Archive for March, 2014

Feeling Displaced: You’re More Than Just Your Feelings

March 27, 2014

As re-booters, we all can relate to those times where we’ve felt displaced in our own lives. You know, that sense of incredulity that this is our life, this is how we’re living. Dismayed, we shake our heads. “What happened?” we wonder. Our lives don’t need to be “all bad” to feel this way, either. Some parts can be going along quite well (or at least predictably), but that doesn’t keep us from the occasional spell of dismay.


Of course, everyone experiences feelings like this. No matter how together or fantastic their lives may appear, they, too struggle. But my first example will be drawn from someone whose life matches none of those superficial “together” criteria: me. These past few years, my life has been a case study of disruption and disarray. Ultimately, I believe these growing pains will be worth it, and I am deeply grateful to have escaped the hell I was living, but earlier today, as I was changing the sheets on my bed, it hit me that it feels like I’m living in a college dorm again—crappy sheets and old towels, a bulletin board festooned with various photos and comics, desk-sized table lamps, unappetizing food in the freezer. I’ve traveled such a long, hard road, and this is where I’ve landed? Jesus.


And yet, as I remind myself, we could transform the scene, but retain the confused distress, to a much more hip and tony setting–some cool apartment around the corner from a trendy downtown district or a gracious multi-bedroom home where family vacation photos and cozy decor welcome all who enter. Still, even here, even in these idealized scenes of domestic bliss, the inhabitants can feel lost, unsettled, and confused. Despite all that we have, we continue to feel lonely or displaced. Although we scramble to fulfill those responsibilities we absolutely have to meet, the joy, anticipation, and connection we felt once upon a time has dissipated. What happened? We go through the motions because we have to and because we don’t know what we’d do instead. It’s how a lot of people—most maybe—live their lives. It’s why they throw themselves into work or raising children or develop disturbing obsessions with Star Trek. The idea of grappling with the free fall of life outside this one, central focus can be terrifying.


Re-booters have been there—probably more than once. We know what it means to feel dislocated. But, we also know that there’s more to the story. As listless and discouraged as I feel living in my erstwhile dorm room, as unsure and bleak as my career prospects appear, they only feel that way. What I feel isn’t necessarily an accurate reflection of reality. Intellectually, I know things will get better—the odds are with me, and I’m far too stubborn to give up. I take comfort in the fact that who I’ll be when I get through this is a smarter, stronger, and more patient version of who I am today.


What about you? Is there a part of your life where you feel displaced or out of sorts? What troubles you so? How long have you felt like this? Can you think back to a time when you felt happy and fulfilled in your life?


When reflecting upon our anxieties, it’s important to remind ourselves that we are much more than our disappointments or frustrations. The strongest part of us originates in our talents, our skills, and the things that bring us joy. You love to sing and you’re feeling the blues? Belt one out! Hum a little tune to get started. Don’t just sit there, staring at the tube while you nurse a drink. When we don’t know what to do, it’s wise to return to those basic activities that nurture us—if you like to cook, cook; if you like woodworking, haul out that saw; get out on the links and hit some balls; set up that easel and start painting. Return to the things you love and, eventually, you’ll find your way. Re-booters remember that there’s a whole lot more to us than our displacement. It’s not forever.


When I think about tragedies like Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 or the recent suicide of a high profile fashion designer, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be here, living my imperfect, rough-edged life. I commend myself for having the courage and will and good fortune that I get to figure my way through this mess and live. Those poor people don’t have that chance. Feeling displaced or lost or lonely can feel terrible, I know, but remember you’re never alone–never. There’s an entire world of re-booters out there who can sympathize and support—it’s where the virtual and the real come together. So, on those days when you wonder if you’ll ever “find your place” in life, remind yourself that what you feel isn’t necessarily accurate or definitive. People believe all sorts of wrong things. You are here because you have work to do, lessons to learn, love to give, and people who care very much about you. Lean on them when you can’t stand on your own. A re-booter stands at the ready.


Don’t Let This Happen To You

March 25, 2014

Over the past year or so, I’ve been called upon by more than a few individuals for a wide variety of career or life advice. (I, too, appreciate the irony of asking for guidance from someone who satisfies the definition of “long term unemployed.”) When they solicit me for guidance, I always say that my comments must be considered in light of my circumstances and that, at the end of the day, they’ve got to go with what seems right to them; other than that, I’m all in. Meanwhile, I remind myself that despite my current difficulties, it doesn’t make my experience any less worthwhile or my feedback any less valid.


When I think about all the situations I’ve witnessed and been embroiled in, I’ve had more than my fair share of crazy thrown at me. This reminds me of a time when someone I know hired a professional cleaning service to come to her home. As she expressed nervous chagrin about the mess, the owner of the service looked at her with a reassuring smile and said, “Don’t worry, in my line of work, I’ve seen a lot.” I bet he has! My kind of stalwart fella. I have every confidence this individual speaks the truth—he has seen a lot; in this case, the very worst of human housekeeping. Life is a messy business. I can identify. In fact, I’ve seen so much of crazy that I’ve decided to start my own life/career coaching business. I’m calling it “Don’t Let This Happen To You” Consulting Services™ (Cash only).


I may as well make myself some lemonade, right?


You bring a sack of money and I’ll listen to your tales of outrage, confusion, and misery. At the right moment, I’ll interrupt your monologue, wildly gesticulating as I proclaim the answers you need: Quit now before you lose your mind and your bail money! Cut out the feigned confusion and make a decision! If not now, when? You Can Do Better! This sort of hard earned insight can be yours for a small sum—I’ve already paid a huge price to attain this wisdom, so it’s a fair trade. Need help strategizing around narcissists? Bingo! I’m your go-to gal. Having trouble telling someone no? We’ll practice together. Need to wake up and understand how people really see you? I’ll be your mirror. On the walls of my office will hang framed caricatures of the DLTHTY Hall of Fame. There the most egregious and scary specimens of what we don’t want to turn into will be on display. The Wall of Infamy, I’ll call it, with a couple of empty frames—just waiting to be filled by obstinate clients who fail to learn their lessons.


“Don’t Let This Happen To You” Consulting™ will be so successful I’ll need to start franchises—maybe I’ll establish niche advice corners at every Starbuck’s and outside popular night clubs. I mean, we all have people in our lives who serve as cautionary tales, right? Or, even worse, we’ve had to learn the hard way and wouldn’t wish that fate upon any decent human being. “Don’t Let This Happen To You” Consulting can provide precisely the sort of feedback necessary when you insist on overriding your own (usually right) internal warning systems. As I’ve coached my coast-to-coast clients: if it feels wrong or weird, it probably is.


Highly distressed persons have come to me with clinical opinions theorizing what’s wrong with their bosses, relatives, significant others, (or even themselves). Listen, if you’re at a point where you need to consult a medical diagnostic manual, THERE’S SOMETHING SERIOUSLY AMISS! Save yourself the misery that comes with being a chicken shit and do what you dread to do. I know you’re scared—if you weren’t, you wouldn’t be seeking out the “wisdom services” of Don’t Let This Happen To You™ (Cash only). I know whereof I speak.


A Re-booter Rx

March 20, 2014

As I’ve struggled with both looking for employment and managing the discouragement that has accompanied so many poor outcomes, I’ve taken to seeking out “signs” that I’m on the right or wrong path. My quest to re-boot has been so prolonged that I no longer trust myself to know if I’m on the right track. I must summon a huge amount of energy to refrain from despairing that this wilderness period reflects a lack of worth on my part. It’s all so impenetrable that I question my every choice. Some days, I just want somebody to tell me what to do.

Sound familiar?

We’ve all had periods of struggle or instability in our lives where we feel ground down and unsure if we have the stamina or strength to shove that boulder up the hill one more time. Whether it’s staring down ten or more years of child rearing, a seeming lifetime before we can retire and collect our paltry pension, or yet another weekend of that nincompoop we’re living with, sometimes it feels nearly impossible to move forward. Overwhelm is a good word for it. Yes, that sums things up nicely.

It’s times like these when we need to stop thinking. Full stop. Rather than dissecting all the ways we’ve gone wrong or made bad choices, we need to do the very thing that feels most dangerous: we need to forget our woes and go have some fun. No, that does not mean getting drunk. (Yes, you heard me, correctly.) Now is the moment to have an evening of revelry with friends, to take that day trip to a beautiful landmark, to indulge in a river raft adventure, to laugh a lot. When was the last time you truly laughed?

This prescription successfully enables us to heal by re-booting our re-booting process. Logjams happen to everyone and when we get caught in the eddys of such dour minds, it can be tough to break free. Of course, the problems that swamp our thoughts are real and require concrete solutions, so a lot more’s involved than merely changing how we think about a challenge. But, when feeling frustrated or discouraged, we have a tendency to see less options rather than more, so we’re now in the worst possible mind frame to see a new path out of our mess. Having fun enables us to escape the web of misery we’ve woven. It’s often when we’re not even thinking about an issue that we receive clarity about it. Have you ever noticed that your best ideas usually come to you when you feel happy and relaxed? Do you recall what it’s like to feel that way, anymore?

So, whatever it is that oppresses you—forget about it! Give yourself the weekend off and plan something fun, instead. Your problems aren’t going anywhere, they’ll be waiting for you when you return. But what you will gain is a booster shot of joy, a reaffirmation that your can feel happy and fulfilled in the right circumstance. It’s exactly the dose you need.

There’s Always Something You Can Do

March 18, 2014

The other day, I was griping about a situation in my life which continually annoys me. Feeling exasperated, I worked myself into quite a swivet. (Yes, me, the author of this sensational re-booting blog, the champion of finding a more serene and mature perspective about the human coil, I, too have been known to whine.) My friend listened to this monologue and gently observed, “There’s always something you can do to make things better.” Her words caught my attention. And, of course, she is right. The question then becomes, what do we do about it? We may not want to make that extra effort; we may feel passionately that the other person should change; we may wish for a whole host of developments that will never occur; but no matter how futile and fixed a problem may seem, we are not without options.


Sometimes, improvements come in the form of discontinuing a behavior: we stop bitching, we stop allowing it to bug us so much, we stop assuming responsibility for the outcome, we stop being surprised that this person repeatedly behaves the way they’ve always behaved. Because the truth of the matter is, they’re probably not going to stop—even when they assure you they will—so, unless you’re willing to leave altogether, you’ve got to find a way to coexist. Easier said than done, I know.


It’s funny about life, certain sensitivities we outgrow and some we don’t. Nearly all teenagers are embarrassed by their relatives for one reason or another, but somewhere in our twenties or thirties they don’t mortify us quite so much. We learn to see their foibles as about them and not about us. They didn’t change, we did. Of course, there will always be certain individuals whose narcissism, mannerisms, or neuroses make it impossible for us to deal with them without losing our minds, but they aren’t the norm, so we needn’t bother ourselves with such cases for purposes of this post.


But back to my wise friend’s counsel and how we might apply this today. Take a moment and reflect on some situation or person in your life who’s a continual source of stress or unhappiness for you. Can you specify what it is that bothers you so much? Assuming that they will continue to behave like this, what is one thing you can change to improve the situation?


Take me, for instance. My dad likes to run a Holiday Inn at our house. An ongoing stream of travelers stop by for, oh say, a weekend, two weeks, three months, eleven years (ahem), and settle themselves in for a long winter’s nap. (They are perfectly content to sleep on lumpy twin beds, using threadbare towels and bathrooms which are so ancient that a plumber recently informed me he now refuses to tackle such antiquities.) I, however, do not enjoy this parade of visitors. I do not embrace the Canterbury Tales combo pack of characters who sit in the kitchen, waiting to be fed and entertained. I do not like it, Sam I Am. I do not like Green Eggs and Ham. Well, I recently discovered that yet another of these types is landing on our doorstep—for an indeterminate stay.


This knowledge has made me most distressed. I am highly particular about my personal space and feel affronted by this non-stop Tavern on the Green bit. But, at this point, I choose not to move, for a number of reasons; it’s my own, personal Hotel California. You can check in, but you can never check out. Since my dad refuses to heed any of my pleas to take a break from Hospitality Row, the only thing I can do is to try out a variety of strategies not to let his actions bother or impact me. So, my first attempt has been to change how I think about myself in relation to these guests—perhaps I no longer need to think its vital that I behave as the consummate hostess. These people are not my guests. Whatever trouble my dad does or doesn’t take to accommodate them is not my problem. I don’t care. While the trade off in an attitude like this is that some visitors may come away with the impression that I am less than congenial, I won’t worry about that, anymore. I won’t be rude, but I needn’t engage with them in the manner I have up to this point. No longer assuming a sense of responsibility for how the visit goes is a way to ameliorate a situation that drives me nuts. Do you see what I’ve done? I’m changing how I see myself in relation to this guest-host dynamic. I’ve removed myself from the equation. The thing about it is, freeing myself up from this need to play hostess and this need to be approved of, it’s like a door has opened; I’ve found an escape hatch. Wow! This will take some getting used to…


So, now, back to you. Considering your situation, what can you do to make it better? What action can you take to decrease your irritation? Can you change the way you think about it? Can you redefine your role in this particular play? Are you ok with people thinking less of you than optimal? Test out something different, live with it for awhile, endure the awkwardness that accompanies new approaches. You might just climb out of that hole. There’s always something you can do.



How Do You Move A Fish?

March 13, 2014

It’s a good thing I’m not a fish aficionado, because if I were, I’d have no idea how I’d have moved my precious pisci when I made my transcontinental journey from Santa Barbara to Washington. When you think about it, how does one transport an aquarium full of shimmery creatures, over long distances, without the container spilling? Aside from those demonic snakehead fish that threaten to gobble up the entire state of Maryland, gill-bearing organisms can exist only in aquatic environments–sloshing out onto the floor of one’s U-Haul is not a feasible alternative lifestyle.


So, as a responsible steward of exotic swimmies, what do you do?


By my estimation, the options are few: you can either leave ‘em behind or take ‘em along, hoping they survive.


For purposes of this post, tropical fish are not unlike some of our own presumptions about How Life Works—these beautiful and delicate marine dwellers require highly specialized environments in which to survive, and when deprived of same, will die a most malodorous death. Likewise, when we face a major shift in our personal circumstances or environment, it’s not necessarily obvious to us that we might be required to retire or adjust some of our expectations. Two easy examples: (1) holidays must be observed in a precise manner or (2) truly successful individuals can demonstrate achievement in X, Y, or Z. The “major shift” I’m referring to can be anything: living in a new place, marriage, divorce, birth, death, disease, job loss, job gain, winning the lotto—all of it involves some form of starting anew. Such change, re-booters may discover, brings with it a certain amount of fracturing to our bedrock presumptions. In terms of balance, we need to release as many behaviors or beliefs as those we now embrace.


For instance, growing up here in DC, I assumed everyone, everywhere dressed up for holiday meals. Washington is a formal town and the ladies wear dresses and the men don coats and ties. So, it was quite a surprise when I spent holidays in Texas or California to discover that a far more casual dress code accompanied these celebrations. It required an adjustment on my part to understand that turkey in jeans could be equally meaningful as turkey in trousers: one approach was not more reverent than the other. Once I was removed from the formality of life in the District, I started to appreciate the specialized environmental factors in California or Texas that encouraged a more casual approach. Each locale has its own, peculiar forms of protocol. In Santa Barbara, it wouldn’t have “enhanced the experience” had I insisted that everyone dress according to East Coast dictums. Am I making my point? A lot of our assumptions are circumstance-dependent; they depend on our specific family dynamics, they depend on the immediate cultural influences around us, and they do not, necessarily, travel well.


So, to repeat the question: how do you move a fish?

You don’t.


We all carry within us personal definitions of filial piety, a steadfast spouse, a dedicated employee, a good friend, a success, a failure. But how we arrived at these conclusions depends, somewhat, on our backgrounds, they’re not universal understandingsa fact we tend to forget. As re-booters, our concepts of who we are and how we’re going to live our lives are in flux, change is afoot and we’re trying to understand what to do about it! We are not fish who exist in a single, steady environment. As we proceed through life, we need to consider that the specialized conditions under which we previously operated may have changed, so our presumptions may no longer be valid. Let me ask you this: given that things are changing in your life, do you really need to hold onto X? Do you think everyone would agree that X is as important as you believe it is? What does this tell you?


Were we to inspect our personal U-Haul, we may spy them there—our fixed assumptions, flopping about on the grungy floor, unable to survive beyond the world we’re leaving—it may make us a bit sad or regretful or wondering if we’ve made the right move, but the truck is packed and we’ve selected our route. It might be time to let them go.


The Hour of Opportunity

March 11, 2014

Aside from those rebels out in Arizona, Hawaii, American Samoa, and Puerto Rico, everyone else is reaping the bounty of Daylight Saving Time. (I always thought it was “Savings,” but have since been corrected.) From now until November, we can take our crepuscular selves out to frolic in that additional hour of golden light. What will you do with your newfound dose of sunshine? Will you now make time to pursue that goal you’ve been flirting with? Will you reserve it as an opportunity for private regeneration, away from the ordinary demands? Or will you let it pass unnoticed—just one in the endless string of hours that is your daily trudge?

It’s not often in life that we’re given things for free; yes, yes, I understand that, technically, we lose an hour in the morning, but you & I both know that for all practical purposes DST brings additional time with which to get things done. Personally, this idea of dedicating this extra day lit hour for a me-only, regenerative activity presents real possibilities for doing something I might not otherwise do. I mean, you already have the rest of your schedule set, so what if dinner gets pushed off an hour? Would that be so bad—especially when you consider how you might use those sixty minutes? And for those of you who have demanding young uns, I know it’s tough, but I bet it’s possible for you to squeeze out a little time for yourself. From a macro perspective, doing this for you will make things better for everyone.

I can’t tell you the number of people I know who say they feel they have no time or space to themselves. Are you amongst them? In this workaday world we live in, it’s almost frowned upon to take a personal time out. The Dickensian model of slave labor–no lunch breaks or vacations, where one is tied to their workplace 24/7—is a deeply unhealthy way to subsist. And, if you are ever so unfortunate as to find yourself living like this, just how much more important does this extra hour become in terms of retaining whatever little you have left of your health or your sanity? (Sadly, I know whereof I speak.) An hour to exercise, to canoodle with your honey, to sit in the sun with your eyes closed, to pick at the guitar, to walk on the beach with nobody vying for our attention. On the rare occasions when you’ve carved out the time to do something similar, do you remember how refreshed you felt afterwards? How much more amenable and cooperative you were with those around you? How much more hopeful life felt? Isn’t this how you want to live?

So, do it.

Part of successful re-booting mandates that we break old patterns in order to substitute positive behaviors that enable us to be the people we want to be, to live the lives we want to live. Forget those naysayers in Arizona! We’ve gained an hour they forwent. Indulge me and try—just try—taking this newly found time to do something restorative. If anyone questions it, tell them you’re going through a gloaming phase and need to be alone—they’ll confuse it with molting and instinctively steer clear.

We waste too many hours doing things we don’t want to do… savor these sixty minutes any way you choose. Times a ticking…


A Questionable Sub-sect of Society

March 6, 2014

In Washington, lots of people think Big Important Thoughts—or at least that’s what they tell us. But, as it turns out, many of these types are actually consumed with thinking small thoughts, drawn from narrow world views and ideologies; they proclaim to anyone who will listen that they have the answers the rest of us need to live by. Unfortunately, our elected leaders (insert throat clearing here) are drawn from this clutch. But the faction that intrigues me the most—the collection of people that has the greatest potential—are the ones who ask questions, not spout great answers. There they are, wondering around Washington and elsewhere, not quite sure what to make of the mess they see.

How about you? Do you wonder around?

By my guess, the answer is yes. Re-booters are a wonderful, wondering lot; they ask questions and struggle with the answers. At times, it can be a challenge to have so many puzzles floating through our minds: am I living the life I want to live? Am I the person I’d hoped to be? Have I done right by those I care about? You know, those types of questions, the little ones, for little brains–not suited to life on Capitol Hill.

From where I stand, at the crossroads of Washington and oblivion, it’s a small sub-sect of individuals who burden themselves with questions such as these—separate and apart from any of the dilemmas about how to govern this great nation. The way I see it, most folks don’t want to wonder around Washington or anyplace else, for that matter. They have zero curiosity about what life means.

In the most recent season of Downton Abbey, Lord Gillingham returns to Downton and announces that he has broken off his engagement to the poor, unsuspecting Mabel Lane Fox pursuant to a trip traipsing across the moors of Scotland, thinking about his life. What makes this scene especially delightful is Countess Grantham’s reaction where she squeamishly retorts, “No life appears rewarding if you think about it too much.” Oh, dear! Perish the thought. But, I think the Countess’ comment reflects the opinion of most of humanity: nothing much good ever comes from pondering one’s own existence. No wondering around. Ever. Bad idea. You’ve been warned.

Except for re-booters, of course. We spend most of our lives wondering around—it interests us and we learn surprising things from our explorations. I mean, there’s David Thoreau emerging from the brackish waters of Walden Pond to observe, “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country, and have to console yourself with the bravery of minks and muskrats.” I guess 19th century types didn’t relish asking questions about their lives anymore than our current day journeymen do.

Personally, I swing between wondering around and walling off any such contemplations. Too much navel gazing results in despair and paralysis for the best of us, let alone me. Too little results in, well, I bet you can think of your own examples of people you know who have decided that they can’t afford to let their minds wonder this way…Sort of tragic, isn’t it? How terrible to be so afraid of the answers they might find. It’s important to remember that not everyone asks the sorts of questions we do–re-booters are a rare breed.

It must be nice, to be one of that group who believe they have all the solutions, who speak in declarative sentences and with an authoritative tone. But, fear not! Conviction does not elude us re-booters because even though we may mull over much, unsure if what we’re doing makes sense, we can rest easy in the certainty that we’ve thought about it. We cared enough to notice, to ask, and to really think about the answers we found. If only they’d do that on Capitol Hill…

March 4th: A Re-booter’s Rallying Cry

March 4, 2014

March fourth is the only date that doubles as a verb, so we may as well use it as incentive to get out there and get going. Although there is plenty about the re-booting process that is internal, we’re also required to take action and make some noise. So, why not today? It’s as good a starting point as any. Let’s make a little progress on your goals, move the ball down the field a couple of yards—march forward, my friends!


I’m not demanding a lot from you when I say this. Making progress on some minor goals can engender more energy (and enthusiasm) for tackling major ones. For instance, take an hour and start to clear out that closet; sit down and organize your papers for tax day; walk around the block as a way to introduce regular exercise into your regimen. We all can find excuses not to do these things (I don’t want to do my taxes, either)—the one that tops the list is, “I’m too busy.” Yeah, yeah, whine and justify all you want, but you’re not fooling anyone. We’re all busy. March fourth is only here for a few, measly hours, so move it.


Oh, you don’t like this little kick in the pants? Well, too bad, because part of being a re-booter involves the occasional dose of tough love.


Individuals’ resistance to change is epic. Honestly, do you know anyone who truly relishes the idea of summoning sufficient energy to get out there and try something new? Who relishes the idea of plans going awry and falling flat on their face? Well, do you? Too often, as much as we may loathe and detest our current situation, it often requires a case of dynamite to get us to break out of the cement mix that has become our lives—this was certainly the case for me. I was willing to endure all sorts of unkind and belittling behaviors for way too long because I was scared and because I had no idea what in the world I would possibly do, instead. I hope things aren’t this bad for you; I hope you never let them get that awful because you deserve to thrive and laugh, not cower and cry.


So often in life, there is no cataclysmic event that triggers in us the propelling energy to make the change we need. Instead, we are more akin to frogs simmering in ever hotter water, making excuses as to why our current circumstances are a preferred option. We tell ourselves that, “Now is not the time—there’s too much going on that I have to do first.” “I’m being practical and responsible.” “I don’t want to lose what I have.”


Ok, well is what you have so great? Would you be nursing this pining if a part of you wasn’t screaming that you need something else, something more? Think of it this way: with regard to life transformation, for whatever you risk losing, remind yourself of all those unpleasant circumstances from which you will be free. Free of that asshole! Free of that soul killing job! Free of the need to “prove yourself” to whomever holds sway today. And free of the pain and misery which accompanies all of the above. Perhaps you can only truly flourish once you are freed. My fellow re-booters, don’t forget that not all your good ideas or possibilities arrive at one time—many only occur to you or manifest after you’ve shed your chains. Just because you don’t see the hope now doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist! This is where trust enters the picture. This is where hope assumes it’s most critical and impelling role: we act out of hope. So, let me ask you this: what do you hope for? You’ll never get any closer to it if you don’t march forth. Today’s the day.

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