Archive for November, 2012

Drowning in Stuff: A Strangled Cry

November 29, 2012

Excuse me while I hop onto my soap box, but with the holiday present exchange looming, I’ve got to make a plea: please, please, please get rid of some stuff before you bring any more junk into your home!


I’m begging here. Do not burden yourself or your children or whomever with yet more stuff. Even if we lived in a tent or a 10×10 foot room, we’d have more stuff than we need. I honestly believe that mugs multiply at night, behind closed doors. To those of you who argue that your stuff is nice stuff, I say, “So what?” Stuff is stuff, and it uses up too much physical and emotional space in our lives. Get Rid Of It.


Do you truly need 15 mugs? How about six sets of side tables? And those old cell phones you never use—why are they still sitting in your office? What about the shoes that give you blisters so you never wear them, but you haven’t given them away?


While we re-booters are busy reordering our lives and working on our mental house cleaning, why not channel some of this energy into offloading some of the stuff we all have but never use. It’s a burden! Get Rid Of It.


Think of this as happy recycling: allow your stuff to go to a home where it will be used, not laying neglected, gathering dust in some hidden corner of your home. I don’t care how expensive or nice it is; you’re not using it and somebody else could. Talk about a win-win! If you just spent 10 minutes a day to culling through your crap, you’d make a world of progress in short order. Pick up an empty box and make it your goal to fill it over the course of the next week. Pile up about 5 boxes worth and then donate them. If you don’t, I can guarantee you that this same stuff will end up in a dumpster years from now, tossed in there with no dignity by fuming relatives who are stuck cleaning up after your mess.


Get Rid Of It.


I know, I know, there are many of you who groan to hear me preach and preen like this, but I’m doing it for the greater good, yours and mine. Face it: nobody you know wants your junk—as nice as it may be—which is why it is incumbent upon you, as it’s custodian, to make sure it finds another happy home. With someone who will actually use it and be happy about having it in their life. You know who you are. You know the stuff I am talking about. It sits there, all day, staring at you and you pretend not to see it. “I’m too tired, “ you whine. “I might need it when the great flood comes or if I ever get invited to march in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. I should hold onto it, you know, just in case.”


Bah humbug is my answer. Think of it this way: if you get rid of your old stuff, that means you can replace it with new junk! Yes, you too, can offload those slightly dingy, German mugs from the early 80s and get 40 new clean, shiny ones from West Elm!


Please oh please oh please. Help me help motivate you. Get Rid Of It.


Integration of the Whole

November 27, 2012

As re-booters proceed through life, there are many questions we are asking ourselves: can I make my life better than it currently is? How much of this is my responsibility versus out of my control? What new approaches/behaviors/perspectives might I assume? What old habits do I need to eliminate? How do I make peace with myself and my life?


Big questions. Some of the answers will be elusive and some will be staring you right in the face.


We’ve all heard plenty about finding balance in our daily lives. Balance, balance, balance. Work/Life balance, Solo/Group balance, Private/Public, Mental/Spiritual, Emotional/Logical, you name it, there’s a countervailing weight to whatever it is. We are told that achieving this perfect point between the two concerns will result in the greatest happiness or satisfaction for whomever is impacted. Ordinarily, people interpret this to mean compromise. But, I submit for your consideration the idea that compromise will not get you where you ultimately want to go. And what I mean by this is the following: you know how there is often a huge disparity between the concept of Justice and its actual application? That would be a poignant example of compromise. Drawing another analogy from the legal world, the saying where if everyone is unhappy with the mediator that means he has done a good job—another example of compromise.


Maybe, maybe not.


Instead, I believe that as thoughtful re-booters, we need to stretch ourselves, wrap our minds around the idea of an alternative to simple compromise: an Integration of the Whole. This is a somewhat tricky concept, so stay with me. What I am suggesting is somewhat akin to appreciating the difference between indigo and navy blue.


When King Solomon rendered his judgment about the baby, he wasn’t compromising. Rather, he was taking in all the information the two women presented to him and then going further. He saw the baby. He heard the two, arguing women. But, in addition, he considered greater factors than simply making a decision based on what was immediately apparent. In other words, he took into consideration the entirety of the matter at hand and rendered a decision based on what he believed to serve the Greater Good.


Now, Solomon’s decision was a lot more straightforward than many we must deal with. The baby would either live or die, as the petitioners framed the argument. The solution was pretty clear cut. But how about for you?


When wrestling with a life choice such as, for example, do I remain in a lackluster career that pays the bills and where I have moments of satisfaction versus striking out in an entirely new direction, where more people than just you are impacted, how do you evaluate your decision? What is the Integration of the Whole in this case? How about substitute the word “relationship” for career? To make this concept easier to grasp, let’s put it in the third person: pretend you are evaluating a disagreement between two children, each of whom feels passionately about their desired outcome. But you can see further: you know that neither the kitty nor the puppy will thrive in your small apartment, but you also recognize that, more than any particular pet, the children crave something to care for and love. Is a turtle a compromise or, perhaps, an opportunity for the children to address their deeper, unexpressed needs even though they don’t realize it?


When making a decision about your own life’s direction, what factors or needs might you be leaving out of the equation? Remember, the act of simply achieving balance, while no easy task, can often ignore critical values that play a role in this dynamic. Just because they aren’t addressed or even acknowledged doesn’t mean that they don’t exist.


I hope what I’m saying makes sense because this is hard. Trying to describe the difference between indigo and navy blue is tricky and elusive, but part of what makes your life experience so much richer is the ability to recognize and appreciate the difference.


A place to start may be simply to ask yourself, “What’s really going on here? What is it that they’re/I’m actually trying to attain? What isn’t being said that is part of this equation?”

Inspired Living

November 20, 2012

One of my very favorite activities is to deposit myself someplace where there are loads of people going to and fro and simply watch what happens. I am fascinated by the magic and the mystery that is woven into daily human interactions: their outfits, their facial expressions, the way they carry themselves, their conversations.  And the reason for all this wondrous curiosity is because I love storytelling.


In fact, when you think about it, what part of life does not involve storytelling? A former classmate explained to me that her primary affection for her line of legal work is not the money or the prestige or the butting of heads with equally determined litigators, rather, it’s the storytelling. A man I know back in Santa Barbara who runs a janitorial service says the same thing. “I’ve seen a lot,” he explained, reassuring me that my messy house was far from the worst he’s run across. Architects tell stories with their designs. Policy makes tell stories through their policies—they’re not always good stories or well told, but that’s another blog post. What is the most powerful export the United States has today? Storytelling. Hollywood. (Our ongoing experiment in Democracy, of course, is our most powerful ideal, but the success of its conveyance and dissemination depends on, you guessed it, storytelling.)


So, storytelling is what inspires me. What inspires you on a daily basis? What is it that the mere possibility of X happening gets you curious and eager to start your day? How can you introduce more of this into your life? How might you encourage others around you to seed it into their lives?


In our rush to keep our little corner of the world swept clean, we may often forget about our personal source of inspiration—earnest, responsible people can lose sight of this spark in the midst of meeting their obligations. But, it’s this glimmer that makes us who we are and which keeps us uniquely ourselves.


Whether it’s the joy to be found in cutting edge scientific research or a new expression of a composer’s work or even the ability of a plumbing manufacturer to market his product to someone who might need it, inspiration abounds. Stories are all around us! What story can you find today? What makes you curious enough to greet the day with anticipation? What might you learn about yourself as a result?


Stories teach us things; buried within can often be lessons we never expected to learn. Looking back on a difficult time, what do you see now that you couldn’t see then? Might there also be a different way to tell this same story? And, perhaps, yet another, entirely different angle? Push yourself to try. Don’t stop with the first, right answer. A good storyteller always knows there’s a surprise twist.

Stocking Up for Thanksgiving

November 15, 2012

The holiday season: none of us can avoid it, and it is looming like an ominous specter in our near future. Sure, sure call me a Grinch. I’m a grump and a naysayer and I’m not appreciating all the pleasure that can be found by gathering ‘round a hearth with a group of those who share certain DNA commonalities.


But, I’m also a reluctant realist, whose conclusions have been drawn as a result of a lifetime of data collection and this is the equation I’ve come up with:

Family + Confined Spaces + Forced Conviviality = Trouble

Which is why I’m celebrating Thanksgiving with nary a single relative.

Sorry, Charlie, but I’m simply not one of those who anticipate the next 6 weeks with unmitigated glee. I really wish I were. I do! And I wonder exactly when it was that my experiences tipped me over to this pained perspective as there is so much about the holidays that I wistfully admire: cozy, decorated rooms, the ritual baking and fussing in the kitchen, crackling logs and mulled cider, strolls through denuded woods with dramatic shadows cast over the course of a bracing winter afternoon, echoes of laughter that escape as front doors open and close, twinkling lights that merrily proclaim, “Festivity abounds!” All that is awesome.

But, what gets to me more is the resigned expression behind the exhausted smiles. The drive to accomplish too much in too little time with too few dollars. The disappointment felt and silently communicated when the effort Person A expends is not matched by Person B. The weight gain or bank account drain or sense of the dog chasing the tail all over the course of a season now driven by retail numbers, advertising hype, and holiday tv specials that bypass anything more than a superficial nod to the original intent of this season compounded by the politically correct reproof that we can’t call this time of the year anything more specific than a “holiday.”  Boy oh boy, I’m depressing myself.

But here’s where I challenge myself to be creative: instead of being a gloomy gus, I need to seek out whatever joy I can genuinely find in the moment. See how successfully I can surf the holidaze and retain a true sense of calm and gratitude instead of griping and complaint. Because, the truth about life is that it is frenzied and it is competitive and people snipe at one another all the time. This is as true on Thanksgiving or Christmas or New Year’s as it is on any other day. And, it is also true that we are each responsible for our own happiness—I know that every one of you can readily think of people in your life who make themselves unhappy, no matter the circumstances. Is this a trait you admire about them? No, you do not. So, I charge you with turning this around on yourself: how can you make yourself happy and sane during a time when it’s easy to do the opposite? What private pledge might you make to yourself to do what’s necessary to find pleasure and gratitude and to practice emotional generosity and patience at a time of the year when the supply of such qualities runs perilously short?

Part of re-booting requires us to cultivate a calm, appreciative perspective towards our daily existence and the progress we have made on our individual journey. By definition, re-booting means that there has been at least one searing experience in your life which has prompted you to take stock and reevaluate and commit yourself to striving for a better way to live—consider this a significant dividend from your unhappy experience—and you are more humble than you were. This is good. This is right.

In the end, we always have more than whatever we lack. Always. I want you to think about this statement. What does this mean to you? How might this statement help guide you through life’s challenges and disappointments—no matter how grave or distressing? What can you call upon in the midst of the fury or the lonely silence from which you run? I know you have an answer. I know you have a strength upon which you can call—listen for it, seek it out, and utilize it as these next six weeks descend.

Mix, Match, and the Miasma of our Choices

November 13, 2012

How great would it be if we had Garanimals for adults? For those of you who don’t know, Garanimals is a marketing concept for children’s clothing that allows kids to match the tag in the clothing (marked with a tiger or panda or giraffe) and then the kids can assemble an outfit that matches. Tiger shirt goes with tiger pants goes with tiger sweater. No cross species dressing, if you please.

Not only do I envy those children for whom sartorial splendor is merely a matching tag away, but I covet the same for life choices. In my fantasies, I dream of a life where I could see categories of professions, relationships, lifestyles, and outfits that all fell neatly into place—guaranteed compatibility and social approval. Wouldn’t that be lovely?

And if you outgrew your tiger match up selection, you could slide into the leopard offerings and try them on for suitability. Ah, yes, I can hear you sighing with envy for my catalog-ready reality.

Sure, sure there’s much to be said about the lack of spontaneity and consumer-tested banality of a Garanimal life, but don’t you sometimes wish you could slip into the comfort of a path well trod? I do. Robert Frost’s antipodean words remind me of the promise and the cost of foregoing a Garanimal existence. How do we reconcile and make peace with ourselves in a life which appears to have no Garanimal parts?

Yes, there may be important elements of your daily existence which appear to be Garanimal-ish, but we know better, don’t we? Re-booters, by definition, are compelled to try something new, something different. For one reason or another, the standard formula by which we’ve been operating doesn’t work for us, and so, we wrestle with the dilemma presented by square pegs, round holes, and stellated Platonic solids. Don’t ask me to write out a geometric proof for my theorem because I can’t—that’s my right as a re-booter and the author of this post!

Which brings me to another point about not leading a Garanimal life: we often cannot fully explain why we’ve gone another direction. Inarticulate mumblings, a shrugging of shoulders, an anxiety filled sigh often substitute for rational clarifications as to our change in position. “I just don’t feel that way anymore.” “I don’t know why, I just know I have to do this.” “I made the wrong choice for the right reason but if I keep going the way I am, I’ll go nuts.”

Whether these are the answers we give ourselves or those close to us, they’re certain to provoke anxiety and frustration. My point is this: if you have reached a place in your life where you find yourself roaming the metaphorical halls for something more, something better, something different, anxiety and distress are normally the first things you run into! It’s to be expected! The fog of confusion is merely a precursor of clarity, free will, and choice. And anyone who derides your uncertainty is simply too terrified to ask themselves the same questions you are asking. Garanimals promise much, but mostly what they do is substitute someone else’s view for your own.

The Boomerang Effect of the Golden Rule

November 8, 2012

We all know about the Golden Rule: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. It’s one of the first lessons children are taught—you don’t want to get teeth marks on your arm, then don’t bite! You hope Joanie will share her snack with you, offer her a taste of your own. It’s a good rule.


Alas, as our lives progress, we have a tendency to forget the more subtle implications of this adage: in order to have friends, you need to be friendly. You must carve out the time and expend the effort necessary to cultivate and maintain friendships. If you hope someone will give you the benefit of the doubt, you need to demonstrate this first. Ironically, emotional generosity is one of the foremost qualities that get lost in intimate relationships.  If you say you believe in patience and compassion, you need to practice this with your most irritating relatives. The flipside of good qualities is equally powerful: if we perceive the world as a place filled with untrustworthy reprobates, it’s likely that this is how we’ll be treated by others. People tune in to our radio signals. Our transmission towers never go on the blink.


All too often, we try hiding our true feelings. We tell ourselves how much less complicated life is when people don’t know the full story. The idea of being seen renders us vulnerable and that can be a frightening prospect. Except they do see us, no matter how hard we try to distract them from such scrutiny.


A person I know and care about has been in an unhappy marriage for years—it’s a lot like a toad in boiling water. Except they are so terrified of acknowledging their unhappiness that they choose to do everything possible to wall out reality. If they don’t admit it, it isn’t real; and if it isn’t real, then they don’t have to do anything about it. But with each, additional layer of brick—fortifications that include walling me out–their unhappiness becomes more and more apparent. They tell themselves this internal struggle is something nobody sees and, in their desperation to cover it up, they cut themselves off from any connection that might jeopardize this fortress.


Recently, I was chatting with a friend who offered up the observation that while I had made great progress on “removing a heavy mantle of anxiety and distress,” there were a few more layers I could afford to shed. And he’s right. How did it make me feel to hear his gently given but accurate observations? Vulnerable. Seen. Aware of how ineffective all my distracting charms actually are. Anxious about how much work I still have to do given that my issues are “so obvious.” Despairing if I’ll ever manage to reach a place in my life and my psyche where I no longer carry these burdens.


Am I glad he said it? Yes. Do I know what to do about removing those additional layers? Not really, but I take encouragement from the fact that he sees I’ve managed to shed that heavy outer shell.


I’ve tried to make a couple of points in this post: #1 As effective at smoke and mirrors as we tell ourselves we are, people generally see a lot more about us than we realize; #2 it’s not bad to be vulnerable—it makes us approachable and sympathetic; and #3 the boomerang effect of the Golden Rule is a lot more powerful than we’d like to think, so be careful what you put out in this world since it will be seen, felt, and returned to sender.

This Has Nothing To Do With The Election!

November 6, 2012

Ok, enough is enough with this FaceBook business! Honestly! So, today I go to my email and up pops an ad notifying me that 3 people have de-friended me and I can get an app to track down who they are. What?!? Who needs this consternation? So, of course, now paranoid and riled up, I log onto my FB page to see if I can figure out who is no longer amongst my friends and who I may have unintentionally offended enough to click me into oblivion.


How in the world does this targeted solicitation enhance my life? Now, I get to feel rejected by 3 mysterious people who the ad claims have dropped me. And, to compound my reaction, I’m annoyed with myself for being upset! All this angst over a social media website I rarely visit and people I don’t communicate with. Is this the sort of thing they do in Scientology?


Good grief. The whole thing is ridiculous. You’d think, what with me being an expert Re-booter sharing my insights and struggles with the masses (ok, well, maybe 15 occasional readers) that I would now be wise enough and serene enough to ignore sinister notices alerting me to the hordes fleeing my association. Re-booters are resilient! Re-booters are savvy and confident and wear good shoes! They don’t do things like fret over messages that warn me them about their rapidly diminishing social status.


So, what happens next? Do I need to scale back on my purchase of Christmas cards? A Re-booter wouldn’t do that. A Re-booter would confidently move on with her day, drinking two litres of water, exercising vigorously, and eating more fish and quinoa rather than munching on leftover Halloween candy and wondering when that movie on the Hallmark Channel is starting.


But, if a Re-booter were to behave that way, it probably isn’t a surprise that 3 of her erstwhile FaceBook friends de-friended her. Hmm.


I guess I don’t get it—well, it’s not so much of a guess as it is hard core knowledge. I don’t get the whole allure of FB and updates on people’s statuses. Yes, it is a great way to keep in touch, I suppose, but my brain simply cannot handle the barrage of Likes and Comments and Photos and Endorsements that accompany FB or LinkedIn or what have you. Not to mention the fact that I’m thrown off when informed that CDs are “old school.” How can this be? I must cling to my CD player even more tightly because it’s the only thing that plays mixed tapes anymore…


But Re-booters wouldn’t act this way. Re-booters would readily have mastered the newest alternative to CDs. Re-booters would wholly embrace LinkedIn as a fantastic tool of World Domination and invitations to mixers.


Maybe I should start a blog for Lapsed Re-booters. Re-booters who failed to find the start button and got de-friended as a result. I should learn from Honeybadger.

Best Laid Plans

November 1, 2012

Whether huge shifts or minor impediments, it happens to all of us: plannus interruptus. Something always comes up. You resolve to spend no more than X over the course of the next quarter, and you’re confronted with a surprise expense. You think you’ve anticipated every variable possible in order to make the family vacation as stress-free as possible and someone throws a monkey wrench. Somehow, for some reason, we are forced to adjust.


Most of the time, with good planning and a certain amount of discipline, we can build into our calculations sufficient flex that these bumps in the road are nothing more than that. But, what happens if you hit bump after bump after bump? What happens if that margin of error grows more narrow? How razor thin an edge can you tolerate? What can you lean on as you watch your immediate resources dwindle?


I’m not just talking about money, here. I’m also talking about emotional, psychological, and spiritual resources.


Things happen; they just do. And, inevitably, the things that happen can sometimes interfere with our own agendas and priorities or drain us of our store of patience. As someone who is working hard on curbing her impatient control freak tendencies, experiencing plannus interruptus presents significant challenges for me. I hate having my plans go awry—just hate it. Which is probably why I needed to have my entire life go awry because anything less would be insufficient incentive for me to revisit how I handle such challenges.


With more mundane matters, I remind myself that, most of the time, other people aren’t acting a specific way to annoy me—it’s not purposeful—they’re just doing whatever occurs to them to do. This mantra has been inordinately helpful and soothing to me over the years because, otherwise, I’d spend way more time shaking my fist at the skies. On occasion, there is the asshole who likes to change plans at the last minute simply for the control element it gives them–don’t get me started on these types–but more often than not, people aren’t trying to be Machiavellian. Learning enough to recognize that much of what happens to us is not personal is a key, key lesson. Kids, trust me, your life will be one thousand times better if you learn not to take life personally. As en experienced re-booter, if I can impart anything of value from my struggles it is this. Save yourself the grief.


Ok, so back to regrouping post irksome snafu. How often have you seen someone react to an impediment or complication in a manner completely disproportional to the issue at hand? They yell and complain or pout and withdraw and generally make things unpleasant for everyone around them. But there are others, too, who have a way of simply pausing, reorganizing, figuring a way around or through the problem, and continuing on their merry way—even if the outcome is not everything they had initially intended. And, don’t forget the fabulous unexpected outcome! This happens, too, but only for those who are resilient enough to continue, despite being thrown off their game.


In short, the purpose of this post is to sympathize with you that the best laid plans can and will get messed up, but how you adjust to this, how you think about it and perceive it makes a world of difference in the outcome.

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