Archive for October, 2013

Pretending vs. Pursuing A Different Life

October 31, 2013

To me, there is no more fitting a day to listen to Symphonie Fantastique than Halloween. French composer Hector Berlioz’s musical rendition of the life of an artist—an experience accentuated for the desperate, lovelorn hero by an overdose of opium—takes the listener through the artist’s tortured visions of his ideal lover all the way to the final movement entitled “Dreams of a Witches’ Sabbath” where he witnesses his own funeral. The strange drama of this musical adventure invites us to recall our own experiences of falling down a rabbit hole, interacting with characters whose deceptive appearance confuses and confounds us as we stumble our way along life’s path. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0DWjI1uLSzw

 

Many adults enjoy Halloween because it offers a sanctioned excuse to pretend that they are not who they say they are. This momentary escape from reality appears to be an irresistible opportunity, one I don’t particularly understand because as flawed as I am and as far away from ideal my life is right now, I wouldn’t want to be anyone other than me. I guess we all enjoy the occasional fantasy of living a different life from the one we have, the wistful “what ifs,” the path not taken. What intrigues me is the difference between those who resign themselves to the belief that reinvention of self is only pretend versus those of us who are brave enough to imagine a different life and then take steps in that direction.

 

Like the opium-inspired exaggerations of Berlioz’s artist, whatever prevents us from pursuing our elusive goal appears much more daunting than it is in reality. Unlike the  children depicted by the Brothers Grimm, we are more nimble and resilient than ogres and dragons. Instead of scaring ourselves silly with inflated fears, we re-booters remind ourselves that no story worth telling is obstacle-free. What makes the hero heroic is overcoming those challenges and accomplishing the goal. More often than not, what was standing in his way was…himself. Just like Dorothy learning to adjust her understanding of what “home” means to her, a shift in perspective makes a world of difference for re-booters determined to redefine their lives.

 

Speaking of heroes, one of Hercules’ labors was the task of cleaning the Augean stables in a single day—the challenge appeared to be impossible due to the enormous quantity of dung that had accumulated (resulting in widespread pestilence throughout the land). Hercules approached King Augeas promising to accomplish this goal, in exchange for a portion of his herd; seeing this as an opportunity to humiliate the hero, the monarch acceded. Because Hercules recognized that what was required involved more than his ordinary abilities, he devised a different approach, diverting two nearby rivers to clean out the stables. Our hero exploited available resources in innovative ways to make the impossible, possible. How might you utilize your talents in new ways to reach your goal?

 

The leaves here in Washington are rapidly changing from brilliant yellows to scarlet reds. I love the way they glow in the afternoon sunshine as a cold breeze reminds me that Old Man Winter is on his way. Time stops for no one, so instead of dressing up on Halloween and pretending we live a different life, we need to go out there and do it. The scary shadows we think we see are nothing more than mist; it takes courage to pursue a different path, a willingness to hold our breath and plunge forward. No costume required.

 

If you could change one thing about your life today—something within your power to change–what would it be

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Owning the Influence We Have

October 29, 2013

In the flurry of things we’re constantly trying to remove from our daily checklist, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s been accomplished. There’s always more to do, so, more often than not, we’re on to the next thing that must be tackled. But just for a moment, I want you to take a breath and reflect upon something you’ve accomplished that makes you feel proud of yourself. What occurs to you when you think about this question?

 

The sorts of successes I have in mind when I say this are occurrences that would not have happened had you not stepped up to the plate—whether it’s encouraging your child to do what’s right instead of what’s easy, helping a friend brainstorm through a difficult scenario, or carving out some regular quiet time just for you. Give yourself credit for the actions you take! Re-booters recognize that our efforts matter, and it’s imperative that we respect this about ourselves. In a world where there are always more demands and new standards to meet, many of us can feel lost in the ever rising tide. I know far too many people (myself included, at times) who fear that treading water is the most they’ll be able to manage, considering the pace and demands of our frenetic culture, but this mindset requires that we turn a blind eye to all that we have achieved. By my bet, you’ve done a lot more this year that you’re willing to acknowledge. Take a few minutes to review what you’ve achieved since January.

 

A folly many adults fall into consists of believing that life happens to them instead of valuing the active role they play in what unfolds. While there is much that occurs outside of our influence, life is not a passive experience. Landing that new job or extracting yourself from a toxic relationship or encouraging someone you care about to step outside their comfort zone—each of these examples mandate action on your part in order to effect change. Your endeavors are key to what happens—own the influence you have.

 

These days, when life changes so quickly and there is much to worry about and undertake, evaluating our progress can be difficult to gauge. Further, the sorts of advances Re-booters are truly interested in can’t be measured according to bank book balances or job titles or other outside markers. Instead, they are defined by our level of serenity or self-confidence or ability to handle awkward or distressing interactions with diplomacy, compassion, self-restraint, and courage.

 

What has been a recent worrying situation that you’ve approached from a more collected point of view?

 

As I go about my re-booting process, confronting multiple obstacles and repeated disappointment in my job search and other cobwebby corners of my life, I have made some significant progress in how I handle certain challenging scenarios. Much of this required me to revise certain philosophical perspectives and expectations I have clung to with the ferocity of a lion. Shifting away from an emphasis on how I measure up to my peers to a more individual assessment of my needs, strengths, and challenges has been enormously difficult for me. In fact, I struggle with this on a daily basis, but I know this new path is better for me—as foggy as it is, I am better off.

 

Giving myself credit for such Great Leaps Forward gives me strength to remain positive in the face of much hardship. I’ve had the opportunity to develop a storehouse of quiet self-confidence at a time when so much has felt out of my control and beyond my ability to shift. It’s odd, isn’t it, that one of the best ways to cultivate a certain quality is when we are faced with circumstances that would seem to drain us of whatever few teaspoons of that quality we had in us.

 

What I mean by this is that despite the fact so many doors appear to be firmly shut, I’ve shored up my belief in myself instead of watching it ebb away. Another example of a “growth opportunity” has presented itself from a seeming lack of control of circumstances is that I’ve had to be diligent in cultivating patience and self-restraint in situations where I was merely a bystander. I had to coach myself to keep my mouth shut and stay out of a mess that was not of my making. As a result, I’ve learned to be more judicious and moderate in what I did or said—practicing restraint at a time when I felt powerless, resulted in an increase in both my potency and my effectiveness. Two examples of empowering results I would never have expected considering how ineffective I felt. Has it been hard? Yes. Has it required a lot of me? You bet. Am I a better, improved version of myself? Definitely.

 

Does any of what I am saying make sense?

 

Re-booting comes in a variety of forms, most of which we’d never imagine as a method of instruction for us to receive such powerful, personal tools. But opportunities abound, that’s what makes re-booters different from everyone else: we’re aware and striving to grasp them as they present themselves. That, my friends, is worth a little self-praise.

Maniacal Laughter Optional

October 24, 2013

Ok, well, we all know it’s coming, looming like an ominous dark cloud on the horizon: the holidays. A month or two ago, I first got shivers spying the Halloween candy display in CVS, only to be followed by the slightest break out of cold sweat when I glimpsed the seasonal wrapping selection stashed on the side of aisle 6. I’m not ready, I’m not. I don’t have the courage to face this, again.

Christmas cards and tinsel mock me, their shiny promise of festive moments a counterpoint to my bland and misanthropic existence. As tiresome as it is to read about Johnny’s A Number One, Grand Slam Record of a Life, it’s worse when you feel you have nothing to report—at least nothing you’re willing put in writing. But none of this matters since we’re powerless to stop this season of insanity.

What we need the pope to do is to name a Patron Saint of the Lonely, the Unemployed, the Exhausted, and the Disenchanted. That’s a religion I could get behind, a service I might even consider sitting through. Ideas for hymns, anyone?

Sorry to be so cynical, but this blog is au courant. It’s too bad we don’t have a tradition where one holiday makes fun of another—like Halloween ridiculing Christmas. We could all dress up like our least favorite relative, get drunk, and behave badly. Hmm, I’m liking it already…Instead of reenacting the Nativity (fierce jockeying as to who gets to play Mary), we could do a Countdown of Famous Family Meltdowns. Of course, as soon as we discover someone ridiculing us, the joke’s not so funny—there’s always a fly in the ointment, dammit!

But, back to coping methods that don’t require large amounts of alcohol or hiding in the dark. #1. I remind myself to ignore most of what I see on tv, whether it’s Every Kiss Begins with Kay or images of delighted five year olds purchasing their fathers new Lexus convertibles—usually, most of those kids choose Kia Souls (hip hop hamsters included) which they ordered online as part of an Amazon promotion, so the whole thing is ridiculous. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jOHwjjhFTac #2. I distract myself with enraging engaging tasks such as signing up for some indecipherable, cheap health insurance where there are no in-network providers accepting new patients within a 350 mile range. #3. I log on to check how many more thousands of points I need before I qualify for that free, one way flight between Newark and Longview, TX. #4. I make a ritual of perusing last year’s Christmas cards to check for unflattering photos before burning them in some confused, pagan purification ritual (see, need for Patron Saint cited above). #5. I start humming a favorite tune (see, Kia Hamsters cited above) like a crazed dwarf associated with a modern day Snow White. #6. I check to see what time it is and if I can pretend it’s late enough to go to bed, another grumpy day behind me. Honestly, the Grinch had a point!

So, these are my handy recommendations for managing the impending season, which hangs above us like Damocles’ famous sword. If they don’t resonate for you, there’s always that stool at the dimly lit bar down the street. Good luck and May the Force Be With You.

Acting Over the Top

October 22, 2013

For God’s sake, woman, to redeem your humanity, you must marry him!” No, this is not some obscure Jane Austen reference, this is a line from the impassioned email sent by the best friend of a scorned 19 year old suitor. Ah, the humanity! It says so much, doesn’t it? Our inamorata sets a high standard for arousing the passions of men. And I’m unable to inspire sufficient interest to hit “reply.” I believe this one paragraph sums up the entire Gestalt of male-female relationships, soup to nuts.

 

But back to our desperate lover. As an aficionado of hyperbole, I confess that when this tale was told, I roared with laughter. I just love the idea of so much hanging in the balance for our merry maid and her Heathcliff. Suffice it to say that all his overtures met with defeat and a moderate concern about stalking, but it got me thinking about points in our lives where, maybe, we’ve come across as over the top.

 

When in your life have you been a bit much? Now, don’t pretend you haven’t done it, because you have. Even the most mild-mannered of us overreact on occasion.

 

What was it about this person or set of circumstances that motivated you to such heights? Are you willing to concede that, perhaps, your dramatic personae had more to do with you than with them? How does that make you feel? Chagrinned? Justified? Bereft? Sympathetic? Glad you’re not that dramatic anymore?

 

As I type these words, I’m aware of the fact that some of you might experience a twinge of longing to feel passionately about anything these days. The deadening weight of responsibility and disappointment can result in a flat-lined existence, but it doesn’t have to be that way, I promise. There’s a keen difference between numbness and serenity. Quiet joy and uproarious laughter are available to all of us, all the time. We just have to be on the look out for it. Personally, I love to laugh and do so nearly each and every day, even when it feels like there’s little about my immediate circumstances that are in the least bit funny. But the ridiculous abounds, around every corner, in the parking lot, next to the vegetable display at the market, on the bus, and in overheard conversations. If we’re not acting over the top, then our neighbor is, offering us some much needed comic relief.

 

Seeking out the humorous aspect of situations is a key tool for re-booters because the act of doing so provides perspective that is helpful when thinking our way through a situation. For instance, instead of flinging ourselves into a wailing weep over the perceived neglect of our heart’s desire, we might imagine him scurrying off into his mouse hole, whiskers twitching in terrified fright that he can’t handle a daunting dinner invitation. Or, perhaps, we envision our nemesis working themselves into a foaming froth as they manically craft a sweeping piece of fiction dedicated to denigrating our character—and dubious humanity– as the persuasive piece of evidence needed to convince the Powers That Be. Imagining the playwright hard at work allows me to see beyond the personal insult to a more realistic and balanced assessment of the situation.

 

Humor is serious business. It provides a gut check when our emotions try to hold sway, and if we employ it correctly, can keep us from making giant fools of ourselves. An email unsent is an email not regretted.

Counterfeit Originality

October 17, 2013

Re-booters are an adventurous, creative bunch because we both dare to question our assumptions and imagine a new way to live our lives. I’ve been thinking a lot, of late, about what originality and creativity means. I suppose this is because I’m trying to re-invent my own life, so my need for innovation is great, but an off-shoot of such contemplation involves an assessment of what it means to be original versus being a really great mimic.

 

What in the world is she talking about?” you mutter.  (Trust me, I’m sympathetic.)

 

Part of understanding what originality is, is understanding what it is not. Think of all those fake handbags from China—some of them are beautiful and serve their purpose quite nicely. It’s one thing to deconstruct Shakespeare, but the trick lies in whether or not your approach brings anything new to our understanding of the story. For all the technical mastery a mimic may have, is what they do an inspired expression or merely a copy? Duplicating somebody else’s example is a lot like painting a picture from a photograph: somehow, the sparkle isn’t evident. While we all learn from examples, where originality enters the picture is what happens next; alas, the example is where many people stop. They don’t imagine beyond it.

 

What I’m talking about applies to everything from our attitudes, to how we structure our lives, to the way we go about forging something new. This is somewhat nuanced stuff, so bear with me. Where are you breaking new ground? Are you actually experimenting with something novel? For instance, I know someone who has upended her life to strike out on her own and become a hip-hop lyricist. She is determined, hard working, and it’s obvious talking to her that this dream will go unfulfilled. Why do I say this? Because, underneath it all, she’s simply mimicking what she’s heard—none of it is originally inspired. Not her rhythms, not her lyrics, not her concepts, not her expressions. She’s taking music she admires, teaching herself all about it, and then making a pale copy that will resonate with no one. Forced attempts, no matter how fervent, cannot soar like original efforts.

 

They say imitation is the most sincere form of flattery, but I beg to differ. A duplicate never has the same ooompf of a piece that truly works. The challenge is that so much of our culture has decided that mimicry is the most assured way to garner approval and make a buck—think of all those movie sequels. Did anyone actually go see Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull? But the Spiderman sequels starring Tobey Maguire were strong productions. What’s the difference?

 

The reason I am writing about recognizing the variations between grey and gray is that, as we proceed through our lives, we will see many examples of people who are trying to capture that indescribable “it” in their lives, but never quite get there. I posit that a big reason their goal remains elusive is that what they’re chasing isn’t an original dream, it’s somebody else’s. The world is filled with brilliant mimics who can take what is ground breaking and tell themselves that this is what they want, too. So, they march lockstep with what’s gone before, convinced if they only do things the way their parents or their coach or that amazing girl from school did it, they’ll have the Golden Ticket. Except they’re wrong.

 

So, they zip up their fake purse, brush their perfectly highlighted hair, and remind themselves of what they need to say to convince everyone that they’re the Real Deal. And you know what? Most folks won’t be able to see the difference, let alone care. Will you?

Seeing What We Need

October 15, 2013

There’s an ad on tv for an eyeglasses shop which promises that if you walk into their store and purchase their wares, you’ll walk out “a better you.” Really? Wow! That’s an awfully big promise for something as small as spectacles. While this is not a novel strategy for advertisers, it got me thinking: if I could enter a miracle-working store to change something important about my life, which counter would I visit firstWhat about you? Which display offers you something you know you should upgrade? Your appearance? Your physical vitality level? Your career? Your temperament? Your chronic, low-level insecurity? Quick, what’s going to make you a “better you?” 

Is what you’d change external or internal? What makes that one characteristic so significant?

The thing about questions such as these which makes them useful is that they can help us spotlight the discrete elements we consider most pressing. It’s sort of like having to flee one of those California wildfires or the more recent Colorado floods, where you don’t have time to think and must grab those things that mean the most. Since you can’t throw your kitchen sink into the back of your car, all the extraneous stuff really does fall away. So, I’m asking you to do this from a non-materialistic perspective.

Who is your Ideal Self? What qualities does he or she possess that you wish you had?

In a society where nearly all our physical needs are met and advertisers continually attempt to seduce us into wanting some beautiful, intriguing extra, we wind up investing way too much importance in stuff that won’t make us “better” despite all their glittering promises. As a re-booter, you know this. The painful challenge lies in being sufficiently daring to identify and articulate what it is we find missing in ourselves and how we might formulate a plan to cultivate that valued trait. The truth is, we get to make such choices each and every day, whether as a result of the most mundane of interactions or dramatic stresses.

I’ll give you an example from my life. A couple of years ago, when I was deep in the throes of having an important relationship devolve and explode in my face, there were several instances when bait was set out for me—in the hopes that I would greedily devour this poison pill while inflicting a certain amount of harm on my way down. I knew this would happen and I recognized the grenades as they were rolled out. But, what guided my choices during these moments was my absolute determination to conduct myself the way I knew my Very Best Self wanted me to behave, no matter how momentarily satisfactory lashing out might feel. So, when it really mattered—in the heat of the moment—I reminded myself of my choice and went to that place of self-restraint and dignity. This was the counter I chose in order to be a “better me.” It was hard and humbling at the time, but you know what? I’ve never bemoaned this decision; and, as the years progress, I am ever more grateful that I made the choices I did, when temptation to do otherwise was oh, so strong. We can never take back actions we regret, no matter how much we wish otherwise. I am deeply grateful that I don’t have to lament my behavior at such a critical juncture in my life. I acted from a place of who I wanted to be—positive, aspirational values, as it were–literally reminding myself in those hateful moments that I didn’t want, “to be the sort of person who behaved lesser.”

This is just an example of visiting a counter to tap into our Best Self. What I needed, at that point in my life, was to summon the dignity and self-restraint in order to remain on the high road, to remain in a place where I could feel proud of myself. But under different circumstances, it could be tapping into our stores of self-confidence at a time when everything tells us we don’t have a “chance.” Or, perhaps you wish to make peace with a painful part of your past that has hitherto dictated way too much sway over your present.

My point is this: I’m trying to encourage you to push yourself to identify your biggest gap or need that stands between the You Right Now and your Ideal You. My hope is that you will summon the courage to walk into the “miracle store,” swap out your old prescription for the attitudes your Best Self requires, and leave a “better you.” It’s all about selecting the right new set of specs.

For those of you who consider this post a bunch of bunk, I ask you to reflect upon a time when you resolved to act from that best part of yourself during a stressful situation or relationship, how amazingly fast things fell into place after that, and how glad you are about your decision. It’s not bunk. You need to identify what it is you’re missing and then claim it, the way your Ideal Self would want you to do. No purchase required.

The Dreary National Mood

October 10, 2013

Maybe Mother Nature decided to match our national mood about the Government Shutdown, because it’s a dreary, wet, cool afternoon in Washington with the prediction for this sort of weather to drag on for days. The sort of malaise this forecast inspires matches the mood of the country as we watch our elected “leaders” posture and pander from a position of rigid self-righteousness while the rest of us can only stand by, helpless to resolve the immediate crisis at hand.

 

Both sides are at fault here. Nobody is doing their job. To treat the fate of this nation’s economy as a giant game of chicken is abominable. I saw similar behavior for years in California where the budget wouldn’t get passed and during these drawn out periods, the legislators (but nobody else) continued to collect their pay. Everyone suffers but those who make the rules, which is so self-serving it reminds me how far this country (and our culture) has drifted from a time when you didn’t spend more money than you had in the bank and leaders understood that compromise was essential for the nation to move forward.

 

As a representative of the long-term unemployed, part of me sympathizes with all those furloughed workers, but there’s another part of me that derives a certain amount of validation watching these federal masses confront the anxieties I’ve faced on a daily basis for the past three years. I don’t wish them ill, but nothing builds sympathy faster than experiencing a difficulty yourself. Now, if only we could get Congress to suffer like the rest of us! How about a national ballot initiative permanently docking the pay of legislators and senior executive branch types for each day of budget impasse? Right now, we’re paying them to do a job they aren’t doing—no matter what they claim.

 

It’s a troubling sign when everything you hear or read in the papers is suspect. My family has an expression to describe this phenomenon: word salad. With word salad, you just toss into the conversation whatever you wish to say, whether or not there’s any truth to it. It doesn’t matter, it’s word salad! And then you move on, acting as if whatever you said before is of no consequence and puzzled as to why your audience is upset or distressed by your previous words. I think we’re all being served up a giant portion of word salad by those in the White House and on Capitol Hill. Word salad on steroids.

 

While it’s true that there are no simple solutions to an economy and society as complex and big as ours, there are solutions. Rigid ideologues of any flavor are not what we need. We need to elect politically moderate leaders who are willing to make the hard votes necessary to control our out of control spendthrift ways while leveraging the fact that people need help to get back on their feet during such a terrible economy. By the way, except for Wall Street (and we’re all too familiar with the sort of greedy, deceitful behavior occurs there), the economic recession continues! Whatever all this talk is of our being in a recovery—anemic or not—nobody I know talks of the economy in a positive manner. So, why try to present the current state of affairs as a recovery when everyone knows different? Word salad!

 

OK, so the dreary weather has soured my mood, but so has Capitol Hill. I respect the fact that we may have very different beliefs about if, when, and how to spend the nation’s money, but a refusal to budge, a refusal to negotiate, to compromise, where it’s considered a “victory” if the can simply gets kicked down the road, well, let this be a rallying cry to go out into our communities and find someone better to elect. This is a great nation! We have tremendous natural and human resources available to us—we can do a lot better than the blokes we’ve elected today.

Defying Conventional Wisdom

October 8, 2013

Over the course of the past few days, two articles have been published in national newspapers about the same Detroit Tigers baseball player, Miguel Cabrera. The fact that I read them both is highly unusual because I consider the Sports section a complete waste of space. What caught my eye in this case was the fact that, according to many, Miguel Cabrera does it “all wrong.” Ah ha, a contention that resonates for me!

As described in the profiles, this third baseman has a beer belly, well-defined man boobs, a highly questionable hair cut, hits pitches which should never be swung at, and actively resists studying video of opposing pitchers.  His technique for swinging the bat is so incomprehensible that his teammates describe him as a “crazy hitter,” who can’t give them tips for emulating his success. And yet, Miguel Cabrera has achieved stats that haven’t been matched in 45 years, leading the league in batting average, home runs, and RBIs. The one thing experts have been able to recognize about his stellar abilities is the fact that this 30 year old Venezuelan can identify what sort of pitch is coming, even before the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand.

Nothing about Miguel Cabrera or his technique interests me in the least, but all of it gives me hope. Take succor, fellow Re-booters! Cabrera’s example demonstrates how conventional wisdom is incapable of anticipating or understanding all the paths to success. In fact, as Cabrera explains it, if he were to do what nearly ever other Big League hitter does and study a pitcher’s performance, it would interfere with the pattern recognition and instinctive adjustments he makes at bat. What he does, he does in the milliseconds before a pitcher even releases the ball. Cabrera’s ability to hit so well defies everything experts who have dedicated their careers to explaining the “perfect hit” have said. He lacks the physique, he lacks the bookish manner, and ignores the technique that has been held up as the gold standard for successful hits. It’s not that Cabrera set out to be a rebel or an iconoclast, angrily defying his coaches; what has made him successful is his instinctive talents combined with a determined work ethic. He cultivated his talents under the watchful guise of his uncle/coach, but he did so within the parameters of going with his gut—things even he can’t fully explain or understand. He just knows how to hit the ball.

Now, what does this have to do with re-booting?

We, each of us, have talents that are instinctive; we just know how to do certain things. For one person, it may be hitting a baseball; for another, it’s reading people’s distress and knowing what to do; for a third, it’s adding the slightest bit of spice to deepen and enrich a flavor. But the way we know this, the way we know what to do, well, we can’t articulate it. Miguel Cabrera serves as a reassuring example proving that success is available to us even if we don’t fit the norm. Even if our approach appears haphazard and sloppy to others. Even if our method offends People Who Know More Than We Do. And, further, Cabrera’s resistance to studying video of pitchers’ performances, serves as a warning that copying others can interfere with our own abilities. It’s not always a good thing to learn from others’ examples because we are not they.

Re-booters need to be reminded that we may very well have to go our own way to succeed. We may not have any examples to emulate, which can sometimes make one feel lonely or adrift. But our talent exists within us and it may be just the thing for us to contravene convention in order to tap it. So, the next time, you are sitting there wondering what in the world you are doing, how could you possibly delude yourself into thinking you can achieve this goal utilizing one of your crazy talents, I want you to think of our friend Miguel, hitting that ball out of the park, a pitch every coach in baseball would’ve warned him not to swing at.

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Curiosity Enlivens the Cat

October 3, 2013

In my observation, most adults are incurious. Largely speaking, I’ve concluded that the vast majority of people simply put one foot in front of another, doing the things they’ve always done, thinking the things they’ve always thought. They live by a formula and seldom risk the danger that accompanies asking themselves questions such as, “Why am I doing this? What is the point? Does this make sense? Who am I, right now, today? What is it that I want?” It takes a great deal of personal courage to ask oneself such questions because the answers, often times, won’t fit neatly into our current lives.

Probably the quality that identifies a re-booter more than anything else is the courage to ask such dangerous questions. Re-booters are a curious group; not only because there are so few of us, but because we are not cowed by the threatening potential of the answers we may uncover. We may dislike the answers—they may be supremely inconvenient; we may decide not to act on them, but we know the answers exist. Because we’re willing to ask the questions.

How many people do you know who are inquisitive like this? By my bet, it’s not too many. I know an astounding number of educated and successful people, engaged in busy lives, but who have no curiosity about their place in the world or the people around them. Despite being experts in their particular field, able to research and absorb enormous amounts of data, these individuals have zero interest in examining why their lives are the way they are. These are not social misfits; these are our neighbors, our relatives, our coworkers and classmates. These are people who paddle their way along the social stream, but not once do they look up to see where they’re going or why. They just…go. It would never occur to them to wonder.

Because I am so much the opposite, I am repeatedly surprised by others’ apparent comfort with their status quo. People fascinate and confound me, simultaneously; I want to learn from their example and watch how they evolve—if they evolve at all. I’m a monkey who likes a good nut to crack. The folks I’m referring to in this post leave the nuts lying all over the ground—they don’t even see them! They eat their bananas with no thought to searching for alternative sources of nutrition. Does what I’m saying make any sense at all?

My theory is that these folks prefer not to think about such possibilities because, underneath it all, they fear they won’t be able to handle what might follow. Instead, they down shift their lives into cruise control and never question whether there might be more out there and available, if only they were curious enough to wonder. I have more faith in them than they do in themselves. Re-booters understand that people are stronger than they believe. We’ve handled uncertainty and survived disappointment—this knowledge gives us the ability to enter that fiery den of personal change. We’re curious to discover how far we can actually go in this new direction. Do you see how marvelous and life affirming this is? It’s wonderful!

But back to curiosity. When coaching ourselves along such probing lines, we need to remember to search for the next right answer, and the one after that. A keen observer doesn’t stop at the first obvious solution; a keen observer probes further, seeking additional explanations and insights so as to more fully grasp the thorny situation at hand. All too often, folks stop as soon as they find an answer that fits their parameters, but true insight comes only after additional, careful study. Think of all those Agatha Christie novels where there was more than one motivated suspect to do the killing. The same goes for following the thread of your own life. You are where you find yourself for more than the obvious first right answer. Keep going! You can handle it.

Deciphering Nonsense

October 1, 2013

We re-booters recognize that there is a lot of folderol to which we are subject on a daily basis—whether it originates from Capitol Hill or not. What I want to know is who in their endless wisdom decided to bypass language in favor of “internationally recognized laundry symbols” that you can’t interpret? What does it say about our society where a language nobody understands is deemed the international method of communication? Decoding the preliterate messages of the Lascaux Caves or Egyptian hieroglyphs is a far easier task than doing laundry in the 21st Century. Take a look at the tag on any of your recent purchases and see if you have a clue as to what these care instructions require. Tell me, what is it about the following icons that convey anything meaningful?

Rather than telling us, say, that the jacket shouldn’t be dry cleaned or subject to a process without steam, we get what you see above. Now, when faced with such useless guidance, a couple of things occur to me: everyone else is on this secret code but me; if they’ve printed this on the tag, it must be obvious as to connotation; or how can there be so much nuance for cleaning a shirt? At this point in the process, I simply determine whether or not I dare risk throwing the item in the washer and go for it.

It’s sort of like those tattoos people get with Chinese characters when they have no idea what message has actually been inked onto their skin.

There are numerous languages we have to learn over the course of our lifetime: alphabets, social and moral codes, traffic signals, you name it, there’s probably a code attached to it and some of them are as perplexing as the laundry symbols cited above. People come equipped with a wide range of abilities when it comes to detecting and deciphering codes—some have almost no clue whatsoever (and fyi, they prefer it that way), while others (like me) have trained themselves to be highly adept at recognizing codes—I label this group “scanners” because our radar is continually on.

Both of these approaches have strengths and drawbacks. By nature, I’m quite attuned to the presence of codes, but I also had to cultivate this skill out of sheer necessity. Growing up, there were obvious (as well as hidden) unspoken languages that drove so much of the dynamics in my world that I had to learn to identify and understand them in order to survive. This ability to decipher unwritten and unspoken messages is probably one of my greatest skills—except when I use the wrong dictionary. We re-booters have learned that what one person means by silence or a wry grin can be very different from someone else. If anything, we can be overly attuned to the world around us which sets the stage for serious problems of its own making: reading more into people’s behavior than is merited, dwelling on the long term consequences of actions way before we can be sure things will unfold as we predict, that sort of thing.

At the other end of this spectrum, the group which opts for a relatively clueless existence (and I have close, personal acquaintance with such specimens) have a much “happier” experience because they aren’t continually on guard for signs of change, but I contend that such a status is akin to blindness and can result in much unhappy surprise further down the road. I have recently come to conclude that this approach also serves as a control mechanism of sorts because the Clueless Wonder can claim to be “shocked” or stunned and totally unprepared for the situation they now find themselves in. They claim they had no idea that such a thing was coming—really? I dispute this; I contend that we almost always have access to clues, should we choose to see them. There’s almost nothing I can think of that is worse than an unhappy surprise, but I recognize that many might disagree. What do you think?

Where do you rank yourself in terms of scanner versus clueless? Does it depend on the context? Where might you rank those close to you? Why do you think they are where they are? How did you get to the point on the spectrum you’ve identified for yourself?

It’s not that one group’s approach is vastly superior to the other, but being able to pick up the signs—even if we can’t fully decipher them—tells us that something is going on, something we need to consider.


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