Archive for July, 2014

Re-packaging Our Experiences: A Marketing Guide

July 31, 2014

“Presentation is everything,” I read once in some how-to magazine blurb. “It can make the difference between a sale and no sale at all.” Snorting at tv shows that profile food presentation experts or stagers for open houses, I used to scoff at this premise, holding firm to my belief that it’s the underlying quality of the product that will convince someone to invest, but I’m reversing course fast on this black and white assessment. As part of my painfully prolonged job hunt, I’ve presented my not inconsiderable expertise in a variety of formats—chronological, skill set groupings, you name it, I’ve tried it. I’ve run the drafts past a variety of people and gotten wildly varying responses and diametrically opposite pieces of advice. Much to my surprise, one person told me that my font was “too old.” Apparently Times New Roman is out. Who knew? And what could that possibly mean? Is it the 21st century version of quill and ink? Clearly, I need to pick up the pace.

 

Despite the frustrations engendered from this drawn out quest of mine, it’s actually been a fascinating intellectual exercise to discover how differently my work experience is received depending on how I present it. Alas, I repeatedly forget that my CV isn’t about me, it’s about my audience. This may be obvious to you, but I keep getting tripped up by the assumption that what I have achieved is of primary interest to potential employers. It isn’t. In certain respects, my past is well-nigh irrelevant and what attracts (and retains) their interest is who I am going forward and what I can deliver. This particular public service announcement also applies to Re-booting in general and how each of us thinks about ourselves and our future—far beyond anything to do with our career prospects.

 

My point is this: too often, we fall sway to the presumption that our history—what has happened to us in the past—is the pivot point for how or if others will agree to build relationships with us, but it’s not. While a person’s previous behavior may “fill in” some missing pieces of their canvas, the way most of us assess whether we want to have anything to do with Person A or B is how they will behave going forward. What they did in the past cannot be reversed and can provide useful clues to future behavior, but my willingness to interact with them depends mostly on how this is presented, and far less on what it is. Does what I’m saying make any sense?

 

Theological types might point to stories about the Prodigal Son or King David as examples of individuals who remade their lives, but I prefer to use Heritage Crockery as a more relatable and far less intimidating analogy. What is Heritage Crockery you ask? (I didn’t know either.) Heritage Crockery is any old plate re-branded. If you told me you wanted to give me some ugly, used plates, I’d decline, but if you offer me the opportunity to access some Heritage Crockery, well, that’s another story entirely! Let me take a second look. In Los Angeles, used cars are sold as “previously enjoyed.” The same principal applies for the original inspiration of this blog’s name. Back in the day when Times New Roman was “in,” some lowly-yet-ambitious schmo got stuck with decorating a room the size of a water heater and, in desperation, dreamed up this ridiculous, over promising, under delivering room title Dignitary’s Retreatbut, look at their legacy now! So much about our life experience depends on packaging, about how we choose to think about it.

 

How do you think about your life experiences? Have you ever tried to view the same events from a different angle? How could you re-brand your understanding of your life in a more positive manner? Are you willing to try?

 

Sometimes, like with my CV, we don’t even realize we need to re-boot, re-brand, or re-package. It doesn’t occur to us that another approach may be more successful. Changing from what we know can be an uncomfortable thing to do, so resistance is natural. I mean, I’ve got fabulous experience that has been presented in a couple of different ways, but it simply hasn’t been effective—who knows why? Not me, that’s for sure. But refusing to alter my format (and font) serves no useful purpose. So, I try again. Perhaps now is the time to dig into those old back cupboards and harvest your own set of Heritage Crockery…Think about it and get back to me.

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Nursing the Sour Milk of Rancor

July 29, 2014

“Men are too lazy to hold grudges,” laughed a DJ on the radio. He was discussing the much reported rapprochement between former heavyweight champion boxers Evander Holyfield and Mike Tyson. After the 1997 Ear Incident, where Tyson infamously bit off a chunk of Holyfield’s auditory organ, it would be understandable that there were, uh, bad feelings between the two competitors. Fast forward 17 years, and now Tyson has the “privilege and high honor” of introducing Holyfield when he is inducted into the Nevada Boxing Hall of Fame in a few weeks. So, are these two individuals now “hail fellow well met” or is it all just a publicity stunt?

 

By my guess, it’s more the latter than the former, but the answer is irrelevant for purposes of this post, which is about holding grudges.

 

Grudges make for an interesting re-booting topic because we all have experience with them—on the giving and receiving ends. But, the thing about grudges is that no good ever comes of ‘em. In fact, being bitter demands far more of a commitment from us than simply forgetting about what happened and moving on. When you consider the long term energy requirements involved, grudge holding is on the opposite end of the bell curve from granting forgiveness. Long term ill will extracts a lot from us—our looks, our cheerfulness, our opportunities—have you ever been around a person who’s been furious for thirty years? Oooh, brother, it shows.

 

The way I see it, grudges are a lot like storage units. By the time you get around to unloading the space filled with stuff you simply couldn’t bear to part with, the storage fees, alone, have cost more than any of the items inside were worth. And, once you get a good look at this load, you wished you hadn’t gone to the trouble. Any of this ring a bell?

 

I have close, personal, multi-generational experience with Master Grudge Holders. While I expect that some of your relatives are competitive, my group will give ‘em a run for their money. But just because I have seen how destructive grudges are doesn’t mean it’s been any easier for me to give up mine. And, by the way, resentment is simply a synonym for grudge, so don’t try to wriggle your way out of this post by telling yourself you only feel resentment towards X occasionally, but never a grudge, because I’m here to tell you that the hot pot simmers either way. In fact, this toxic response can lay dormant for months or years on end, perhaps even gelling into an ice cold chunk buried somewhere deep within your bowels. Yet, the result is the same, it’s a condition that is regularly fed by our conscience or sub-conscience. We do this to ourselves; we feed the fires.

 

What has made overcoming certain grudges so hard for me is the fact that the underlying injury was real with lasting effects. On more than one occasion, a person important to me came after me with a ferocity that took my breath away, forever changing what I thought existed between us. So, my initial pain was understandable—when someone cuts us we bleed. And even if that cut results in lasting damage, by holding onto our injury, by summoning memories of the bad act, we are repeatedly tearing away the scab. Any subsequent infection is brought on by us, by our own willful actions. How’s that for a sobering thought?

 

How we arrive at that point of forgiveness, where we release our tenacious grasp on our hurt, differs from one person to another. But, as re-booters, we know this is a vital component to moving forward with our lives. And the benefits of letting go extend far beyond ourselves. I can say with some authority that standing on the sidelines of one who nurses their rage or cold disdain or dreams of revenge extracts significant tolls on innocent bystanders. Do you want your children to watch you seethe? What does that do to them? Forever?

 

Like anything else worth doing, forgiveness takes practice. The more you do it, the easier it gets. So, whether Tyson and Holyfield are true friends again or are acting with other motivations, they are moving on. As dedicated re-booters, we are well served by their example.

Getting Through the Day

July 24, 2014

For all Re-booters, there are periods of our lives which bring us to the brink of overwhelm. Depending on the circumstances, these phases can range from a few, intense days to a mind numbing block of months (or years). How we think about and handle such concentrated stress makes a world of difference in our health, our sanity, the end result, and the toll imposed on those around us. It’s difficult not to take this hardship personally. “Why me?” we complain. “Why did I get saddled with such a burden? How in the world am I going to get through this?” It’s a familiar refrain for me, and I’m positive you’ve muttered something similar once or twice.

 

Whether your challenge involves family responsibilities, physical ailments, or money issues, the here and now quality of these struggles seems to lend itself more easily to feeling overwhelmed than other, more metaphysical conundrums. And, the trickiest aspect is not making these problems about us, despite the fact that they are happening to us—impacting our, very own, individual lives. Taking things personally seems to me to be one of the very worst characteristics a person can have because it makes everything exponentially harder. I know whereof I speak; I struggle with this propensity all the time. As I counseled a friend who was getting divorced when their spouse flipped out and decided to walk out, “I know it’s happening to you and impacting you and hurts you, but this is not about you. It’s about them.” (Easier said than done, I know.)

 

At the start of my re-booting journey in Santa Barbara, it was all I could do to get through the day without falling apart. In fact, I had to focus exclusively on the immediate task before me and would not allow my mind to speculate about The Future. I felt as if my life had imploded and I was standing in the middle of a smoke strewn chasm, unsure if I could find my way out. Dramatic image, yes, but it’s also how I felt.

 

The truth is that while I had endured an enormous, disruptive upheaval, there remained many elements of my life that were working successfully. And it was this notion I clung to during those early days. I hadn’t the foggiest notion what would happen next or how I was going to survive this crisis. In desperation, I would list out anything I could think of that could possibly be characterized as going well for me, and used this as a rampart against slipping into misery and panic. I stuck these lists of positives in diaries and calendars, in glove compartments, gym bags, and pasted on bathroom mirrors. I reminded myself that all I had to do was get through the next 15 minutes, or hour, or day, reminding myself that I could do this, I could manage this one, small thing in front of me. By breaking my days down into increments, I managed to abate my feelings of despair and overwhelm. I got through it. In time, I reached a point where I could even express occasional gratitude and enjoy small pleasures like the warmth of the sun on my back or something equally innocuous. And slowly, like a pack animal working its way up a mountain, my capacity to rebuild my optimism for the future increased.

 

Now, a few years later, I can look back with a great deal more equanimity about what happened and recognize that so much of it was not about me. This sort of wisdom cannot be acquired any other way than walking through those fires. While it’s true that my problems are not all solved—and some continue to trigger a great deal of stress—I know now I can handle whatever comes. I didn’t know that before.

 

What about you? How do you tackle tough times? What is it you tell yourself to get through in a positive manner? And, what have you discovered about yourself in the meantime? How might you reassure a good friend who was suffering something similar? Where might they seek out some element of optimism? Because it’s there, too.

The Perils of Sucking It Up

July 22, 2014

Probably the most distinguishing characteristic of a Re-booter is the fact that they are determined to improve their outcomes and recognize that to do so requires taking a risk. Whether the challenges or set backs we’ve experienced were imposed on us or we, ourselves, set in motion such upheaval, re-booters believe a better life is possible if we continue to try our best. We keep swimming towards that distant shore, undeterred by riptides. But not everyone is such a dedicated swimmer. In fact, there are far more people in this world who fear change and the unknown so much that they repeatedly opt to remain camped on howling beaches than plunge into the currents which can carry them to sunnier strands.

 

As someone who generally dislikes surprises and much prefers having a sense of what to expect next, I can sympathize with those who hold back, but my sympathy has limits. A gamble is a gamblewe can’t be assured our efforts will be rewarded, but it’s what our motivations are for taking that step (versus sitting tight) which makes the difference.

 

Risk assessment is something we do on a daily basis. Is the gap large enough for me to cross traffic safely? Should I ask the boss about a raise? If I approach my spouse about sleeping in separate rooms will we be ok? Can I tell my friend I’m concerned about their drinking? Or should I just suck it up? Re-booters know that nothing is ever perfect: no person, no situation, and certainly not us. And because we understand this, we recognize that we must make accommodations for the sake of others. We do this out of respect. We do this because we value what we have and want to keep it. But there’s another reason many people remain mum: they are terrified by the prospect of unhappiness that may follow their request for change.

 

Alas, we all know people (or perhaps we have committed some version of this sin ourselves) who use their wrath or their hurt or neediness as a way to discourage requests for change and exercise control over the situation. Silent treatment anyone? Crying jags? Righteous indignation? Hostile counter measures? Any of this ring a bell for you? Who wants to risk consequences such as these? Do you see how effective this is as a technique? Just typing it makes me cringe. Yuck.

 

When faced with such prospects, it makes total sense that folks select the path of avoidance. “I can take this,” we tell ourselves. “It doesn’t matter that much. It’s unimportant.” Maybe it is, maybe it’s not. We justify our evasion by reminding ourselves that compromise and sacrifice are necessary parts of any relationship. “I can tough it out.” How many times have you told yourself something similar?

 

But underneath all this valiant talk, might it be possible that you’re afraid? Afraid of taking the risk that comes with expressing your preferences or concerns? Where is that line between accommodating someone else for the sake of peace (aka the status quo) and tactfully communicating what you want—especially when speaking up may ruffle feathers? How does a Re-booter decide what to do?

 

This is the deal: just because you can withstand an uncomfortable situation doesn’t mean you should. You need to remember that you’re strong enough to survive the fallout. You can handle this!

 

In my opinion, after a certain point, you’re probably not doing anyone any favors by turning yourself into a pretzel in order to keep the peace. I know from personal, excruciating experience that allowing a situation to fester inflicted active harm on me and encouraged increasingly bad behavior. Had I somehow summoned the courage to speak up for myself, this state of affairs might have been remedied with far less drama (probably not, given the personalities involved). Part of the price I paid for sucking it up as long as I did was not only a diminution of self, but an exponential growth in my bitchiness towards the rest of the world. (This has subsequently been corrected, you will be relieved to know.) All because I was terrified of the fallout. I was so afraid, I kept telling myself I could stand it. But I couldn’t.

 

We all know there are situations where it feels like there is no relief, no light at the end of the tunnel. We try to tough it out. We tell ourselves that we are being responsible. And, up to a point, this is good and what we should be doing under difficult circumstances, but subsuming all of your needs because you are afraid of what will happen (or worse, you don’t believe your needs are as important) helps no one. Problems won’t fade away because you swallowed your unhappiness yet again. The truth can never be denied; eventually, it will come out. Guaranteed. You know that.

 

What differentiates re-booters from the rest of humanity is that we have confidence in our ability to survive upheaval—even blossoming as a result of such change! As they say in one of my favorite movies of all time, Strictly Ballroom, “A life lived in fear is a life half lived.” Keep this is mind when debating whether or not to suck it up one more time.

The Half Life of Re-booting

July 17, 2014

There aren’t many adults who would consider moving into one’s parental basement an improvement in circumstances, however, I am just such a person. After nearly three years of jamming myself into a twin sized bed, I have successfully moved out of my childhood bedroom and into a full on apartment! Yes, that’s right, this re-booter has upgraded to living life on the ground floor. 

 

While the term half-life is typically “used to describe a quantity undergoing exponential decay,” I choose to redefine this term to convey a signal of flourishing ascent! Establishing a space that feels more fully my own gets me that much closer to reaching my goal of a fully re-booted life. I’m a whole lot further down the road than when I first set out on my journey from Santa Barbara to Washington. Since that time, nothing about my life has decayed (except, well, maybe an over-inflated sense of self). Instead, there has been exponential growth in personal wisdom, initiative, and resilience. So, while there is plenty of fodder for folks to criticize about my life–she flubbed this or hasn’t managed that—I choose to describe this subterranean move in terms of resolute progress! At first glance, it may not look like much of an achievement, but I assure you, it is. While some might unkindly describe mine as a portrait of fizzled potential or lackluster performance, they’d be dead wrong. Because the truth is, the challenges I had to wade through to get to a point where I could move into this basement and be happy about it were manifold, demanding of me a great deal of patience and determination to keep my head held high despite numerous seeming set backs.

 

Can you recall a time in your life when your life felt like it was going in reverse but hindsight has provided plenty of reasons to see that it was actually a favor?

 

Each time I feel discouraged or particularly impoverished or at my wit’s end as to what I should do next, I scare myself into a more positive mindset by reminding myself that I could feel angry and defeated everyday for the rest of my life and nobody is going to stop me. Nobody. If that’s not a terrifying thought, I don’t know what is. Who do you know who has opted for the route of anger and victimization? It’s an awful path to trod, isn’t it? To me, nothing is as tragic as a person who has given up on himself, who allows circumstances to define them. When I waver, and feel myself pulled towards that siren call of throwing a giant pity party, I remind myself that how I handle trying times like these are the ones that will define who I am. It’s solely in my control how I choose to react to my problems.

 

That’s true for you, too.

 

When was the last time you felt sorry for yourself? Last year? Last week? An hour ago? And despite whatever grievance, insult, or disappointment you have suffered, is there a better, more constructive way you might think about it? Ok, so you got fired, so what? There are other ways to make money and you won’t have to deal with that asshole, anymore. Your spouse left you and never looked back. Tough break, but was your marriage that great to begin with? Might there be a chance you’ll actually enjoy living life unfettered? Maybe this will set the stage for you to meet someone better suited to you. Must these developments prove that you’re a loser? Of course not! No! Accept no other answer than this one.

 

This is where the half-life of re-booting comes into play. Maybe the only way we can reach that better place in our lives is by slipping down the slide backwards. Sure, it feels a lot like Alice falling down the rabbit hole, and wow, it’s awfully dark in here…but our eyes adjust and we regain our bearings. There’s absolutely no ground to be gained by sitting in the hole, refusing to move.

 

So, next time you’re tempted to mope, I want you to think of me, dancing away in my new basement apartment. Instead of telling myself this move signals the death knell of any hope for resurgence as an independent adult, I now see it for what it actually is: a freshly repainted, reupholstered, brighter space from which I will optimistically launch into a better life. My half-life of re-booting involves no decay whatsoever. What about your situation? Do you choose to see degeneration or potential?

Where Time Stands Still: Our Most Elusive Selves

July 15, 2014

Overall, I am not an escapist. But each summer, I return to a place a world away from my regular life, a place that hearkens back to an entirely different era, one where the best parts of rose colored memories come into play. It also happens to be a locale where time disappears for me—I have no idea where my hours go. I find myself floating in a languorous bubble of summertime dreams. This magical suspension doesn’t simply occur when I slip away to my mountain retreat, it also happens whenever I begin to write. Lost in this private world, I am routinely surprised to discover a) hours have dissipated without my notice and b) the elation I feel from this all encompassing sense of contentment.

 

What place or activity does this for you? Is there somewhere you go (literally or metaphysically) which whisks you away from your gerbil wheel of thoughts and cares such that when you finally return to your senses, you have no idea where the time went? Perhaps starting that crossword puzzle or composing your next watercolor or losing yourself on a long drive with no particular destination sets the stage for this personal shift. What does it take for you to settle into your most relaxed self?

 

It’s such a private and personal thing, isn’t it? Your answer to this question. The sorts of places and activities that provide an indescribable sense of yes to you rarely resonate for anyone else. I know someone who routinely goes to the airport to eat bad nachos and watch travelers hurry past—this is his way to relax. To me, that sounds like hell on earth, but for him, it provides an opportunity to be invisible and watch people who are far too caught up in making it to the gate in time to worry about his curiosity. Another reads music in his chair. A third likes nothing better than experimenting with different types of fondant icing and reading an issue of Batter Chatter.

 

Whatever it is that resonates taps into a murky, ill-defined part of ourselves that we hesitate to admit exists. What I mean by this is that we are mysteries even to ourselves. The inability to articulate why this particular place or activity or person strikes such a deep internal chord hints at other deep, slow currents than exist as well. We just don’t know it ‘til, all of a sudden, we realize that it makes us feel, well, makes us feel right. When we are here, with them or doing that, the pieces come together—no small matter when so much of our lives make no sense at all. I mean, come on, I bet you can list off at least three things about your immediate life situation that don’t sit right, that create dissonance for you. So, when you discover that place or person which takes you away from those out of tune compositions that drive so much of your days, it’s important to pay attention—wouldn’t you agree?

 

The irony is that this timeless retreat offers many elements which might suggest I’d be happier somewhere else. I don’t know many people, I don’t have children to broker new relationships for me, there’s not much to do, I’m not from the area, and my childhood memories aren’t replete with happy times spent rocking on the porch with supportive, loving relatives. So, why do I return year after year? I think it’s because this setting enables me to suspend so much of my most pressing worries and demands nothing from me. Here, it doesn’t matter how my hair looks or what I haven’t achieved—nobody is looking for anything from me. I am allowed to unfurl in my own, quixotic manner, in a time of my choosing. And when I write, well, the challenge of conveying effectively an idea or premise that intrigues me is the most fulfilling sort of activity I can imagine. So, to bring the place and activity together, perhaps now you can understand why I return. It actually plays a small, but important role in my ongoing re-booting process. What is this place for you? Where might you unfurl, unwatched and at ease?

Dude Ranch Masculinity

July 10, 2014

When it comes to our children, parents cultivate a remarkable ability to delude themselves. This is probably a very good quality from an evolutionary standpoint because, otherwise, it might be impossible for individuals to continue to shoulder their parental duties for offspring who are ungrateful, bratty, annoying, weird, or just plain unsatisfactory. Finding a way to make peace with the fact that these people are our children—we created them, we reared them, we set the stage for the individuals they’ve become—when whoever it is that stands before us looks or sounds or believes nothing we recognize, makes it tricky for parents to delight in the decades’ long process of parenting while retaining our very sanity. Oh sure, there are those kids whose differences delight and inspire us, but let’s not gloss over those troubling situations where we’re not too thrilled with the what’s looking like the final product of our efforts and more than a little perplexed what to do about it.

 

The lengths some parents will go to in order to help their offspring prepare for life is legendary. Tiger mother. Helicopter parent. Mini-me narcissism. Our fierce desire to protect our children from the unkindnesses the world can inflict impels many parents to pursue outlandish strategies—all well intentioned, but at times spectacularly ill conceived. An example that takes the cake for me is one mother’s determination to send her reclusive and very babied, nearly-grown son to a dude ranch for a week, where he can, “learn to be a man.” (These are her words, not those of a promotional brochure.) This poor kid couldn’t complete his school’s phys ed requirement rationalizing that badminton was too taxing for him—so how’s he gonna rope a steer? Everything about this idea horrifies me. I mean, the possibility that seven days at a dude ranch for a young fellow who has happily spent every single night of his life playing video games while one or both parents slept nearby, well, I predict trauma not transformation, mixed in with a whole lot of head scratching from the cowboys who are charged with his initiation into manhood. We need not trouble ourselves with further speculation.

 

Still, what this Dude Ranch Hail Mary demonstrates to me is the absolute anguish his mother must feel. Convincing herself that this wild grasping at straws (the passive father just nods—nice job, hon) is the ticket to reversing seventeen years of unfortunate parenting. What part of this is reasonable? And is this approach truly designed to help him or to make his mom feel better? It’s true that this young man is noticeably odd and has been poorly socialized, so it makes sense that his parents would feel concerned, but the fact that they’re placing their bets that a week at a dude ranch will remedy these matters astounds me. It’s not about whether or not the boy is “sufficiently masculine” (whatever that’s supposed to mean), but for those who don’t come by it naturally, independence of thought or action must be cultivated over a long, long period of time.

 

His example is dramatic, yes, but the same challenge exists for more “normal seeming” people who do exactly what they’re told. Just because they have better social skills and can pass through the day without drawing stares doesn’t mean that critical thinking skills exist. How many people can you think of who have never strayed from the path set out before them, either because they’re too scared, find themselves “too deep” into it, or (more likely) it never occurs to them to dare to live a different life? People get confused when trying their best to conduct themselves “as a family man should” or as “a loyal daughter,” “diligent student,” or “responsible member of society/family/group.” They ascribe to a code that’s been imposed upon them. Whether it’s the dad who automatically agrees to whatever his wife declares, the child who enters the profession his parents have mandated, or the senior citizen who refuses to consider a different way of aging than exactly what her parents modeled. How is this any different from a gang code? Now that you think about it this way, they’re in a pickle not too dissimilar from that of our young friend.

 

The reason I chose this tragic and glaring example of unwarranted feebleness is to sensitize you to the possibility that maybe, just maybe, there’s an aspect of your life that presents parallels. We do it, too. A re-booter strives to remember this before it’s too late; no Dude Ranch in the world can save us from ourselves.

 

The Golden Rule of the Road

July 8, 2014

Recently, the most unexpected thing occurred. During a regular rush hour, I was driving along Canal Road towards Georgetown and discovered I was the only car on the road. It was weird, really strange. Weird in a semi-creepy, Mad Max kind of way because, ordinarily, these roads are choked with traffic. And, no, it wasn’t a holiday. The President’s motorcade wasn’t nearby. I don’t know what it was. All I know is that there I was, the lone car, winding my way towards downtown in the early evening sun.

 

Where’d everybody go?

 

Looking back in my rearview mirror and seeing the entire stretch of road empty while, up ahead, I could discern no tail lights made me wonder, momentarily, if I were someplace I shouldn’t be. I felt relieved to pull up to a crowd of cars idling at the red light before crossing Key Bridge, but up until that moment, it was an eerie sensation.

 

We’ve all had similar experiences. When was the last time you felt you didn’t belong? Did you purposely cross into foreign territory, simply lose your way, or maybe you walked into a room filled with people you knew, but where you still felt out of place? It’s disconcerting, isn’t it? Particularly that last example, which is probably the most common for many re-booters—entering a familiar scenario but feeling like a stranger.

 

When it comes to feeling out of place, my experience has always been one of significant dichotomy. On one hand, people remark about my sense of confidence and extrovert-like qualities. Public speaking is easy for me. I know how to socialize. I like to laugh. But these attributes are a far cry from the way I experience myself, internally. I’ve never been one of the “cool kids.” Ordinarily, I am not someone who attracts the attention of others. I was never nominated, let alone voted, class president or captain of the team. So my personal sense of belonging is quite different from that which people regularly ascribe to me. I’ve never been part of an in-crowd. What must that be like?

 

How about you? If you were to describe your direct experience of fitting in versus how your friends or coworkers might describe you, would these perceptions match? And, does your assessment change depending on the context? For instance, are you the odd woman out compared to the cool moms’ group at your children’s school but when with your golf buddies or yoga class you relax into being your ineffable self? Under what circumstances do you flourish most?

 

Now, think about someone you know who you perceive as being ensconced in their community, someone who appears to be “fully accepted” (whatever that means to you). Try to imagine them feeling vulnerable or out of place—what do you think that looks like for them? The motive behind this little exercise is to return some humanity into those individuals who you have defined as inaccessible. Having done so, it makes it a little easier to feel sympathetic towards them, doesn’t it? It makes it slightly easier to approach this person (standing there in their loneliness), thus easing the transition from strangers to acquaintances for you both.

 

Empathy is a quality we must call upon on a daily basis. It is the Golden Rule, because no matter how often we may feel like we’re the only car on the road, unsure of where we’re heading, there will be another driver coming along who feels precisely the same way.

July 4th: Beating the Odds

July 3, 2014

This post’s title could be about anything, but it’s about how remarkable and surprising it is that the American Insurgents (as the French like to describe the colonialists) were able to defeat the world’s strongest military to establish these United States of America. On this side of the Atlantic, it seems as though there’s always been a presumption of inevitability by those of us who live here now that, of course, Geo. Washington & Co. would win, but nothing could be further from the truth. We forget (or are never taught) that the Founding Fathers (and their families) literally put their lives on the line when they signed those documents declaring the United States as a sovereign nation, free from British rule. Take a moment and think about this. If they were caught by British troops, death by hanging was a certainty.

In the aftermath of the Arab Spring, reading about the wicked violence that has gripped so much of the region as part of an epic struggle over what sort of rule (civilized or not) will control these impacted populations, I feel tremendous concern for the families who are caught in the cross fire, and am reminded of the risk and violence that is at stake for freedom fighters everywhere. So what follows is a v brief history lesson. It’s worth keeping in mind that the establishment of these United States only succeeded because we received help from powerful allies, most significantly France.

As a result of lobbying efforts by Benjamin Franklin, King Louis XVI agreed to support this untested band of colonialists (both secretly and then openly), in their war against Britain. The French Court poured so much money into the effort that the government nearly bankrupted itself (fyi, one of the underlying causes of the French revolution of 1789). Additionally, a 19 year old La Fayette served as a major general in the Continental Army under General Washington. He served with distinction at the Battles of Rhode Island and Yorktown and was instrumental in securing additional aid for the war. His assistance has never been forgotten. In 1917, as the US prepared to engage in WWI, General Pershing arrived in France with his American Expeditionary Force. One of the first places he visited was La Fayette’s tomb to repay the favor. “Lafayette, we are here.” France was not our only ally during the Revolution, but it was our most powerful.

This historical recap is relevant because as we watch warring factions struggle to gain supremacy over their countrymen, we must be cognizant of just how precarious and difficult it is to launch a new form of government (let alone that most fractious of forms, a democracy). Remember, ours was able to take root only because it was born in a rarified, hothouse climate. A nascent democracy would not have withstood the harsh winds we see in Washington today. (For a parallel, think of how coddled and protected a newborn must be before it gains the strength to begin to crawl.) What comes as a surprise to most Americans is that not everyone across the globe believes democracy is the highest form of government (as imperfect a system as it is). So as we sit here, safe on our own, mostly peaceful continent, we have the luxury of asking questions without direct fear of the rockets’ red glare. Who should we help in these struggles? What is our moral obligation and to whom? Will our help be effective or even welcome? How do those of us who have inherited a stable democracy behave when faced with the sorts of armed and aggressive chaos that exist only a plane ride away? And what do we do when we cannot agree?

Don’t forget, stakes equally as high as this were at issue when the Founding Fathers were establishing a structure for the nascent United States. Dramatic, furious debates about the rights of the individual versus the needs of a centralized government raged. They were as passionate then as we are today, but they found a way to compromise. They had to in order for this to work. What about us, now? Where is that bottom line commitment to making our democracy work? Whether it’s government shutdowns, conveniently missing emails, or recess appointments—petulance or supreme frustration is no excuse for a dereliction of honor and duty. Ever. Whether it’s the avarice of an unbridled Wall Street or the yoke saddled by the Politically Correct, we cannot let these malevolent forces continue. They undermine our sense of country and inflict harm upon us all. We must all do our part to face the fray and repair our eroding fabric of national unity.

As we celebrate our Independence Day and all the different ways we can be Americans, we need to remember that none of this was ever a given. The greatest experiment in democracy the world has ever seen was no sure thing. They beat the odds—for us. We need to revere their courage and sacrifice, and work hard to ensure that our democratic form of government remains honest and vital for all those who rejoice in the American spirit.

It’s a big deal…what we have.

Tick Tock!

July 1, 2014

Today is July 1st; half the year now fully behind us, fading fast as we speed towards December. Instead of panicking, why don’t we use this as an opportunity to review all that we’ve achieved thus far? Come on now, I know you’ve achieved at least some goals! Ok, maybe they are small compared to what you still need to do, but they count. Let’s make a list, shall we? What life lessons have you learned since January? Have you found that interacting with Person X isn’t nearly as onerous as you feared? Have you successfully kept your mouth shut even when your feelings were hurt? Maybe you’ve mastered a more diplomatic way to present your needs so that the entire exchange runs more smoothly? Am I close?

 

On a summer’s day such as this, with the sweet smell of freshly mown grass wafting nearby or the temptation presented by an early evening BBQ with friends, perhaps the last thing you may feel like doing is taking stock of what you’ve been up to. Maybe you’re a master procrastinator or you prefer avoidance because you loathe reminders of what has been left undone. I get it. I sympathize. Trust me, when I look at my list of to-dos, say like, “find employment, do something people will pay for, or turn the other cheek towards those who are unfriendly,” I cringe. These goals have yet to be met and I wonder if that day will ever come? Despite feelings of similar reluctance, I urge you to shift your perspective and give this inventory business a try. The truth is, there will always be more things to do. Our list of goals never grows shorter. Never.

 

What I have found by conducting such an appraisal is that I’m often pleasantly surprised by just how much I have achieved—even if they seem to be “little” things. Maybe it’s only enumerating the number of dinners cooked or a rare holding of my tongue, but at least I’ve managed this much. I write about this topic often, I know, but it’s because reviewing what’s happened stimulates greater energy and enthusiasm than avoidance ever can. When you formulate your list, be sure to include examples of forbearance. Whatever we stop doing is equally significant—and usually way more difficult–than initiating new behaviors towards achieving a new goal. For instance, holding yourself back from being an obnoxious jerk is a huge success. Yeah for you! Imagine the pleasures of a jerk free existence. I mean, do you ever regret not being a jerk?

 

I’m keeping this post short because, well, it’s summer, and we all have better things to do than think big thoughts all day, especially when there are baseball games to watch and margaritas to make, but fortunately for you, you can think your thoughts wherever you go! So what if you zone out from 15 minutes of chit chat with your friends? By the time you finish this little re-booting assignment, you’ll be more energized and in a better mood.

 

So, get out there, and make the most of these next six months.

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