it can be like enduring puberty yet again. For some, a delightful romp, for others, not so much. Without fail, a snarky classmate attends but then refuses to speak to anyone. And, of course, there is always the Classmate Who Surprises.

 

Come on, you know who I’m talking about. The classmate nobody would’ve guessed to be any way other than A turns out to be Z. He or she reveals their true colors that are as much a revelation as a mystery: how could we have missed the signs? Our eyes search the room, desperate to find acknowledgement from someone else who is as surprised as we by the glory on display.

 

One prime example comes immediately to mind: a demure, tiny brunette who few in my class paid attention to returns 25 years later as a platinum blond body builder. For our updated class yearbook, she submitted a studio portrait of herself flexing in an orange bikini, holding her naked infant. Wow. I admire her confidence.

 

And then there’s the classmate who received a doctorate in Renaissance medical techniques and now “consults” with the US Navy. Undoubtedly, she must spend much of her time in undisclosed locations on an atoll in the South Pacific where the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply.

 

Or there’s the time when we knock on the door of the home where the Big Party is being held, only to introduce ourselves to our classmate hostess who’s had so much plastic surgery to render her unrecognizable. Awkward.

 

Alumnae magazine updates may be less personal, but when I read entries of our peers who write to inform the rest of us about the benefits of adhering to some humble yet righteous diet while recording soon-to-be-lost native lullabies sung in war zones or those who have created an entire cottage industry as a certified psychic or life coach, well, reports like these make me want to crawl under my twin sized bed and stay there.

 

Why don’t these updates say something more like, “I finally married a straight guy who has held onto the same job for the past five years and knows how to change a tire.” Or perhaps, “Having recently been fired, I am relieved to be gone and am now happily working as a telemarketer.” Where are these entries?

 

Personally, I would be relieved to read something honest like that than the sort of dreck that regularly gets published. And I know I’m not alone. When I once made a little noise about the type of entries that get printed, it was patiently explained to me that schools never publish such updates because it might “hurt the brand.”

 

It takes a lot of courage to return to our old stomping grounds and subject ourselves to the scrutiny of peers, but overall, most of the time, it’s life affirming. Either you’re glad you didn’t wind up like X or you’re elated to discover that Y has come into her own. The thing that’s so nice about returning to a place where we share the same vocabulary is that, even though we may no longer speak the same language, that touchstone reminds us how far we’ve come.

Re-booting, the edited version

May 29, 2012

Recently, I had a Letter to the Editor published in the New York Times, responding to a front page article about the high cost of college debt. http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/19/opinion/shouldering-the-burden-of-college-debt.html

 

But today, I’m not writing about what I said. Instead, I’m writing about the daring it required for me to submit it and the aftermath that comes with actually having it published in a huge venue, out there, for all to see, evaluate, take issue with, or compliment. This experience has everything to do with re-booting one’s life because the act, in and of itself, of re-booting means that we have to be brave enough to try something new and be confident enough in our actions that whatever the results may be, we’re willing to stand by our choice.

 

Writing to a large newspaper like the NY Times may, in fact, require less courage simply because the chance of getting published is so slim. Although this may sound self-congratulatory, that isn’t my intent. But when I wrote it, when I hit the “send” button, I knew it was a good letter, with a good point, and I knew there was a chance it would make the cut. My fear of being published and subsequently criticized existed even as I prepared the email, but I did it anyway.

 

That’s my point to you, too.

 

Steps like whether or not to speak up in some capacity or to break a pattern of reaction that people have come to expect from us or consciously trying to retrain our brains to think differently about a situation which continues to bother us, each of these efforts are like my being published in the NY Times. Taking any such steps doesn’t guarantee an end result, but it opens a door—no small thing, indeed.

 

The letter I sent was longer and more nuanced. The edited version that made the cut, while very much mine, was shorter and more forceful. Packing a sort of one-two punch. And now, here I am, elated to be published, but also fearful of the judgments others might accord to my printed sentiments.

 

Yet, at the end of the day, three things are equally valid: 1) what I wrote reflects an opinion and concern shared by a lot of people, 2) nobody is going to give my letter more than a second’s notice, so I needn’t worry so much about the possible aftermath, and 3) having taken this small step, I am that much more confident about revealing more of the “real me” in the future. And all this came from a fly by night moment on the treadmill where I decided it might be fun just to try.

 

Sort of like writing this blog!

 

Homework assignment: I want you to go out there this week and just try something new, experiment, see how you feel afterwards and report back. Good luck!

A dollar for your thoughts

May 27, 2012

Taco Bell’s new campaign is “Graduate to Go.” By giving a dollar, I (somehow) will inspire high school students to graduate. Really? My dollar will do this?

Why aren’t they inspired to graduate ON THEIR OWN?

Honestly, I find this advertising campaign shocking. It isn’t enough for kids to want to achieve this mark of achievement, well, just because it might possibly mean something in terms of their own, personal journey. Rather, it takes my dollar to get them over the hump.

You know what, guys, this is disgusting to me.  Maybe it’s just me. But isn’t getting an education sufficient in and of itself a sufficient motivator to, say, do the work necessary to earn a high school diploma?

We now are faced with a situation where a huge corporation has to encourage US–you and me– to give a dollar, buy a burrito, to supply sufficient encouragement to get some kid in East LA or Houston or New Orleans to buckle down and study?

If so, how much is such a kid worth to us in the future? Politically incorrect, perhaps, but I want my dollar’s worth.

Thoughts???

Take off those blinders!

May 26, 2012

Previously, I have mentioned how important it is to laugh and how easily this can happen if you pay attention to what’s around you. No other effort required. Doing so can transport you from a lousy mood into a buoyant one in no time flat, I promise. You don’t even need to catch the entire conversation—it’s actually more fun if you don’t, because then you can fill in the blanks.

 

A few Fridays ago, I was sitting at the bar of a local restaurant we’ve fondly re-named The Cheap and Cheerful, waiting out my father’s 55th high school reunion dinner which was taking place back at home. Positioning myself at the end of the bar, against the wall, allowed me to survey as many different groups of people as possible. After ordering a glass of wine, I sat back, watched and listened.

 

There was the old man sitting next to me, sipping Johnny Walker Black Label and wearing a red t-shirt which loudly proclaimed, “Poop Deck 2011.”  Apparently a regular, he insisted that both flat screens be tuned to the Golf Channel since it was too much effort to turn his head to the right. Then, there was the young, preppy couple who (regrettably for them) recognized me and waved me over. I had the lack of diplomacy to exchange greetings and then spontaneously share an amusing yet shocking story about the wife’s mother. That will, undoubtedly, be a short lived friendship. And then, my most favorite of activities, is to eavesdrop on a long, intense conversation about which I have no context. The following is a verbatim transcription of pieces of conversation between two local hospital employees while noshing on wine and fried cheese sticks —entertain yourself with the following:

 

The phone rings. “Hi, Mom! I’m still at work with a colleague but can talk for a sec. I’ll call you as soon as I leave my mtg. Luv you!”

–“I didn’t adapt well.”

–“Number 1. I would never have an inappropriate conversation and Number 2. It wasn’t inappropriate.”

–“You are so far past that, give it up.”

–“Is this before you committed the mortal sin?”

–“Here’s the dif: next year is all about self-preservation.”

–“I understand, I understand!”

 

Any one of these lines is amusing enough, but taken together in this animated and supportive exchange, well, don’t you wonder just what the inappropriate conversation was? And what about that mortal sin? Good to know that next year is all about self-preservation—forewarned is forearmed, my friends.

 

This stuff is all around us all the time, 24/7, you just have to watch for it. People are hilarious. Truth is so much stranger than fiction and it’s right outside your doorstep, just waiting for you to recognize it! My assignment to you is this: I want you to go out, put on your metaphorical binoculars, and look. After you look, figure out what’s amusing about what you’re seeing/hearing. Fill in the blanks. If you’re really stuck to find something funny, ask yourself: how would Saturday Night Live present this in a skit? Repeat as necessary. Report back. (I grade on a curve.)

TripTik for Life, version 2.0

May 23, 2012

 

 Remember those great TripTiks from AAA? Oh, how I loved those things. Whenever we would drive from DC to Tennessee, I remember how excited I was to flip the page and watch the journey unfold before us, following the yellow highlighter as we made our way along the Interstate. I always thought it would be particularly romantic if we stopped and had a picnic on one of those grass covered highway medians.

 

Wouldn’t it be nice to have a TripTik for life?

 

Well, I may not be able to provide that, per se, but I can offer a Re-booting version.

TripTik for Life, version 2.0

 

First, you need to acknowledge that you want to get somewhere other than where you are now.

 

Second, you need to decide where you want to go. A wise man once advised me, “You don’t get in a taxi and tell the driver, ‘Well, I don’t want to go to the zoo.’ You need to know where you want to go!” Very true.

 

Deciding where you want to go may require you to ask yourself, “What are my strengths? What have I been genuinely interested in or enjoyed doing for a long time? What could I change about my life that would allow me to do more of this?” Don’t censor yourself! Include everything that pops out, no matter how ridiculous it may sound. It can be hard to answer some of these questions, but if you sit quietly for a bit or think about the question before you fall asleep, the main answer will show up.

 

Third, ask yourself what you could do each day, as small as that action might be, that would move you closer to the goal. I’m talking baby steps here, people; it doesn’t need to be anything big, just something that moves you one step closer.

 

Fourth, take that step. Repeat as necessary.

 

Flip the page of your TripTik and see where you are.

 

Re-boot 2.0 has thousands of satisfied customers. Those who ran out of gas or simply didn’t start weren’t truly interested in making the trip to begin with.

I want resolution and I want it now!

May 17, 2012

Answers. Resolution. Happy endings.

 

When one is in the process of re-booting one’s life, it’s understandable to want answers. Personally, I loathe doing anything without a plan all mapped out. I want to know where I’m going, when I’ll arrive, and exactly what to expect along the way.

 

Only life doesn’t seem to present itself in such an agreeable manner. Instead, we’re forced to adapt, to flex with the circumstances, to react to unanticipated conditions. It’s not on a timetable that suits us or maybe it’s exactly the timetable we want and things, at least initially, unfold as we predicted they would.

 

The workplace turned into a hell hole and we were fired. We hated our job, so we left. Our relationship fizzled and we find ourselves on our own, again. But, somehow too, we feel relieved. At least we’re out of it.

 

But, then what?

 

I was talking with a friend who is re-booting her career, having left one that was good but boring. Thrilled with her decision to quit, she has yet to determine what she wants to pursue next. “The thing about it is,” she complained, “I want the answer now. I hate this waiting around, trying to figure things out.”

 

Sound familiar?

 

It does to me. Now, however, I am in an enviable position—I finally know what I want to do: I want to write. So, that’s what I’m doing (albeit for free); and doing the thing I love is a tonic for the many unanswered parts of my life. I don’t know how I’ll provide for myself. I don’t know when this question will get settled. I don’t know how many intermediate steps along the way will be necessary before I find that place where my life feels resolved. When I get my happy ending.

 

But, I do know this: answers don’t come on a deadline. We can utilize all the Myers-Briggs tests, career counseling, and prayers as we like, but this process cannot be rushed. Personally, I find this infuriating. I have organized my entire life based on deadlines and I feel more in control with that structure. It has worked well for me in so many arenas, but trying to communicate with that elusive sense of self and who we truly are and what we want to do going forward cannot be rushed.

 

And so it is that days, weeks, months, even years can go by without answers. We know we don’t have it quite right but cannot articulate what “right” looks like. The waiting, the not knowing is dreadful. Personally, the pervasive anxiety I feel worrying about whether or not “it’ll all work out” and how might I escape this purgatory occupies many hours of my day.

 

But then I ask myself, am I being too demanding in my expectations of what resolution feels like? Am I so vague-intolerant that I am making the situation worse? Can I not find some sort of Buddhist-like joy in the waiting? In the journey? In the lack of answers? When I examine how I actually spend my days, am I even suffering? Does this not knowing merit so much hand wringing?

 

So then I go further with this line of questioning: is this self-induced agony serving as a distraction because not having the answers scares me so much?

 

When I think of people I’ve known who either manufacture drama so they can be upset about something or others who schedule too many activities so that they don’t have a moment for quiet self-reflection, it’s easy to see what they’re doing.  Is this what I’m doing, too?

 

When I’m not torturing myself with my incessant, useless demands for clarity and security, a small voice reminds me that there’s a chance that something I haven’t even considered, some sort of amazing surprise, may await me if only I can manage to quit fretting.

 

But answers don’t come on a timetable, and somehow I have to find a mode of peacefully existing with the uncertainty until things clarify. Easier said than done, of course, but then I think of my friend and her impatience for the solution to present itself.

 

I nod in sympathy and counsel her simply to be patient, do what’s right there, available in the now and see what unfolds…she just might be surprised.

 

What techniques have you used to assuage yourself in times of confusion? How have you handled long moments of uncertainty? Has life astonished you with marvelous discoveries you would never have dreamed up for yourself?

Crisis Management

May 15, 2012

Isn’t there some Chinese symbol for crisis that means challenge and opportunity? Well, I think about that a lot these days. Part of the business of re-booting my life involves both—all day, everyday.

 

When I’ve talked about this transition I’m going through, some friends have sighed and told me how lucky I am, how they know loads of people who would kill for the opportunity to re-boot their life. Others have stared at me wide-eyed over lunch and said, “Wow! You’re really brave to try to start out all over again!”

 

Both statements are equally true: I am brave and I am lucky. While my particular re-booting journey is dramatic—uprooting myself from the place where I lived out my early adult years with family and friends, moving across the country without a job, and settling into my childhood room–I believe that each one of us has the chance to re-boot over the course of our life. What’s required is the courage and determination to make some change–whether it’s a more private, internal transformation such as a conscious shift in perspective as to how we think of ourselves or how we choose to react to the world around us or an externally obvious shift like changes in living situations, careers, or lifestyle.

 

It doesn’t really matter what the possible adjustment is as long as we take responsibility for what we choose to do about it. As terrifying as change can feel, when I think back to people I’ve known who were too afraid to change, too set in their ways to withstand the excruciating agonies change can mandate, or who were simply too tired to deal with the pushback they’d get from others should they try, well, it makes me sad.

 

There are lots of valid reasons not to change—valid, not good. You don’t want to anger your children or lose half your assets to a spouse you no longer want to be with, so you stay. You’ve got so much invested in a job you’ve hated for years, so you grit your teeth and hold on. You can’t imagine that there might be anything better “out there” waiting—you’re too old or not bright enough or have serious doubts anyone would help you along the way. So you defer indefinitely.

 

To feel better you tell yourself, “I believe in the sanctity of marriage.” “I’ve come so close on the XYZ initiative, if I left now all that hard work would be for nothing.” “I can stand it for a few more years and then we’ll see.” “I owe it to them to be here.” You hide by burying yourself in so much activity that you don’t have time to reflect. “I’m too busy to think about being happy.” You remind yourself that it’s more important to be responsible than to be fulfilled. And the you who is you, deep down, dies a little.

 

I argue with none of this. It’s all valid, it’s all responsible, but it’s also cowardly. I know because I’m a coward, too. Nobody likes change—certainly not the sort that has no guaranteed happy ending, and certainly not change that involves a seemingly unlimited duration of instability and unknowns.

 

But that’s where opportunity comes in, my friends. That’s where the freedom and the chance to make life as you really want it enters the picture.  What this requires is for you to have enough faith in yourself to get out of bed each morning, take a deep breath, and just try. Nobody else is going to give it to you; nobody else can. If you’re restless or unhappy, it’s up to you to figure this out. Please, please don’t hide behind whatever handy construct is available.

 

Life is about showing up.

 

I think about that Chinese symbol, and convince myself to take that first step each morning.

What about you?

Birthday evaluations and searing honesty

May 11, 2012

You know, I thought I had it all set.

 

Life.

 

I did. Truly.

 

Not perfect, of course, but pretty damn good and with unlimited promise.

 

And then it started to go wrong. And then relationships didn’t manifest that I was counting on. And then I got betrayed. Deeply. Searingly.

 

And then I had to start over.

 

Has this ever happened to you?

 

So, here I am. Back in DC, living in my childhood home, trying to make sense of what I never imagined would happen, but did. Now, on the cusp of my birthday, I get to decide who I am and what sort of life I’ll lead going forward. I get to re-evaluate many things. Those things being my assumptions about life, the lessons I learned about hard work, honesty, and recompense. The “truths” I believed about what it means to be a “successful” adult. What it means to feel fulfilled. And what it says about me that I’m questioning all these beliefs.

 

Has this ever happened to you?

 

It’s at points like these, when the pedal hits the metal, that you have to decide whether it’s an outside driven life or an inner? Because there are plenty of good reasons to think that the outer is a better way to go; after all, if everyone else is doing it, it’s gotta be good, right???

 

How much does it suck to be one of those people who cannot ignore the pull of the inner drive? When, no matter how much you resist it, that voice refuses to silence? Welcome to my life.

 

A dear, dear friend just called, encouraging me to continue with this blog. She said I had a “unique” voice. Quixotic and universal. Unpredictable and yet reflecting a common experience of people who are re-evaluating their lives. I should write a book based on my experiences and perspective. All of this was hugely flattering (never mind that she had had 3 glasses of wine when she said these things) and I love her for saying it.

 

But, back to re-evaluation. So, here we are. You, me, and the one other person who’s reading this blog. I advise to remind yourself that nobody gets it right the first time at bat. If they act as if they have, believe me, they’re liars or seriously deluded.

 

My friend told me the best parts were when I was brutally honest. Stay tuned.

10 Things to Ask Yourself When Re-booting Your Life

May 9, 2012

I thought I’d share with you some of the tools that have helped me as I’ve been making this transition in my life. For me, it helps to write things down, to see them in black and white as opposed to the jumble of emotion, images and thoughts that can swirl together in my head. The thing about re-booting is that prior to that point where the screen goes black, you need to decide whether or not you’re going to push that off button. Here’s my version of what to do before you make that choice.

  1. What sort of change do I feel I need to make?
  2. Why do I think I need to change things?
  3. How might others be directly impacted by my making this change?
  4. Am I prepared to handle the fallout?
  5. Am I prepared to handle the uncertainty that accompanies any change?
  6. Realistically (and this is the hard part), what’s the worst that can happen?
  7. Could it really be that bad?
  8. What amazing things might happen if I did make this change?
  9. How would I feel about myself if I decided to stick with the way things are?
  10. Do I believe in myself enough to try?

(Bonus question: what assumptions am I making as I answer these? Are those assumptions true or fair?)

Without fail, change enters all of our lives—some we choose, some we do not. Change can bring the end of many bad things: bad jobs, bad relationships, bad health, so there’s a lot about change that we can happily embrace!

Often, though, change presents itself at an “inconvenient” time. We don’t always get to choose when change happens, just like we don’t always get to choose when to have a baby or when to do something else we’re not entirely sure we want to do. But, if we wait for the “right” time, that time might never come.

So, as you go about mulling over what it is that you’re dissatisfied with in your life or what it is that you’ve had a nagging urge to try, ask yourself the above questions. Ask yourself to answer them, in writing, first thing every morning for five days in a row. Quick answers, don’t think too much. Don’t do this when you’re feeling miserable about your life, wait until you’re in a decent mood to begin. Then go.

Try it. Take a breath, trust yourself, and be brave enough to ask.

If you have any additional questions you find helpful, I’d love to hear them–this is an ongoing thing for me.

Crossing the Conversational Rubicon

May 8, 2012

Previously, I have mentioned that one of the most memorable things my dad ever said to me was, “Make the wallflowers bloom.” By that, he meant that I was to walk into a situation, seek out somebody who was staring at his feet or some other misery index criteria, and chat ‘em up. This missive has served me well over the years, but then there’s the other side to this argument: knowing when to shut up and let silence reign.

Most of us have been socialized to smooth over awkward social situations—usually by talking, or at least a sympathetic smile. Touching is now taboo, so let’s take that off the table of approved practices. However, these techniques can get to be overused or ill received and yet, because we don’t know what else to do, we keep talking and talking, sounding more and more like an idiot to ourselves and our hapless companions. This is where the science of conversation comes into play. You need a formula: ask yourself, am I saying too much? Am I getting any response whatsoever from my companion? Is this effort an example of the law of diminishing returns?

I remember one night when I was working a rubber chicken dinner at a political event in Santa Paula, California. I was there to “represent” so to speak, and was seated at one of twenty tables squished into a former gymnasium. The room was hot and the dinner cold. Enthusiastically, I went about my mission to chat up my dinner cohorts but to no avail. In hindsight, it was really quite funny. The earnest, young politico eagerly connecting with the gathered constituents, few of whom have any idea who she is or why the hell she’s wasting their time.

In the darkness of that Santa Paula gymnasium, I nervously burbled on at the table–knowing full well how stupid I sounded–the specter of silence loomed terrifyingly large. But it was at that moment that I embraced my fears: I crossed the conversational Rubicon. As awkward as the silence might be, it was worse to feel like a nattering idiot. And so, I stopped talking. Full stop.

I’d liken the next few minutes to the free fall one feels after jumping out of a plane, but I kept my lips sealed and stared at my chicken. Nobody seemed to notice, or if they did, they weren’t saying. A million thoughts rushed through my head—should I resume my blather? Should I excuse myself from the table? What in God’s name do I do now? And, at last, it hit me: if nobody else felt an urge to rescue this situation, then neither should I. We could all sit there silently, chewing.

As ridiculous as this story sounds, it actually has a useful point. As individuals, we are not solely responsible for maintaining or rescuing an ungainly encounter. Knowing how to talk to reluctant others has great advantages and can result in marvelous exchanges, but knowing when to hold your tongue and let things ride can be powerful in its own right. Keep that in mind when you’re panicking about what to say next.


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