Archive for July, 2012

Serenity NOW!

July 31, 2012

Serenity NOW!”

 

The scenes of Frank Costanza in Seinfeld screaming his mantra are ones that always make me laugh. I have personal knowledge with the frustration and inherent irony one feels screaming this aloud when change doesn’t come as quickly as we wish. This moment included.

 

It’s now been close to a year since I relocated to Washington DC and little about my life has changed. I’m still looking for work. I’m still living with my dad, sleeping on my twin-sized mattress that gives my back fits. I’m still trying to establish myself in a city that simply can’t be bothered with some piddling piece of humanity like me. Life feels as if it’s passing me by… Serenity Now!

 

It’s hot; I’m sweaty, and the days and hours lacking any clear purpose stretch out like those introductory paragraphs in the original Star Wars films. Serenity Now! Serenity Now! I smack a mosquito that dared land on my arm, its devilish buzzing the source of its fatal undoing. The thought of preparing supper on an evening as hot as this makes me frown. The spectre of eating something my father prepares is even worse. Did you know we have five, count ‘em five, pork loins in the freezer because each time he goes to CostCo he brings home another couple, having forgotten we already have a full supply. Serenity Now! Serenity Now!

 

What’s a girl to do?

 

Had any moments like this? Made all the more annoying because we’ve read all the blah blah about how to be zen and calm and mature about life circumstances when what we really want to do is vent and get drunk. This, too, shall pass, we remind ourselves. Or, as I saw painted on a piece of artwork proudly displayed on a house tour: this to shall pass. Serenity Now! Serenity Now!

 

Except, getting drunk doesn’t help. It only leaves us feeling crappy, looking haggard, and with bags under our eyes. Horrified, we wonder if they’ll ever recede—a harbinger of things to come??? A cleanse! A detoxifying facial mask! A new purse will set things right. But before committing to purchases we can’t afford, we catch ourselves. Hold on, we admonish lovingly. It’s not that bad. You’ll get through this. Just breathe.

 

So, I head downstairs to defrost that damn pork loin.

 

Serenity Now.

 

God, I hope I’m not alone.

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The Inventory of Threes

July 26, 2012

(Think about this while you’re running errands later today and then take 15 minutes to write down your answers. This will be valuable information for you to recall.)

 

LIST

3 talents you have that people have admired

3 meaningful opportunities you’ve said yes to

3 newly acquired skills you’ve gained

 

3 people you’re deeply glad you’ve known (whether they’re still in your life or not)

3 projects  (long or short term) that you’re working on

3 things you appreciate about your home

 

3 acts of kindness you have done for others

3 acts of kindness others have done for you

3 things you’re looking forward to

 

Sometimes, it’s hard to recall a list like this, which is why it’s good to write it down.

Re-booting always involves congratulating yourself on the progress you’ve made!

 

Past, present, future; tangible, intangible; innate, acquired.

An Evolution of Thought

July 24, 2012

1 Corinthians 13: 11

When I was a child, I used to speak like a child, think like a child, reason like a child; when I became a man, I did away with childish things.

Recently, a national paper printed an opinion piece about the evolution of friendships one experiences as an adult. Gone are the student days of an abundant menu of associates with whom we might forge satisfying social bonds. Rather, as adults, with numerous demands and obligations that sap our days and our energy, we must triage efforts to forge and maintain current comradeships.

Part of re-booting requires us to identify and examine our longstanding beliefs about “the ways things should be.”  Recognition of such assumptions is elusive and typically can extend all the way back to childhood—beliefs we absorbed from our families or fairytales, films or fantasy: All grown ups get married and have children. Boys don’t cry. Displaying indifference is cool. A fancy home or car proves you’ve succeeded. Divorce is the worst thing that can happen. We’re all born sinners.  It’s embarrassing not to have a college degree. This assessment of longstanding beliefs ranges from our primary relationship with our self (do I even like who I am?), to that with our God or view of the universe, to our spouse or partner or lack thereof, our children and extended relatives, our coworkers and colleagues, and (usually) lastly…our friends.

Too often, for those of us even brave enough to review these convictions, distress descends in the form of a variety of realizations including that we have far fewer active friendships than we imagined. Or those we considered close and longstanding, moored in our youth, have drifted further than we realized, no longer providing us with the sustenance we seek. Alas, none of this is a surprise or anyone’s “fault.” We’ve changed; so have they.

The comforting hearth fires of familiarity have cooled. Sure, with effort, we can stir the embers and find the occasional spark, but mostly, what remains is the pang of loss. The hilarious jokes that bonded us in high school are insufficient to bridge the evolution of ourselves as adults, leaving us with less in common than before. Their passionate commitment to X is of no appreciable interest to us.

We’ve run out of things to say.

Which leaves us with a choice: either we find a way to forge a new, adult friendship with these people based on current commonalities or make peace with the fact that hazy sentimentality is the shaky basis for any future interactions. And for those who desire no more than this from their associations, this is a fine way to go.

However, others of us who have premised our idea of friendship on mythologies such as best buddies-for-life, this drifting can create anguish. Puzzled and somewhat panicked by the prospect of finding ourselves unmoored without compadres, many adults either withdraw into the comforting excuse of their family/career or begin a desperate campaign of speed dating with whomever they can find, hoping to recapture that imagined sense of brotherhood from years gone by. (No matter that we were far less discerning in those days.)

This is not to say that we can’t forge lifelong bonds, because of course, we can and do; it’s just that, like any longstanding relationship, it requires effort and a continual refreshing process: you can still be tight with your best friend from seventh grade, but the two of you, together, have moved onto current day interests.

Listen up: adult friendships are forged and exist on an entirely different plane than they did in childhood. This is what nobody told us. A child’s definition of friendship should not be the one we utilize as mature adults. Think about it: you don’t still wear the clothes you wore at 12; even if they might fit, they’d look ridiculous & people would wonder what was going on inside your noggin’. They’re inappropriate for who you are now. Why would it be any different for other aspects of your life?

Fear not! My thesis is not nearly as bleak as it sounds. Rather, by opening yourself up to a patchwork approach—friends with whom you discuss books or politics or children or sports; friends you only see under rarified circumstances; friends who share a similar view on your industry—you evolve into more of a “free agent” where satisfactory interactions come in spurts versus one steady, single, unsustainable stream. My point is this: as you evolve, it is crucial that your needs and expectations evolve, too. Clinging to an outdated model of what a friendship is “supposed” to look like will keep you anchored in dissatisfaction.

Embrace the new normal; adapting to current circumstances is part of your work.

Homework assignment: list 3 examples of people you know who insist on certain outmoded ideals or standards and this stubbornness only results in their unhappiness. Where, in your life, might you cling to an outmoded definition of “how things should be”?

The Value of the Disconnect

July 19, 2012

Of late, I have found myself in a world far, far away from that of the Kardashians.  The world in which I currently reside is one where folks leave their doors unlocked, parents fear not when little ones go off for an afternoon of unsupervised play, and the low murmur of a neighbor’s conversation is soothing.

Although any microcosm of humanity necessarily involves gossip, intrigue, and occasional bad behavior, this world has far less of such things than the daily beast of my existence in Washington. Which brings me to today’s point: I counsel you to remove yourself from your daily life if you wish to figure out where you’re going. In order to determine what each of us needs to thrive, we must cultivate perspective on what it is we’re doing. Disconnect to reconnect.

What are you doing? Do you even know?

Re-booting one’s life is the biggest sort of “taking stock” in which a person might engage. Just being at a point in your life where you are willing to contemplate this step is worthy of congratulations, so pat yourself on the back. However, there are manifold middling steps we can take along the way, one of which is finding a temporary retreat from our daily concerns. Yes, we may have access to global matters via our smart phones or tvs, but imagine an existence where the only means to check in with the world is by going to the trouble of parking oneself outside the Piggly Wiggly.

What then? Where might your thoughts drift without such distractions?

In a realm of the 24/7 news cycle, experimenting with a few “unplugged” days such as this results in revelations akin to scales falling off our eyes: how much do I really care about TMZ? What about the European debt crisis?  How important is it that I get to see the heralded, latest installment of the Batman franchise?

Community Service Reminder: there is nothing I can do about the European debt crisis…or the Kardashians. So why worry?

As I sit here, unable to monitor all that the media tells me I should concern myself with, what quietly manifests are those issues I care more about than I realized, like building community or being friendly. I surprise myself by wanting to contribute to the Women’s Association bake sale—something I’d never bother with in my regular life–or, making the effort to chitchat with a vacationing neighbor.

In other words, part of the re-booting process requires that we find ways to tap into the gentle currency of our common humanity that can so easily be forgotten. What might I do if I didn’t feel so competitive or pressed upon? How much of that is more of who I really am or the person I want to be?

Determining the answers to such questions often requires a complete break from our routines.  By removing ourselves from the distractions that pile up in our homes and cars and offices, we temporarily suspend habitual thought patterns—it is in this suspension that insight presents itself.

What counts is what is important to you. And the only way to know the answer is to escape from those daily distractions. Get unplugged to check in.

More on Bad Mood Betty*

July 17, 2012

My most recent post dared to stick a toe into the murky world of assholism, using as a universal example Bad Mood Betty** and how to deal with her bad behavior. A primary goal for this blog is to compose posts that address issues with which we all must grapple. I also believe that turnaround is fair play; therefore, I categorically wish to point out that we all have a little Betty in us.

The objective, however, is to proceed through life trying to minimize the time Bad Mood Betty gets to surface from her dark and dirty hole. Like attracts like, so if part of our aim with re-booting is to minimize the number of assholes with whom we must contend on a regular basis, we also need to apply this standard to ourselves. In order to do so, we need to make the effort to recognize and isolate the part of ourselves that can dish out some hot, steaming apple brown Betty.

 

Now, no one likes to think of him or herself as an asshole, but even the sweetest amongst us has that potential lurking within. Someone cuts us off on the freeway, a customer service clerk has missed the point of their professional role, a close relative knows exactly what to say to get our goat, or our boss has no qualms about utilizing threats and double standards to get us to yield. Each of these examples involves exponentially more temptation to summon our inner Betty from her lair, and yet, there’s gotta be a better way. I know there is. It just requires more creativity and smarts to handle these instances without resorting to that same denominator.

 

Promoting a peaceful approach with the Bad Mood Bettys of this world does not mean giving in to their unpleasantness. Never confuse patience, tolerance, or kindness with being a wuss. I know that, sometimes, it can feel as if cooperating with assholes or yielding on certain matters is akin to backing down, but this isn’t generally true. When I think of the relative’s Dreaded Wife and her insistence on invading my space and using things that don’t belong to her, I try to remind myself that her rudeness simply isn’t important enough for me to become irritated and react. Remember, the Bettys of this world are itching for a fight.

 

Reacting to BMBs gets us fired up and only primes the pump for more spewing. Who needs that? Surely, there are better, more mature ways to deal with the matter at hand. Beware, that in the heat of the moment, this is when our own Betty demands to make her presence known—and it is she who we must acknowledge and manage. We need to prepare ourselves for how to handle her energy and zeal because she only makes matters worse.  Does what I’m saying make sense?

 

The worst kind, the unmitigated assholes of this world insist on a My Way Or The Highway approach—I’ve had the misfortune of longtime interactions with this breed—but the ordinary, run of the mill type asshole will usually back off on some of their obnoxiousness when dealt with appropriately. Take comfort from the fact that assholes generally get their comeuppance from Even Bigger Assholes.

 

In the meantime, I want you to spend a few quiet moments serving as your own proctologist. Under what circumstances are you most likely to serve up some apple brown Betty? Did doing so help resolve the problem? Were you proud of yourself afterwards? 

 

As part of your re-booting process, you may wish to consider cutting down on that portion. How might this best be achieved?

 

*While reading this, I recommend you listen to Elvis Presley’s Mean Woman Blues.

 

I got a woman,

Mean as she can be

I got a woman,

Mean as she can be

Sometimes I think

She’s almost mean as me

 

A black cat up and died of fright

‘Cause she crossed his path last night

Oh, I got a woman

Mean as she can be

Sometimes I think

She’s almost mean as me

 

The strangest gal I ever had

Never happy ‘less she’s mad

Oh, I got a woman

Mean as she can be

Sometimes I think

She’s almost mean as me

 

**Please note that my use of Bad Mood Betty is a gender equal condition. The Management.

Re-examining the Asshole Paradigm

July 12, 2012

Like me, I expect you have had your share of unpleasant relatives or ongoing encounters with those you’d just as soon never deal with again. A bur under our saddle, people who have a talent for irritating us don’t have to do a lot to get our annoyance to fester and grow. But, on occasion, a few of us can have anticipatory reactions—just the thought of these people riles us up—which serves no constructive purpose as it makes us both cross and predisposed to overreact when the person makes their presence known. Another element that worsens the unpleasantness is habit. We are used to disliking A or have grown accustomed to ignoring everything B has to say, so we head the whole thing off at the pass and simply shut them out with rehearsed responses.

Exacerbating this problem is the silent dry run of our habitual irritation or strident refusal to cooperate. Whatever we exercise grows, so if we anticipate and then play out our disgust or impatience or stubbornness before the actual situation manifests, the predicament gets exponentially worse.

Recently, I learned that I would need to cross paths with the loathed spouse of a relative. I, along with legions of others over the years, go to great lengths to sidestep this person because they are so obnoxious and aggressive. Unhappy at discovering that my avoidance maneuvers were not to be 100% effective, I started to replay episodes of years past, calculating how I might contrive to handle these likely exchanges with Bad Mood Betty. The more I thought about it, the more cranky I became, resulting in a diminished excitement for my trip.

But it is here where I am experimenting with a new approach. Although years of experience have taught me that this person will not be changing her behavior, I recognize how my projected distress is only hurting me. I cannot change how Bad Mood Betty is going to behave, and mentally recreating historical unpleasantness is not going to prevent future occurrences. Such rehearsals only put me in a foul mood, and how does that strengthen my position?

It doesn’t.

Also, as much as I may enjoy casting BMB as a villain, thinking about her in this light will not help my cause. I already know she’s an unmitigated asshole, so ruminating further doesn’t help. The best I can do is to expect an asshole to act like an asshole, so that when they do, I will not be surprised. If I’m not surprised, I’m less likely to get angry or irritated. If I don’t get angry or irritated then I’m way more likely to find as peaceful a solution to the situation at hand as possible.

Trying to out asshole a Supreme Asshole is impossible, because they’ll getcha every time. My point is this: part of re-booting requires that we try to identify our habitual responses and see whether there might be a more creative, constructive way for dealing with people or situations we just as soon wish weren’t part of our lives. Maybe that’s why they’re in our lives—for us to learn how to handle their unpleasantness with greater serenity.

Assholes are with us forever, so we may as well find a way to keep our interactions clean. (For more about how to handle assholes, go to Amazon.com and seek out the series The Asshole Saga by Xavier Crement.)

How have you managed the assholes in your life?

The Democratic Necessity of Risk

July 10, 2012

Just prior to July 4th, I posted a list of things to admire about the United States. I emphasized the importance of personal freedoms as a cause of celebration in our democracy, but what I neglected to address was the fact that personal freedom is paired with personal responsibility.

This is something you rarely see being addressed in various protests, demands, or indignant speeches broadcast across the air waves. Folks, you can’t have freedom without fully assuming the responsibility that comes with it. Inherent in the definition of freedom is choice, and choice means risk, and risk always involves the possibility of triumph, of loss, or of failure. So that risk and responsibility is entwined in each personal freedom you enjoy or demand.

Alas, we live in a time and in a country where there has been so much success and so much abundance that our leaders have tried to legislate out of existence any chance of failure. Some of these efforts may have been made with good intentions and can provide important temporary lifelines, but we all know about the road to Hell.

Examples of false guarantees of success surround us. Whether it’s the personal self esteem movement that has hijacked any real evaluation of learning and performance in schools or the promise of pensions for life or even three full squares & a wide variety of college prep classes in jail—each of these movements have valid reasoning behind them, but their supporters refuse to acknowledge that society cannot continue to afford the prohibitive costs that accompany such programs. Why should convicted felons have court ordered access to food and classes but law abiding, financially struggling people don’t? And, we’ve certainly all witnessed the reprehensible conduct of our elected representatives who get caught self-dealing who then treat us to a dramatic display of feigned remorse but receive nothing more than a slap on the wrist from their colleagues.

If you risk breaking the law and are subsequently convicted of a felony, theoretically, you have forfeited your right to vote, let alone privileges to educational access, medical care, and personal freedom. Instead, what we now must confront is a society that can no longer afford the policies and laws that have been put in place as part of a misplaced effort to be and to provide all things to all people.

Don’t get me wrong. I believe that as a civilized nation we need to have in place certain safety nets and laws. In order to live as a cohesive group and support those who cannot help themselves, we must trade off certain liberties. I support many of those efforts. And then, there are the unfortunate circumstances that no matter who is at fault, we as a society have to deal with the aftermath, so what is the best way to handle such messes? Those, too, sometimes require social safety nets.

But the Government cannot do it all for us—and even less so if we want to hold onto our personal freedoms. The more we look to Government to provide those safety nets, the more we have a nanny state. By definition, a nanny state gobbles up our personal freedoms by telling us what to do, when to do it, and how. In exchange, we (supposedly) receive more guarantees of a cradle to grave stability from those in charge.

Looking to a nanny state to keep us warm and safe and fed requires an individual to hold an impoverished worldview. At the end of the day, as capable adults, we can do a lot more for ourselves than the government can do for us. As much as Americans might like to be able to provide the very best of everything for everyone, we cannot as a society afford it. Or to do so means that we have to turn over most of our assets to a group of “leaders” who believe they know better than we. How much faith do you have that the Government can tell you how to live your life better than you can do it yourself? And how much freedom and risk are you willing to trade away for the comfort of a (false) belief that they can do it better for you? What happens to you when the Government doesn’t deliver as promised?

Risk has downsides, sure, but it is only through risk that we can test the limits of who we are, what our ingenuity (or desperation) can actually lead to, and the nearly unlimited promise that accompanies taking a chance.

To live a rewarding, fully mature life as an adult in a free nation necessitates that you rise or fall on your own merits and efforts. With personal freedom comes personal responsibility. This country didn’t get so great because the government promised us it would. It became so through the hard won risks, failures and successes of our fellow citizens.

As you go about re-booting your life, think about this freedom/responsibility equation. Your sense of fulfillment and life satisfaction depends on what you do with your life. As much as many people might like to lodge responsibility for their sense of fulfillment (or lack thereof) with outside forces such as family, social expectations, or financial constraints—and they each may play a role, it’s true—at the end of the day, it is you who makes the choice to act or not to act, to change or not to change, to take that risk…or not. Think about this–as much as this topic may apply to nation states, it also applies to how you see and perceive your personal world. You’re free to do as you choose, but there’s always a price.

Ten Things to Admire about America

July 3, 2012

So, it’s the eve of July 4th and rather than write about re-booting, I’ve decided to focus on gratitude and what we can appreciate about the amazing experiment in democracy that is the United States. There may be plenty of things wrong with our current state of affairs, but there’s more that’s inherently right and we must build from our strengths. This applies as much to our personal growth as it does to nation states.

Happy Birthday, America!

1. We can openly criticize the government without being shot dead.
2. Anyone, of any social strata, can “make” it in this country, if they have the right combination of luck, savvy, and hard work.
3. Personal freedom means more here than in any other locale on the globe.
4. Neither Monica Lewinsky nor Gennifer Flowers were shot dead or disappeared–think about how HUGE this is, considering the stakes.
5. Despite however many hanging chads may have been at issue, not a single shot was fired in the Bush v. Gore recount episode–think about what an enormous tribute this is to the strength of our democracy and the rule of law.
6. A democracy is only as strong as the people who participate in it–so get involved.
7. If you don’t inform yourself, if you don’t participate, if you don’t speak out–you only have yourself to blame. You have a voice, but it’s your responsibility to use it.
8.Voters have GOT to hold Congress accountable, otherwise, they’re pretty much ALL self dealers.
9.Hollywood is one of our most powerful world exports because the stories we tell influence the entire world. What stories are we telling?
 10. The American Spirit of personal freedom, generosity to others, and creativity cannot be matched anywhere else.

It’s important to give thanks to those who established this nation and made the sacrifices necessary to set it on its path. Whether in the US or elsewhere, these values impact each of us in our daily lives–what are you doing to to make certain these strengths remain vibrant and strong.


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