Archive for January, 2013

Letting Go of Understanding: Answers That Elude Us

January 31, 2013

In my most recent post, I wrote about “going forward” values, knowing what you want to do instead of arriving at a certain place by process of elimination (“I won’t do this” or “I could never embrace that”). Now, I’m turning the tables and asking you to examine your reactions when someone important to you announces that they are pursuing a path/career/relationship that makes you wrinkle your forehead in consternation, revulsion, or disapproval.

 

“What? Are you crazy?” you might think to yourself about someone else’s choices. “Do you honestly believe that this is going to work?” Try as you might, you can’t fathom why or how another person could reach the decision they have. Each of us, eventually, will be tested by such circumstances. It will test the limits of our ability to accept something we don’t understand. Watching someone we care about go in an unexpected, troubling (for us) direction will test our ability to refrain from negative commentary and make us stretch uncomfortably to integrate this new dimension into our concept of who this person is.

 

What I’m saying goes beyond judgment of another’s choices. We make judgments everyday. The difficulty arises when, as much as we may strive to be respectful and accepting of those around us, we cannot understand why they are doing this. We may genuinely love and care for this person, but are horrified by or deeply concerned about the choices they are making. Mystified, we may even feel vaguely threatened.

 

“I thought I knew you,” we mutter to ourself. “Where is this coming from? Can’t you see what might happen? What in God’s name are you doing?”

 

I am aware of a situation which involves a number of people witnessing someone close to them grow increasingly unhappy. Clearly, there is something seriously amiss for Person X but he’s not talking and has made it clear that he will broker no questions, concerned gestures, or anything else. No one is close enough to observe daily behaviors, so speculation runs rampant amongst those who are fretfully watching this from the sidelines. Desperate to make sense of it all, they speculate amongst themselves which does absolutely no good; there’s no reason to believe such conjecture comes close to being correct.

 

At a point such as this, when there is nothing to be done to help or even to confirm that X is as unhappy as they appear to be, I contend that it is better to stop speculating. Stop trying to understand.

 

Remember, the aim of this post is to turn around my last contention about being clear about what you want and working towards that—the point here is to find a way to work with and accept another person’s choices, even when you don’t understand why they’re doing what they’re doing. What if you come from a family deeply entrenched in one political or religious philosophy and, out of the blue, your relative announces that they’re converting or switching parties or subsuming everything they say they valued in order to maintain some relationship?

 

You could spend all day trying to suss out what is going on in another’s head, but it may prove fruitless. At a certain point, even with those we love and care for dearly (I’m referring to adults, not children), we have to accept the limits of our relationship to them. We have to love without understanding—easier said than done—especially if what they’re choosing goes against so much of our world view.

 

It’s easy to lose sight of this in a culture where “finding the answer” is a main theme. Learn to accept without understanding! Is it really so unbearable to be mystified? Sometimes, in our zealous quest for answers we forget something more important: loving the person we care about, despite our confusion. As Re-booters, we have seen enough in life to recognize that although we may not be changing at the moment, there are plenty of those around us who are. Re-booters need to flex for them, too, even when we can’t wrap our minds around it.

Going Forward Values: Where Do You Want to Go?

January 29, 2013

Recently, I attended a conference where one of the main themes discussed was how important it is to present your ideas in a positive manner:  instead of setting out all the reasons another idea is bad, it’s way more attractive and persuasive to approach a concept from the positive. What makes your suggestion so terrific? Why is it the “right” way to go?

 

I have been prone to identifying the things that I don’t like or have problems with, and using this as my starting point. Perceiving life as if it were a giant game of elimination, “I won’t do this. I refuse to be with a person who does that. Spending all day with people who engage in X is my idea of hell.” Well, you get the picture. Except, this sort of deductive reasoning gets me very little other than feeling grumpy.

 

As Re-booters, we need to be moving towards something. We have tested out enough of the negative orientation philosophy to realize that knowing what you don’t like doesn’t move you any appreciable distance closer to what you do. It’s far easier to tear down another person’s offerings than to build up those of your own; folks who throw stones get very little accomplished, which may explain why some people prefer to cast aspersions—it’s easier. If you bleat and kvetch loudly enough, people will be so busy reacting to your whines that they won’t have the presence of mind to ask you for an alternative solution.

 

Sorting out what you do want requires honesty, energy, and careful thought. Maybe you (gasp!) want something other than what you’ve been told to want! Courage is required when you reach a point where you’re willing to announce your ideas or preferences to others, because they may decide now’s the perfect time to tear your ideas down.  For me, another challenge related to being clear about what I want is the fear that if I confess (to myself or others) that I want X, I fret about the fact that wanting X means forgoing Y. I hate narrowing my options, because what if I change my mind? What if it turns out that Y is really better for me than X? Isn’t it safer to keep as many possibilities on the table as possible? And one way to do this is to focus my attention on the things I know I don’t like, instead of what I do.

 

Does what I’m saying make sense?

 

The thing is this: as a Re-booter, what I know is that choosing to focus my efforts on what I want is the only way I’ll ever achieve that goal! What do you want? What is it that attracts you? What is it you’ve always held a secret interest in? What if you took a few steps towards learning a little bit more about that thing? Is it truly likely that others will ridicule you and condemn you for exploring this path? And, if they do, are they people you want to allow to hold that much sway over you?

 

I, too, cringe at the prospect of being judged or disapproved of for pursuing particular interests, but I remind myself that I’m probably overblowing other people’s reactions AND maybe, just maybe, it’s even good for me to withstand the censure of others—if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I can live happily without a 100% approval rating. Such interests can range from gun collecting to nail art, from politics to beanie babies, from becoming a wig master to going to college. Different people condemn different interests, but don’t let that stop you from pursuing yours. Re-booters move forward with their lives; they have something they are going towards; they are enthusiastic about a positive plan.

 

As I’ve written before, you don’t get in a cab and say, “Well, I don’t want to go to the zoo.” Where do you want to go?

Knowing When to Stop

January 24, 2013

One of the things I enjoy about January is the “back to business” ethos that seems to permeate most places. With the holidays behind us, folks seem relieved to return to their rhythms, productivity at the forefront (at least in most places outside of the nation’s capital). We have goals to achieve! Challenges to surmount! Energy to burn!

Which makes for a nice segue to my thesis: as important as it is to accomplish goals and get things done, an equally important part of this equation is knowing when to stop.

Now, given my inherently lazy proclivities, this is not generally a problem for me—but sometimes, it is. Whether you’re a perfectionist, obsessive-compulsive, suffer from an overdeveloped sense of personal guilt or responsibility, or a warped determination never to “lose,” some of us can be driven to continue way past the point of common sense. This applies as much to household tasks and job assignments as it does to maintaining relationships beyond their expiration date. Forcing ourselves “to do that extra little bit,” isn’t always a wise move and it can extract an enormous psychological, emotional, and physical toll, much to our detriment.

In a competitive landscape, where we may host unreasonable expectations for what a “good” parent/employee/child/friend/person should do, I’ve witnessed manifold examples of people pushing themselves beyond their limits. More often than not, the price they (and others around them) pay hurts them far more than the extra effort advances. While, of course, there are extraordinary circumstances that do require additional adrenalin, we do not live in a universe of continual emergencies.

A big challenge for me in my career was the fact that I existed in a world where everything was declared a crisis, so I naively spent many years responding to each event like it was cataclysmic. Do you see how that can drain a person? I am not an ER doc; no matter what I do, no child’s life hangs in the balance (thank God). But, you wouldn’t know that from the level of intensity and chaos of my daily world.

Hopefully, you don’t have anything close to this in your own life, but we all have issues and circumstances that we believe can be handled/improved/enhanced if only we dig a little deeper and try a little harder. Is it a relationship that’s gone on the rocks? Is it our obsessive tendency to make sure the house is spotless or our party is perfect? Is it a determination that our children will succeed (as we define it)?

In order to have the internal resources available for the times they are truly necessary, we must know when to stop. When to give ourselves a break. When to relax. When to stop worrying. When to recognize that no matter how hard we try, we cannot alter the direction another person is heading. Do you know when to stop?

In many respects, it is enormously liberating to set down those burdens. You can pick up the sack tomorrow, if you must, but a key part of building and maintaining strength is allowing the body/mind/emotions to recover. Successful Re-booters know their own limits. They smile, sigh, and stretch out on the sofa for a nice catnap. Now, doesn’t that sound nice?

The Constancy of Change

January 22, 2013

It’s a rather odd, philosophical maxim when you think about it: change being a constant. But, what’s the point of living if we don’t allow life to change us? In fact, there’s very little we can do to avoid it, and those who cling to remaining ever the same are fighting against the tide. Have you ever heard of even one instance of the tide not winning?

 

I raise this topic not because you don’t already know this, but because it bears repeating. If we keep this adage in mind, we may be more accepting of the discomfort that inevitably accompanies such flux—even when it’s for the good! As Re-booters, change is inherent in what we are doing, but that doesn’t make it any easier; it just means that we are more willing to push past our initial discomfort.

 

Why do you think change is so hard for so many? And, do people who accept/embrace change more easily possess qualities that we might copy? Who do you know in your life whose attitude towards change is one you admire? What is it, specifically, that they do?

 

What is it about your life, today, that you’d like to change? And, when I say this, I do not mean what you’d like to change about other people. Let’s take that off the agenda right now, because it ain’t happenin.

 

I’m trying to get you to think. So often, we proceed through our lives trying not to notice the change that is occurring right before our eyes—whether it’s a change in our bodies, change in our immediate relationships, or changes in how we perceive life. We’re too busy attending to the demands of our daily responsibilities to think about it until, all of a sudden, like Yours Truly, our life gets upended for whatever reason. And Change Takes Center Stage.

 

But, even if your life has no signs up upheaval, even if it appears as though life’s waters are calm, change is still there in the undercurrents. Were you to take 10 minutes to think about this, what change do you perceive occurring in your life? How do you feel about it? Is it something that excites you, confuses you, or you’d rather not consider? As a Re-booter, I encourage you to forego the last option and at least play with whatever possibility popped into your head just now.

 

There’s nothing more to this blog post than what I have just said. Change is a constant in all of our lives; we’re all changing. The world is changing. Social contracts and life-long assumptions are as vulnerable to this change as are our preferences in more mundane matters. Fighting change is a losing battle, but it has wonderful portent—beyond which we have the imagination to dream up!

 

As a Re-booter, you already know this. It just bears repeating because we have a tendency to forget. What change is coming for you?

Drowning in Unhappiness: A Re-booter Rescue

January 17, 2013

To further my point about happiness being a choice (the topic of my most recent post), let us examine the converse case study: people who make themselves unhappy. Like you, I can think of a number of examples of people who have done this in the past or do so on a regular basis—and I am not excluding myself from this group. Suffering from prolonged bouts of disappointment, emotional hurt, or anger is a conscious choice—please note the use of the adjective “prolonged.”

Before reading any further, I’d like you to reflect for a moment on people you’ve come across in your life (including yourself) who make themselves unhappy for one reason or another.

Now that you have a few relatable examples in mind, I want you to consider the following: was it pleasant to spend extended periods of time with these folks? Did you find that they complained about the same things over and over? As you were listening to their harangue or their woe-is-me soliloquy did a fleeting thought creep into your head that, maybe, things really weren’t as bad as all that? Maybe it was time they moved on from their grousing? Or, even, that perhaps these people were looking to be insulted or to have their feelings hurt when it wasn’t the intent of the accused parties to cause offense? Have you ever drawn from this well, yourself?

A huge part of re-booting one’s life involves letting go of old ways of doing or thinking about things that no longer serve us. This is hard work! Very hard, but that’s what makes it so worthwhile. Accomplishing such goals is an act of determination: you elect to tackle this project; you work hard at making progress; and, if sufficiently diligent, you arrive at the summit. All of this involves conscious choice; it doesn’t happen by accident.

It takes a certain amount of determination to hold on to old injuries, resentments, or perspectives. To make it easier, I’ll provide a few examples: I must get married to prove to the world I am worthy. Loving families behave a certain way. I’ve done so much for them and this is my repayment? How could she betray me like that? The only worthwhile professions are XYZ. Because you didn’t do what I would’ve done, you are a lesser person. Do any of these refrains sound familiar to you? Do they reflect similar themes to whatever unhappiness Bad Mood Betty or Bill is warbling? I bet you could come up with other stanzas, as well.

As re-booters, we recognize that none of these perspectives were handed down on stone tablets as TRUTH. We’ve seen the unnecessary happiness people create and put themselves through as a result of hanging onto these beliefs. It requires courage and concerted effort to let go of them—what will fill the gaping hole that this anger once occupied?

Time does heal wounds—as long as we aren’t continually picking at the scab, encouraging the pain to resurrect itself. How many people can you think of who prefer, actively prefer, to hold onto their anger, grief, or what have you? This is a choice, dear readers. These people are choosing to identify more closely with their pain than allowing the scars to fade.

Do you know what a terrible position I’d be in right now if I permitted myself to nurse my old grudges and disillusionments? I won’t pretend that there isn’t a highly seductive factor that often whispers to me when I am feeling low, beckoning me to return and stir up those embers of bitterness, but I choose to fight this because I know that grasping onto old hurts is poison. It infects your body, your mind, and your soul.

The reason I am saying all this is to emphasize to you just how much of your experience of life is a conscious decision. We’ve all been hurt and disappointed; these things do take time to recover from—but you can recover. Those sad souls who prefer to identify with their hurts are making a choice. As re-booters, this is a stark reality that you need to keep in mind when assessing your own life or interacting with others who moan a lot. The good news is that because you get to steer your ship, you can find your way out of an eddy of unhappiness, and maybe even throw a life preserver to someone who’s drowning in their own misery.

Happiness is a Choice

January 15, 2013

It’s a grey, gloomy, January day in Washington. For many people, the absence of the sun is reason enough to withdraw into their shells and nurse a feeling of dispirited disgruntlement. For others, however, the very same conditions are cause to celebrate—even if their plans were thrown off as a result of the inclement weather. They see opportunities to snuggle up under a blanket, to take a nap, pour a cup of hot tea, or enjoy another’s company without distraction. Why am I saying all this? Because being happy is a choice. You decide to be happy. It doesn’t just arrive like some ermine mantle placed upon your shoulders.

Innumerable psychological and sociological studies cite to the fact that people can react to similar circumstances differently. Often times, those who are held up as positive examples are quite clear about their wellspring of inspiration: they made a choice. They consciously decided to be happy. They made a choice to see opportunity when there appeared to be none. They made a choice not to give up. They made a choice to find a way around whatever impedimenta had halted the progress of their peers. We all know about making lemonade, right? Right.

There are many things in life we can’t control: a medical condition that threatens to impact our daily living; a significant loss; a betrayal or disillusionment that up-ends our understanding of people we care about; you each have experienced at least one of these and probably others I haven’t listed here. But, as you well know, there are a whole lot more people out there in the world who have it much worse than you and still find ways to create joy in their lives. There’s an array of options out there for how you interpret the events of your life—it’s up to you.

Now, my saying this may annoy some readers because such a statement means that you have sole responsibility for your current experience. You are an adult, not a child. For as many responsibilities and burdens as you may face today, nobody is forcing you to undergo life any particular way. You may have concluded that your life is a misery or perhaps you perceive it as being it pretty good—either way, that’s on you. Sorry, Charlie, you absolutely cannot offload this responsibility to anyone else. I say this as an expert because I have spent plenty of time and emotional energy railing about the tyranny of others as the source of my unhappiness, but I was wrong.

As a re-booter, I now embrace the theory espoused by someone I know back in Santa Barbara: you can blame your family for all sorts of ills until you’re age 30, but after that, it’s time to take personal responsibility for whatever unhappiness you may feel. You’re the only one who can change your life! Having struggled with betrayal, upheaval, and disillusionment myself, I have fully enjoyed the glories of shaking my fist at the sky, but as I was feeling so sorry for myself, I ignored the positives that accompanied such things: I had exited an abusive, codependent relationship. New doors were waiting for me to push open. I was no longer stuck in a bad place because I was terrified of venturing forth on my own.

I know someone who has tremendous talents and abilities but who has met with certain disappointments in his life. However, from everything I can see, he doesn’t sit around feeling sorry for himself; he learns to refine his approach and understanding of people from such experiences. He finds new projects to get excited about. He makes a choice to move forward in a positive way, keeping busy and interested in the world around him. There’s much to admire in such resilience.

So, now, what about you? Have you been feeling a bit down or disappointed with some element of your life of late? Is there a different way, a more hopeful way, you might perceive this? Will you choose to be happy and engaged in the world?

You’re over 30. Take responsibility for where you are in life. Happiness is a choice.

Going Through the Kitchen Door

January 10, 2013

OK, well, enough of the holiday hiatus. I’m back as a regular contributor, bringing Dignitary’s Retreat readers home spun wisdom, cautionary tales, and that sliver of hope when you sometimes feel desperate enough to believe it is slipping away…

So, how’s January treating you so far?

I want to tell you a story. The point of this story is to encourage you to believe that things can work out, even when your life feels bleak; but success requires your cooperation, courage, and a willingness to try against-the-odds strategies. What makes this difficult is the immediate fear that things won’t get better, that you’re bound to remain in the bad place you find yourself, and the terror of feeling like a fool. But you can’t know unless you try, right? Right.

So, as most DR readers know, I have been looking for full-time employment for quite some time. Having moved across the country to increase my odds of success, each of the applications, efforts, networking events, etc that I made have resulted in closed doors. Murmurs of occasional interest punctuated by total silence. It has been frustrating and disheartening to say the least. I have teetered on the verge of despair multiple times and it is only due to my stubbornness and underlying belief in my talents and abilities that has kept me wading through this swamp instead of giving up.

Have you ever had a time in your life when you kept trying and trying and trying and no door seemed to open? Yeah, that’s how it’s been for me, too.

Well, last week I happened to see an opinion piece published in a national newspaper written by someone who I had heard speak last summer. I resonated with his message and had thought about his remarks several times since then, admiring the course of his career and silently supporting the work he has been pursuing. But this is a well established individual who gives speeches and writes books and expostulates. (I may do all of those things, too, but my audience base is significantly less apparent. Ha ha.) This is not someone you “just approach.”

Except that I did.

Somehow, against all odds, I managed to get his personal email address and that of his wife’s. So, despite the knowingly random nature of my communiqué, I sent them an email explaining who I was, that I admired his work, and that I was seeking out interesting volunteer opportunities and did he, perhaps, need some assistance with one of his projects? By the way, he lives a good thousand miles away from where I am. I sent off my query, not expecting to get a response.

Doors opened.

Less than thirty minutes later, I received an enthusiastic reply from his wife. We’ve subsequently had a terrific, hour long conversation, a few email follow ups, and will meet later this month. They do need help. They have many irons in the fire. There are some people, locally, I should meet.

What does this have to do with you?

I share this with you because I want you to keep in mind that most household activity occurs in the kitchen. So go through the kitchen door. Climb through the air vent, if you have to. Even if polite company enters through the grand front entrance accompanied by a marching band, those gates aren’t opened very often, but the kitchen door is usually unlocked.

What back entrance might you try to pursue your dreams this year?

The Day of the Re-booter

January 1, 2013

January first should be re-named The Day of the Re-booter. After all, the whole world starts anew on this day. In fact, we re-booters are role models for everyone out there who sees New Year’s Day as a chance to do things differently.

 

Easier said than done.

 

In fact, champion re-booter that I am, I awoke this morning, eyes unwilling to open when old lines of thinking invaded my initial, cognizant thoughts: gripes and disappointments and worries that serve no constructive purpose and only hinder my ability to make progress. So please know that although I focus my comments on optimism and clear headed forward-going strategies, I struggle with this stuff as much as anyone. All the time.

 

Disclaimer aside, I do wish to emphasize that it is New Year’s Day! You do have a fresh slate before you (at least kinda sorta), and it is up to YOU to make the most of it. Just before I went to bed last night, I planted the seed thought in my head, “What can I do differently, what new strategies might I try, what old ways of thinking about my life am I willing to give up?” Remember, a key part of starting afresh is to let go of some tired old habits.

 

To make it easier on us both, here is a list of questions for you to ponder:

1.    Might I, somehow, find a way to let go of some of these smoldering resentments? You know which ones I’m talking about. You also know, deep down, that “they” are not going to change. So, it’s up to you to find a new way of thinking about and relating to people and issues that currently generate unhappiness. I could provide myriad examples from my life and from those of people around me, ranging from everything from ongoing dissatisfaction with how their spouses or parents-in-law treat them to despair over the absence of children in their lives to the bitter disappointment of not having the career they dreamed of having. And this is just a start!

  1. Once I somehow manage to change my thinking about some of these issues, what constructive replacement thoughts and behaviors might I substitute? It takes discipline, determination, and practice to establish new habits. Whether it’s integrating exercise into our daily routine, opening the mail over the trashcan, or making a commitment to acknowledge the small kindnesses of others, any new attitude or activity feels foreign when you first start. So what if it feels forced? Keep trying; eventually, it’ll get easier and you’ll have made some real progress.
  1. What scary, new possibility might I allow myself to consider? We all have dreams and desires that feel impossible to us. In the privacy of your own mind, try one out for size. Maybe it’s not so bad to be on my own. Maybe I don’t have to provide for all these people now that they’re adults. Maybe I should go back to music. Maybe I could speak up for myself. Maybe I don’t need those old security blankets anymore.

Well, those are enough seed thoughts to start your year. The beauty of it is that they have no expiration date, so you can revisit these ideas at any point. As re-booters, it is our job to lead the way—for ourselves and as an example to others—that there exists a feasible alternative to the current way we are living our lives. My wish for you this January first is that you seek out and open that glimmering door to a new, constructive alternative to how you are thinking about and living your life now. Over the course of this next year, I hope you will return to Dignitary’s Retreat and participate in the unfolding.

 

Thanks for sharing this journey.


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