Archive for June, 2012

The Confidence of the Newly Minted

June 28, 2012

You know, it never fails to surprise me each time I am forced to recognize yet another thing I don’t know about life, when it feels as if everyone else has figured it out. I hope that in my re-booting process I wind up with additional savoir-faire because my pace seems to be on the low end of the bell curve.

A few days ago, I hightailed it down to Capitol Hill to attend a job networking event. It was an oppressive June evening—the sort where sweat trickles down your back and your hair deflates instantaneously as your huff your way from the depths of a dank and fetid Metro stop into an overly air conditioned interior. But, given that I continue to be looking for employment, I forced myself to attend.

Capitol Hill is an impressive locale, with pink granite based buildings and pleasing plantings of petunias along the sidewalks. It was just after six and throngs of Congressional staffers were streaming out of the Rayburn and Longworth buildings, eagerly chattering and brimming with the energetic determination of those who Intend to Rule. As I made my way through security, I crossed paths with yet more such staffers, their animated conversations bouncing off the marble lined hallways.

What came as a shock to me was that they all looked like they were twelve years old.

Now, I suppose that in order to reach a point where one feels compelled to re-boot one’s life, a certain amount of water has gone under the bridge. Me and my progressive lenses will cop to that. But, really? Am I so off base and hoary now that I have lost any proportional sense as to how old twenty-ish staffers actually look? And, further, how is it possible that they all seem so confident? How is it that they can feel so assured in arguing national policy details?

Is it simply the prerogative of the senior set to roll their eyes, imperiously contending that youth and inexperience disqualify all those who might otherwise assert opinions?

By comparison, I was an elderly 27 when I started working for a California State Assemblyman. A freshly minted attorney, I knew how to research case briefs, but not much else. And certainly not enough to express strongly held views about the state budget.

Rather, my job was to serve as the Assemblyman’s main liaison to the District. Working in the 35th AD, my responsibility was to take action on constituent concerns–a role of primary importance for any legislator. Contact with the electorate requires a finely tuned ear, responsiveness, and common sense whenever possible. By distinction, I watched my Sacramento office mates (younger than I) deign to reply to my emails, only after they concluded whatever State Crisis of the Moment their infinite expertise required. Excuse me while I snort.

Observing these ambitious Hill Climbers cruise the halls of Congress in a somewhat proprietary manner got me thinking. Have I just been slow on the draw in terms of knowing where I want to go and what I want to do, or is there something awry with the Capitol Hill perception that these kids, all of whom are in their career infancy, have a lot to add in terms of wisdom and judgment for national policy debates?

Don’t get me wrong. I am grateful that brilliant young minds continue to be produced—I’m counting on it! I also believe that if you are old enough to serve in the military, you are capable of foresight and good judgment in other arenas, as well. New blood brings new perspective, and it’s important that we have a multi-generational investment in our democracy. However, the wisdom that comes with age, experience, and error cannot be replicated by means of an app.

Honestly, these staffers were—kids. Kids who roam Capitol Hill with next to zero life experience. They may be willing to work for pennies, and have energy and enthusiasm in abundance, but those qualities don’t make for an even trade as far as I can see. Democracy is a messy business and should be laissez faire, but observing this side of Occupy DC made me (yet again) question my confidence in the judgment of our elected representatives.

However, I always am prepared to consider that I am behind the times. Thoughts???


The Idiotic Things We Do To Ourselves

June 26, 2012

One of the primary purposes of re-booting is to take the time and effort to set ourselves upon the Right Path because whatever road we trod before no longer serves us. However, as earnest and watchful as we aspirants may be, that doesn’t preclude the occasional misstep.


Some may be serious, but most not. To wit, my idealistic reliance on a newspaper book critic and subsequent refusal to course correct. Now, I am a big reader. I love to read; I mean I LOVE it. I’ll devour nearly anything handed to me—including that ridiculous series Fifty Shades of Grey. But, even I have my limits. I declined to read the third one because the first two were so stupid—thank God I paid cash, so my purchasing habits can’t be traced.


But even those books weren’t as terrible as the one lauded in the Post a few weeks ago. The appraisal started out cleverly enough: the reviewer observed that there must be something in the fjord water to produce such a large crop of “superlative Swedish crime writers.” She went on to draw a parallel between the Dragon tattoo series and those written by the recommended author, Camilla Lackberg.  Who, the reviewer professed, wrote “richly textured and downright breathtaking” mysteries.


Well, I got so excited, I decided to purchase works one and two in addition to the third (which was the subject of this review), so as to appreciate the fine way the characters were drawn throughout the course of the series. Boy, was I WRONG! These mysteries are so canned that even I could figure out what was going on before the “big reveal.” And, what’s up with the bizarre phrases chosen by the Swedish to English translator [ok, just take my word for it]. Who edited this thing?!? These books are so awful that I could never in good conscience give them to anyone; I am seriously considering a midnight run past the library book deposit bin.


The house was desolate and empty.” “Something was wrong. He could feel it in his joints, the same way he sometimes felt an approaching storm.” “The bathroom was completely tiled in white, so the effect of the blood in and around the bathtub was even more striking. For a brief moment she thought that the contrast was pretty…in spite of the unnatural interplay of white and blue on the body….” Snarky comment from me: I bet she got help from her creative writing instructor on making the scene come more alive with descriptives! And just one more, I promise. “Erica had slept a deep and dreamless sleep, but still felt as though she’d barely had a catnap.”


OK, so as terrible as these books are, what was idiotic was that I forced myself to read all three. 


Why??? Why in God’s name did I do this?


I hated every minute of reading these books; I mean it was painful to turn the page. I so much wanted to walk away from the entire, miserable experience, and yet…


I didn’t.


I can’t even say it was like a moth to a flame—that would be more Fifty Shades territory. Rather, I suspect that in my determination to “get my money’s worth” I felt I deserved the punishment of slogging through this drivel to the end. But also, there remained a wee hope that, perhaps, the book would get better if only I stuck with it long enough. Or, I kept trying to suss out what the reviewer saw in the author’s work that I was missing. Alas, my errant investment of hope proved to be awash. So, at the end of the day, what is the takeaway lesson from this?


All this wasted time and angst over some silly books? Ridiculous, I know.


In what other arenas of life might this same psychosis lurk? Where might those same questions apply in your life?


Cutting your losses is easier said than done.

Comfort versus Fit

June 21, 2012

Previously, I shared my discovery of the “friend audit;” a concept introduced to me by someone who has a broad range of social and professional acquaintances and decided she needed to reassess how much effort she wanted to invest in people who, while perfectly pleasant, didn’t ring her bell.

Such audits can occur multiple times over one’s life because as we change, our needs modify and may even be transformed.  Different people fill different requirements—we all know that there is no One Single Person who can fulfill all our wants and desires. As our interests alter, so should the people who orbit our solar system.

I say none of this with a brusque or uncaring attitude. Rather, I say it out of regard for those individuals who no longer fulfill my prerequisites—or I theirs. The last thing in the world I’d ever want is to unwittingly share the company of someone who would prefer my absence. I don’t need their pity or their guilt or whatever other impetus might serve for a reluctant invitation, and I pay them the same respectful accord. The way I see it, all relationships are like the tide: they have high points and low ones; at times they are closer and at others they pull away, but they’re never fully gone.

Which leads me to my adjunct point for the week. When conducting a friend audit (or a life audit, for that matter), it’s important to ask yourself why you’re spending time doing X or sharing Y’s company. All too often, we find ourselves in situations or with people because they’re familiar—we know the drill—not because they continue to signal who we are, our interests, or partialities. We do it because we’ve always done it. We do it because our family or our peers or society says it’s the Right Thing. We do it because we don’t know what else to do. Whatever “it” is, is familiar—despite the fact that it’s no longer comfortable or enjoyable for us, let alone an accurate reflection of who we, as individuals, currently are.

How many people do you know whose spouse is just like one of their parents–and not in a good way? Hmm? How many? I’ve got three or four examples that spring to mind without even trying. Why do you think they made such a choice—especially, given how much time they’ve complained about that parent in the past? And even if they’re not complaining, what is the first obvious theory that might explain why they chose this particular person with whom to have a relationship? What’s your next theory? Any others?

Of course, not all relationships are like this, nor is it the only way that examples of comfort versus fit arise. It’s a phrase used to sell underwear sure, but it’s an important distinction because as you go about redefining yourself and your life, the idea of relinquishing your grip on previously cherished traditions or ways of thinking is scary, especially when you may not have a sure answer as to what you need in futuro. So the familiar calls to you with that siren song—that comfort, that easy familiarity beckons you to return to its fold. You know the contours—even if it’s a road you’d never choose on your own, at least you know where it leads. That sort of seduction is hard to resist when faced with an alternative of a foggy path that has revealed itself to you only a little…

I ask you to reflect on this for a quiet moment or two—why are you doing what your doing?

So, what is it? Are you going with comfort? Or fit?

(L)Auditory Behavior

June 19, 2012

When you’re smack in the middle of re-booting your life, the way I am, not only are there profound internal changes occurring, but more often than not, outward behaviors usually reflect some of these adjustments, as well.

You lose weight. You decide you want to learn rock climbing. You start saying no when you used to say yes. You decide your time is more valuable than the ways you’ve spent it up to now—even if there are no tantalizing alternatives currently available. You conduct a friend audit, weighing and balancing the expectations vs. payoffs of any particular relationship to see if it merits an ongoing investment.

You change your life to reflect more of who you are…now.

For many of us, one of the complex and challenging aspects of adulthood is to become comfortable with saying no to others. We cringe at the thought of their disappointment or sullen silence or guilt-inducing look of hurt. We argue with ourselves that we can do “this one little thing.” “It won’t kill me,” we mutter, equal parts angry that we’re agreeing to a commitment we don’t want and guilty for feeling “selfish” by wanting the time for ourselves. To spend the way we want to spend it—even if that means doing nothing.

The practice of “friend audits” is new to me, but I think it makes a lot of sense. Somewhat akin to the way mugs seem to multiply under cover of night and closed doors, over the course of the years, we cannot help but accrete a larger collective of associates, friends, colleagues, etc. They follow us via Facebook, Linked In, email, text, or some even face to face.

The possibility of scaling back on our body of acquaintance seems foreign in so many ways. After all, the images of people who are happy and content with their lives generally have large Twitter followings, or are the subjects of Friar Club roasts, or casually mention that they’re booked every weekend for the next twenty weeks with commitments for holidays out until 2016.

Not me. And this was the case even before I began my re-booting. But now, in my Pyrite Years, I have concluded that such audits are invaluable—not because they symbolize a rejection of some, but because they require a conscious prioritizing of what I’m doing in my life. Am I doing what I want to be doing? And if not, why not? Because the only person who can change that calculus is me.

The longer I sit here grumbling about going places I don’t want to go or spending time with people who enervate me—well, it does them no favors to bask in my less than enthusiastic presence and I’ve lost that same time spending on something right for me. On multiple occasions, I have flat out asked myself: if I can’t go into a relationship, job, or activity with a glad heart, is this really the way I want to interact with the world? What about you? How much of your current life is spent doing things or being with people who no longer reflect your interests or priorities? Why do you choose to continue? I encourage you to be brutally honest with yourself when answering. Think carefully about this because my next post is a follow up on the difference between what’s familiar and what fits.

Wisdom-free advice

June 14, 2012

I am an ardent fan of Miss Manners’ columns. Negotiating one’s way through the perils of modern society and its ever changing mores can be quite the task! Somewhat akin to the English language itself, manners and social expectations are adapting to an ongoing influx of technology and redefinition of roles for those of us who agree to participate in society.


So, imagine my delight when Miss Manners recently wrote about the perils of accepting “wisdom-free advice.” Yes, friends, you read that correctly. How much wisdom-free advice has been passed along to you of late? Whether well intentioned or not, this particular strain of advice appears to be infecting all corners of our daily lives. The trick is not to take it!


But scores of folks are desperate for guidance, wisdom-filled or not. We cast about for input, as if our lives were some micro version of American Idol, and we’ll go with whatever the majority tells us—never mind that they’re basing their opinion on next to nothing known about the vagaries of our particular situation.


If someone can give me what looks like the Golden Answer, I’m there. Doing so frees me up from the burden and responsibility of figuring out the next best step myself. I know how seductive this approach to managing one’s life sounds; I mean, surely there are others out there who know a whole lot more about Life than I do, right? Good Lord, I hope so! At least that’s what we tell ourselves all too often.


But, as Gregory Peck said in Cape Fear (1962), “Thinking is not knowing.” Argh! I hate hearing that! In fact, I pride myself (most of the time) on being a good thinker—I think, therefore, I know. It certainly suits someone who dwells in our nation’s capital, n’est pas?


How many times have you thought something, known it deep down in your bones to be true, only to be proved wrong later on? We may be excellent thinkers in all sorts of arenas; we may have correctly evaluated hundreds of situations in a blink of an eye and earned confidence in our abilities to navigate our way through complex social situations, but the trick with basing future assessments on previous success is that the calculus changes. We forget this, especially as we get older.


Things don’t stay the same. People react differently. What we assumed to be the baseline understanding is no longer valid. The conclusions we have drawn are based on a bygone era. Apples to oranges.  Too often, we dole out wisdom-free advice to ourselves and to others, based on premises that were drawn from a very different set of circumstances.


My point is that we need to be continually questioning our assumptions when we draw conclusions or make silent declarations about the State of Things. It’s an inconvenient truth, but thinking isn’t knowing. And sometimes this can serve us well by giving us an extra chance we hadn’t counted on. Ponder carefully previous times when you thought you knew something and figure you’ll go with that this time, too, because that hard won knowledge may no longer apply.

The Shortcomings of PowerPoint

June 12, 2012

In a world and culture obsessively focused on the tangibles—statistics, output, productivity rates, and the much adulated “metrics” repeated as a mantra in today’s business schools—it’s easy to forget about intangibles.


As I struggle with the agonizingly slow pace of carving out a new chapter in my life and career, one of the biggest challenges for me is the fact that I can’t “see” any signs of progress. There’s nothing I can point to as if I needed to prepare a PowerPoint presentation to prove that, yes, I can chart my rate of productivity or maturity or insight on a graph.


Parents of young children can track how much bigger and more learned their offspring are. Employees can offer paystubs, sales figures, and meetings attended. Artists and actors can use catalogs or playbills to demonstrate what they’ve achieved. All good things. But what about the rest of us? Those fellow travelers who are having a rough go at satisfying the need for black and white results? Surely, there’s more to life than what can be measured. How do we reconcile this with what Western culture reasonably expects?


Each day, I grow more aware of the necessity to balance my drive for demonstrable results with the fact that much of what I am doing here in Washington, living with my father, trying to pull together this next chapter in my life cannot be measured in such terms.


In Corinthians 2, Chapter 4 verse 18 the Apostle Paul writes, “While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.”


How, for instance, can I measure or even be sure of the positive impact I am having by being companionable—whether it’s with my dad who craves company and truly appreciates the meals I throw together or the temporary lift I strive to provide a cousin whose son recently passed? What about the simple, genial atmosphere that’s created when I pop in a Bull Durham dvd, open a bottle of wine, and invite a neighbor to come watch? Or when I took the time to tell the manager at my gym what a nice, careful job some of his maintenance staff was doing?


None of these gestures amount to a hill of beans that can be “counted,” and they certainly don’t move forward my agenda of re-booting my career, but I know they matter. I know this because of the honest motivation to connect with people on a sincere level. They may not count for much and such gestures may not make a measureable difference in the lives of the people they’re aimed at, but I believe there’s a whole world, unseen, which exists and thrives way more brilliantly then this one. I just can’t prove it.


My point is this: even when you believe you have little to “show” for your efforts, if you are genuinely making that effort; if you are being honest and authentic in your endeavors to keep your little corner of the world swept up and tidy—it all counts. Give yourself credit because I know how hard that can be in a world and a culture that demands productivity statistics, public accolades, and Power Point presentations.

The Big Picture User’s Manual

June 7, 2012

Appreciably altering one’s existence mandates that we take a step back and try to ascertain what’s happened, because if life were working the way we wanted, we’d most likely not need to re-boot! Somewhere within our internal structure, a bug lurks which we must identify in order to eliminate. For some, it’s a relatively simple fix; for others, there’s been a critical invasion of malware that will require significant effort to repair. Alas, if only life came packaged with a user’s manual…


Ok, so enough of this analogy.


Given that the baseline source of discontent is not always obvious, we need to follow the clues. We need to look for patterns. Let’s start there, shall we? Because, often, when someone is unhappy with his or her life, instead of examining overall patterns they take a single example, break it down into pieces, and then hold up a particular fragment declaring that this one instance speaks for their entire life experience.


No, my friends, no! This is NOT the way to do it! This will not solve your problem.


If you want to understand meaning, don’t pull things apart or practice any version of deconstruction. Rather, you must put things together; seek out the Big Picture. You can’t appreciate the beauty and meaning of a sculpture by breaking it apart and examining shards of marble. All you have is a pile of dust. Am I right?


So, again, you want to look for a pattern in your experiences and extrapolate from there. But don’t stop at the first right answer/pattern you identify. Rather, push forward and ask yourself, “What else might be true?” When moving through this course of action, do your best to be detached—try hard to remove emotion from your examination of the topic since our emotional reactions can easily hijack the entire process.


And, I should add, that when undergoing such scrutiny, choose a quiet time when you are in a decent mood. The worst thing you can do is to decide to do this when you are unhappy—believe me, I know—because the conclusions you will draw while in that mindset will invariably be erroneous.


It’s possible that answers or patterns may not present themselves on your first try, but simply releasing your mind to this course of questioning opens new doors. By being patient and giving your wise, inner self some space and time, the answer will present itself to you. I promise you, it’s there. Look within.


So, the takeaway of this post is as follows: on a day when you’re in a decent mood and have a few quiet hours to yourself, ask yourself about whatever it is in your life that isn’t working the way you hoped and then seek out patterns in episodes which reflect this unhappiness. Do this in as detached a state of mind as possible. Have confidence that, with time, the answer will make itself known. Good luck! 

All the World’s a Stage

June 5, 2012

One of the biggest challenges and exciting prospects of reinventing oneself is considering the sort of person you want to be going forward in life.


By the time you arrive at a point in life where you’re actually thinking about these sorts of choices, you’ve also already met, or are related to, individuals whose life approach is not something you wish to emulate. You know who I’m talking about: the old grandmother who has cast herself as the family martyr or the lively uncle who sees it as his role to play the court jester at all times. Then there’s your best friend’s sister who relishes her part as the Tragedy Princess or the guy at work who’s cast himself as the Sole Person on the Planet Who Knows What to Do.


So, who are you? What role have you selected to play?


It’s always easier (and a safer first step) to recognize these issues in others before we turn the spotlight on ourselves, but part of maturing and growing up is the willingness to undergo self-examination.


Another aspect that makes choosing who we will be going forward in our lives that much more intimidating is that a new role requires a different approach—one for which we won’t have memorized all the necessary lines. The not knowing makes it scary and awkward. And, it is my contention, that at this point in our evolution, or during times of tremendous stress, many of us aspirants revert to what we know.


So we yell or we cry or we pout or we rage. We cower or  we drink or eat food we’re not hungry for. And each time we backslide, it gets harder to reconfigure ourselves into that new role we’ve chosen.


Or, there’s a moment, when the stress presents itself and we pause, for just a second to ask ourselves, “Can I push through this and react differently? What if this time I don’t cave? Or, what if I gave X a chance and don’t refuse the way I would normally?” It is that split, microsecond of reflection that can open the door to a new self.


Re-booting one’s life extends far beyond pursuing a specific career or living in a particular location or changing our marital status. While all these topics are natural foci of such efforts, it can extend deep into the re-wiring of our social and spiritual DNA. Who do I want to be in this life? What is it about people whom I admire that I might replicate? What initial steps might I take in de-activating some of my internal wiring in terms of behaviors I wish I hadn’t adopted?


This morning, my 73 year old father said to me, “It took me a long, long time to recognize that, maybe, I didn’t need to ride into battle on all those fights. Maybe I would’ve been better off if I had just let some of those things go.” Those very lines are ones I never expected to hear from him.  This world is your stage, cast with care.

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