Archive for August, 2014

Improvising a Better Plotline

August 28, 2014

Many people I know mutter about how little flexibility they have in their lives. Parents who run from carpool to carpool, workers who barely have time to react to the next meeting or memo, upkeep demands of the home or business or physical wellbeing—it never seems to stop. In fact, there is usually so much to do that we start to feel as though we are limited to reacting to our immediate circumstances rather than truly living our lives. Auto-pilot can seem like the only practical coping mechanism available. Feeling as though our roles are fixed, we may find ourselves mumbling something along these lines, “As long as I don’t think about it, I won’t feel so” overwhelmed/ disgruntled/fill-in-the-blank.

 

So, how stage managed is your life?

 

Of course, to face the opposite set of circumstances—having nothing that must be accomplished on any particular day—presents its own set of challenges. This scenario often rears its head when children leave the nest or people retire from decades’ long careers. All of a sudden, there we are, staring at this person we’ve been with all this time (mostly, I’m talking about ourselves) and having no idea how to interact with them or what we want to do next.

 

These are not new problems. Not everyone feels this way. But, do you?

 

I’ve confronted both dilemmas in my life, and I’m not even that old. During my last job, I was on a plane nearly every week, travelling across the country for a mere 24 hours before hightailing it somewhere else. It was exhausting, lonely, frenetic, and I rapidly grew to resent the burden of business travel. Now, I have no job and only the barest of social infrastructures here in the busy hive that is DC—talk about feeling isolated and listless! As much as I detest not having enough to do (and I really hate it), being too busy and encumbered by the incessant needs and demands of others takes its toll. Do you feel you have too much on your plate? Do you enjoy whatever it is that you’re doing?

 

As I see it, there are things I must do, things I should do, and things I want to do. As adults, life gets tricky when we find ourselves completely without any of the activities that satisfy the last of these categories. Can you recall the last time you had full-on fun, doing something you really wanted to do? I hope it was last night; but, was it?

 

I’ve watched a lot of people retreat in one way or another because they couldn’t cope with the imbalance in their lives. Believing that everything in their current circumstances was set in concrete, they felt they had no choice and could see no way out. Sound familiar? Such feelings are unrelated to age, socio-economic circumstances, or education levels—they happen across all spectrums—and the tragedy is when these sufferers don’t manage to carve out some tiny portion of their lives to engage in on their own terms, participating in an activity that fulfills them. This is the alpha and omega of re-booting because if we can harvest joy from our lives, then we have more to give to others.

 

Living life as a stage hand or on auto-pilot forecloses the possibility of any real happiness in our lives. Yes, there will be tough and demanding times. Yes, there will also be periods of great instability and loss, but retreating into a role because we don’t know what else to do and are too frightened to consider other possibilities, well it seems to me that the curtain has already come down.

 

In this blog, I use myself as an example of a person for whom the curtain repeatedly drops down on their head, but I keep devising new ways to push it back up. My stage may not be entirely clear, and there are a whole lot of props I need to eliminate, but I now trust myself enough to improvise. What about you?

Stage curtains

 

Looking the Other Way

August 26, 2014

Throughout the course of our lives, we must build into our calculations the need to accommodate for the weaknesses of others. After all, if we hope that they will flex around our shortcomings, we must extend the same courtesy. This business of acclimatizing to annoying or maladaptive behavior plays a critical role in our ability to proceed through life peacefully. We are all imperfect and what for one person seems like an acceptable thing to do may drive another nuts. So, it isn’t as though all behaviors are equally objectionable according to all people.

 

That being said, when you interact with a person on a regular basis, this challenge to accommodate becomes much more immediate, doesn’t it? Not only is it likely that we’ve hit a saturation point, but the inability to seek refuge from the behavior while maintaining the relationship exponentially intensifies our irritation or distress. If we proceed from the assumption that they are not going to alter their behavior, it is up to us to change our reaction. Ok, that’s all well and good, but what happens when looking the other way—despite your best intentions of keeping the peace—only enables the behaviors to worsen?

 

Right now, the former Governor of Virginia and his wife are being tried for criminal corruption, charged with accepting over $170,000 in gifts and loans from a businessman who hoped the Governor would use the prestige of his office to promote the product. The defense relies heavily on the former Governor’s contention that his wife of 38 years was a materialistic, mentally unstable harpy and that their marriage had devolved to such a point that he could not bear to go home and face her. According to reports, he testified that he looked the other way since had to “pick and choose” what they discussed because she was just that awful. Poor Governor! What else could His Excellency possibly do?

 

Now, it’s likely that most us will not find ourselves approached by “friends” who want to loan us significant chunks of money and pay for our children’s wedding receptions, but we can easily envision situations where people in our lives have the power to make things highly unpleasant for us if we don’t go along with, well, with whatever it is they do. How about an alcoholic spouse? Or one who is emotionally absent? Do we look the other way for the sake of keeping our marriage intact? How about an aging relative who refuses to acknowledge their abilities are in decline? Or there’s always the abusive boss fortified by senior management that pretends not to notice as long as the business keeps rolling in? And then there’s that parent who chooses to be a “friend” to their wild child and not a disciplinarian? Remember, passivity approximates consent. How do you think any of these situations turn out? In the end, is the outcome so peaceful, so happy?

 

Who do you know who looks the other way? What are they avoiding? How’s that working out for them?

 

I recognize that none of the immediate decisions involved in scenarios listed above are easy. I acknowledge, too, that these things often creep up on us slowly, so that we don’t fully notice until it’s late in the game. And, of course, dodging unpleasant or awkward conversations drives our choices much of the time. I’ve been there, I’ve looked the other way, and I sympathize! But, what I’ve also learned is that, after a certain point, looking the other way keeps nothing worth saving intact. Sure, you may have the empty shell of what once existed still standing, but the substance is gone. So what, exactly, are you holding on to? And what toll is looking the other way taking on you?

The Last days of Summer

August 21, 2014

Ah, these last, lingering, long days of summer—how are you spending them? Are the kids back in school? Maybe you’re stretched out on a piece of warm sand? Or perhaps you’ve moved on already, succumbing to those first, enticing Halloween candy displays at CVS? Regardless, the end of summer is nigh, with longer twilights and shorter day lit hours. What are you doing to squeeze out those remaining drops of summertime fun?

 

One of the few advantages the rest of the world has over a place like Santa Barbara where it’s always perfect and the weather allows for every type of hedonistic pleasure is that because warm weather is more limited where the rest of us poor schmos reside, we experience greater pleasure in its fleeting presence. Now, I say this somewhat bitterly because nobody relished the perfect clime of SB more than I; here in DC, I am unable to enjoy our relatively pleasant dog days because I fret that a cool and less humid August augurs an even more dreadful winter than we had the year before. Even now, I worry about securing sufficient quantities of Winter Melt De-icing Mix to forestall that icy slide. How’s that for seeing the glass half empty?

 

But, back to you and what you’re doing to live in the moment, regardless of whatever carpools, sales quotas, committee meetings, or tax liabilities you have hanging over your head. Re-booters appreciate that the evanescent quality of time can serve as a powerful motivator for us to get off our duffs and tackle that thing we’ve been meaning or wanting to do. Why is it so tempting to push things off? To procrastinate—even when it comes to activities or people who please us? Are we really that lazy? Let’s get a move on people, come on, chop chop! There’s only so many days left when you can sneak off while the sun shines…

 

When you reflect back on what you did this summer, how much of it involved restorative pleasure? For those amongst us who skew towards Puritanism, it can feel decadent to take time out for ourselves when we have children’s activities to orchestrate, businesses to manage, or current affairs to comprehend. Stepping away from the intensity of our frenetic lives can feel irresponsible or profligate—especially when we compare ourselves to that worker bee next door whose hive never stops buzzing. Yes, they appear to be accomplishing more than you, but SO WHAT? I can’t tell you the number of people I personally know who spend all their time being busy because they’re terrified of what might happen should they have a moment to think. Is that something to admire?

 

As someone who loves to accomplish concrete goals, who savors the tangible fruits of my labors, this prolonged period of enforced idleness I have had to endure has made it impossible for me to avoid reexamining my definition of what the word “productivity” means. My prolonged and agonizing period of unemployment has necessitated me to look elsewhere for fulfillment, to seek out new standards of measure, to acquire a patience and humility I would never have found if my life had gone as planned. I guess, when I think about it, this goes back to the essence of re-booting because things occur beneath the surface even when it appears that nothing’s going on at all. The way this applies to you is that when you take that afternoon to lie by the pool or spend a few hours hanging with your buddies or arrange for someone else to look after the kids while you stare at the wall practically comatose, you’re not doing nothing. You’re really not! There’s a lot more going on inside than you realize or can understand, and it needs time to manifest. Many of our greatest strengths and insights only show themselves when we are relaxed and alone; we cannot force them to appear. Does what I’m saying make any sense?

 

So, before you get caught up in autumn’s round of horse competitions or art shows, school fundraisers, business travel or last quarter stats, before you start to tackle that to-do list glaring at you from the refrigerator door, listen to that internal whisper which beckons pleasure, which summons solitude. Follow it. Let the magic unfold.

Summer shadows

 

Recalibrating our personal pH

August 19, 2014

In chemistry, pH (“potential of hydrogen”) is a measure from 0-14 of how alkaline or acidic a solution is (with pure water measuring a 7 for full neutrality). Any amount less than 7 is considered acidic (think lemon juice) and anything more leans towards alkaline (such as an antacid that you take for heartburn). In order to enjoy optimum health, we must maintain a pH of approximately 7.4 in order to regulate our various body functions properly. A shift in diet usually results in a shift in our body chemistry.

 

For a longtime, now, I ‘ve been fascinated with the tensile strength of spider silk. According to researchers, this gossamer thread is stronger than steel and can stretch amazingly long distances considering its size. But how the spider manages to produce this silk has remained a mystery, until now. A team of Swedish scientists recently posited that spiders convert the soluble proteins (spidroins) into a solid state (the silk) by exposing the substance to a change in pH as the protein travels through the glands. The ability of the spider to convert the liquid spidroins into a material used externally to create webs, catch food, and lay eggs demonstrates how the spider cultivates a latent internal potential into a powerful external force.

 

Re-booters do exactly the same thing by shifting the way they think about their experiences, expectations, and assessments. In other words, suspending the same ideas and events in a different emulsion can change how we think about them and what happens next. That “solution” is our personal pH.

 

A simpler way to explain this might go like this: how a pessimist perceives a difficult or painful event differs markedly from that of an optimist. And much of this is due to a significant disparity in the personal pH of these individuals. But the differences don’t stop there because what really counts is what happens next: what is the external “end result” of such an experience being processed through different perspectives? For the optimist, they may be able to evaluate these painful episodes and wind up with a new strategy or sense of self that is as strong as spider silk. For the pessimist, exposing those soluble items (aka your experiences) in that negative solution usually means that no worthwhile final product is generated. All the pessimist gets is a wet, soggy mess. Does what I am saying make any sense?

 

It’s rare to find a person who understands that they can change how they think about life—altering their personal pH—most never think about it at all, or if they do, they assume that how they’ve operated up ‘til now is what it will be for the rest of time. But, it’s not. Re-booters know this. Re-booters appreciate and respect the fact that we can rewire and re-code, we can change our personal pH by employing deliberate strategies (such as catching ourselves when we get caught in that automatic, harmful mindset) and relentlessly practicing this new, improved approach.

 

So, the next time you glimpse a spider web floating on the breeze, looking to attach itself for purposes of building a new place to land, I want you to remember what it took to get there. I want you to admire the strength and flexibility of the material that spider has created, which only happened because the spider altered its pH.

 

spider web

 

Learning to Fly: The Ruffled Feathers of Re-booting

August 14, 2014

Approximately speaking, the business term “disruptive innovation” refers to “An innovation that creates a new market by applying a different set of values, which ultimately (and unexpectedly) overtakes an existing market,” such as Uber or e-cigarettes. These advances or evolutions improve a product or service in ways that the market does not expect, and thus can change a market entirely. Email superseded snail mail; digital photography replaced chemically developed film—things like that.

 

Likewise, evolutions in our personal understanding about ourselves or our circumstances can play a similar role: it creates a disruptive force in how we live our lives going forward. A new perspective can both improve and threaten what has previously existed—think of bringing a new baby home or breaking up, going back to work or school, having our business collapse or suffering a crisis—each of these developments (and others) necessitate a reevaluation of the status quo.

 

For Re-booters, thinking of the change in yourself as a disruptive market force—presuming that this change is an actual positive development for you—let’s consider the impact on your “market,” aka those with whom you live. From their perspective, they may not greet this development with a ticker-tape parade. They may not embrace this shift with the wild enthusiasm of the cotton candy-watermelon-bubble gum flavored vaping crowd. No, in fact, your bunch may not support this disruptive technology business at all.

 

So, what do you do then? What do you do when you have irreversibly changed but your market doesn’t like it? They ain’t buyin’ your new wares—it doesn’t matter that you are presenting a new and improved persona. They want to keep things the way they were.

 

Such conundrums call to mind “my way or the highway” scenarios which can careen harrowingly close to bullying in my book. Having been subject to more than one person who regularly employed such tactics, I am loathe to ever go that route, but recognize that sometimes ultimatums (if you’re serious about following through) can have their place in our toolbox of negotiating strategies. But most of the time, a far more successful approach is to introduce the changes slowly, so the market can adapt without feeling blindsided.

 

A small example from my life opened the door to a significantly enhanced sense of independence and set the stage for me to risk even bigger changes later on. Many years ago, I decided that I would start observing Christmas Eve alone. Now, some of you may think this sounds tragic, but I saw it as a refuge from family dynamics that were driving me mad. Exiting stage left on such an image laden holiday is not for the feint of heart, I assure you. But, for me, the choice of enduring yet another alcohol laden snark fest was something I couldn’t bear. When I made this decision, I had a whole lot of mixed feelings: was I abandoning certain, treasured family members for my own selfish purposes? Would Christmas Eve alone signal a short step to a life lived with 27 cats? Couldn’t I just suck it up? No, I could not. So, I stuck to my guns and withstood their disappointment. Ah, tranquility! The afternoon of the 24th, I bought a nice bottle of wine, had a fire brightly burning away while my little tree twinkled and had one of the very best Christmas Eves of my life. I don’t know how glum things were back at the ranch, but it doesn’t matter, because that’s their responsibility and not mine. After that, I never looked back. This, my friends, is an example of disruptive innovation.

 

I recognize that what we do on holidays is a fairly minor matter in the greater scheme of things, but you’ve got to walk before you run, right? In certain families, opting to live a car-free existence or developing a love for country music (including memorizing the words to “Havin’ a Beer with Jesus”) would be considered disruptive. Tremendously disturbing to all involved—best not to discuss—I mean what might come next could be terrifying: like voting Republican or announcing that crocs are acceptable footwear. Shudder. Talk about a market upset!

 

But, the bottom line is, you’ve evolved and aren’t going back to who you were before. And while you needn’t be obnoxious about this new and improved you, it’s good to embrace these changes and be confident—reminding yourself that any ruffled feathers eventually settle back down. Your example may even give them a necessary measure of courage to spread their wings.

 

Trying to Hide From the Prying Eyes of Others

August 11, 2014

So, it seems I have a Talent for Trouble (or trouble making). Nothing too seditious, but the potential is latent. For someone whose self-portrait more closely aligns with that of a retiring country mouse, to be labeled a provocateur is rather shocking; but there are those who see me differently than I see myself. While it’s true that I, uh, regularly assess a situation for entertainment value and then invent ways to increase the ridiculous factor (primarily by convincing others to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do), this is a trifling business, a nothing. Others hold contrary opinions as to my guilt. In fact, over drinks, someone I don’t know particularly well pegged me as an “instigator” of sorts. Wow. “I most certainly am not,” I gasped with the slightest hint of a smile. (Actually, the label really does sorta suit me.)

 

What label suits you?

Oh! You hesitate to answer? Hmm. Verrrry interesting.

 

Now, this whole business about instigating/trouble making kind of horrifies me, but deep in my heart, I know it’s apt. In fact, as one astrology book described it, I am a Mischievous Maverick, possessing a “naughty allure.” Good grief! What should I make of this diagnosis? Well, it doesn’t matter because I just don’t let everyone see this part of me—it doesn’t suit me for certain types to glimpse that much of my underlying nature. But perhaps it’s not as hidden as I believe.

 

Astrology references aside, how do others perceive you? If you could eavesdrop on their conversation, what would they say were your most noticeable characteristics? “He’s got a nice, quiet confidence.” “She’s angry around the edges.” “Be careful—he’s a loveable rascal.” “That one’s a total narcissist.” “They’re the smartest person I’ve ever met who’s continually on a quest for something.” “He feels sorry for himself but is too lazy to do anything about it.” “He’s never stopped loving her.” “She’s missed him everyday of her life.” Not all observations, of course, are going to be correct over the long haul or even fair, and so much depends on the observer’s state of mind, but when the same thing gets said over and over, there’s probably a grain of truth to it.

 

So, what grain lies at your core? If someone has labeled you as “angry” or “confused” is that an entirely unfair assessment? And, if not, how does it feel to have someone see you so clearly—especially when it’s something you’re desperately trying to hide? To be honest, when people have said things to me, about me, which I know are true it makes me feel naked. “How can they see that much?” I wonder, horrified to realize they’ve seen past all my protections. That’s the level of vulnerability I experience. In a world where so much of our energy is devoted to projecting a certain funhouse image, discovering that our efforts have not been 100% successful can be enormously disconcerting—but also freeing in an odd way.

 

What do you feel when someone really sees you?

Scared? Relieved? Confused? Something else, entirely?

 

Of course, there are many different parts to ourselves. We can be angry about certain disappointments but also abundantly loving in other ways. Conflicting qualities are a trademark of the homo sapien. I can be a rabble rouser in some arenas and a pretty conventional foot soldier in others. What deep truths about yourself do you harbor? And who has seen them in you? Because it’s those acute observers (whether they play large or small roles in your life) who can serve you best should the time come where you no longer want a convex mirror.

Thinking About Things We Shouldn’t

August 7, 2014

When I first saw the film Chocolat back in 2000, I thought it was heavy handed and dumb. Nevertheless, a few nights ago, I was bored and it was free on Amazon Prime; I thought maybe it was worth a second shot—nope, it’s still bad. But the thing about bad movies is that they occasionally offer some redeeming feature (that probably goes double for Sharknado). Anyway, when Juliette Binoche is smearing Mayan chocolate all over the counter and doling out bits of wisdom to her repressed, small town customers, she mysteriously smiles and tells one, “Don’t worry so much about ‘not supposed to.’”

 

This one line caught my attention. Huh. 

And then I turned the movie off.

 

The thing is, I worry about “not supposed to” all the time. I’m continually fretting about, well, about a lot of stuff—most of it pretty pointless, but this fretting about doing what’s approved of and “acceptable” drives a lot of my choices. It’s as though I’m worried that at any point, I’ll be cast in a remake of Defending Your Life and want to be certain I’m not put in the penalty box! What kind of an existence is that? As regular DR readers know, the most obvious, ongoing struggle for me is finding a job that matches my training and experience when, the truth is, I don’t want to do that stuff anymore. I’ve written about this previously and I’m pretty much at the point of accepting a fate of answering phones for the rest of my life, yet that isn’t what I want to do, either. What I want to do is write this blog and things like it—for money. But my fantasy life extends way beyond socially acceptable matters of finding a fulfilling, non-traditional job into arenas where my thoughts are limited to me, myself, and I. And, I’m willing to bet I’m not alone in this regard. You do it, too.

 

From social, familial, or career expectations to food and sex, the parameters by which we are expected to conduct ourselves are communicated early on for us all. Most of the time, we are happy to comply, genially agreeing to the models set out before us. We do what they did or what they told us we should do. But, temptation comes in as many varieties as we can dream up and many of them include elements which deviate from such norms. There’s a lot we’re “not supposed to think about” or want.

 

What confection tempts you? What is your secret?

 

Suppressing our thoughts is a fruitless endeavor because our desires have a funny way of popping back into our heads, unbidden. They drive us to imagine all the things we’d rather be doing than what awaits us on the other side of that door. Finding succor in our private longings is normal and widespread, but simultaneously reveals a whole lot about our life satisfaction levels. We can’t help it. Actually, I believe secrets can be a good thing. Not all secrets, of course, but maintaining this element of mystery of who we are is another dimension of the human experience.

 

Keeping our cards close to our chest serves a constructive purpose (ignoring the proclivities of social media to indiscriminately reveal everything about ourselves). My point is that it’s ok to revel in our private thoughts, as naughty or politically incorrect as they may be—heck, you may even be sympathetic to the wrong political party–because, we’re not ever going to be able to stop our thoughts from coming. We think what we think. We want what we want. No matter how much it might upset those around us. The trick, of course, is how or if we follow up on those forbidden fruits and what keeps us from doing so.

 

In terms of long term desires, what keeps you from pursuing them? Why do you hold back? Is it out of fear? Out of a sense of pride or responsibility to maintain the status quo? Because, aside from a few morally and socially reprehensible acts, most of what we want isn’t so impossible to achieve. When we spend all our time thinking about what we can’t do, telling ourselves we should not be thinking these things (whatever they are), we never arrive at a place where we can. Do you intend to live your life always telling yourself no? No, no, no? No to everything you want—meaning, what you want now–regardless of previous choices you made or what you wanted (and probably got)…back then?

 

So, whether it’s indulging in chocolate during Lent or fixations of another sort entirely, I believe that thinking our secret thoughts can provide both a relief to a longing that’s already there and may, just possibly, open the doors to new strategies for living the life we want, for living it in the open. There’s no harm in at least thinking about it…

Overcoming Embarrassment

August 5, 2014

Re-booting is an ongoing process of self-reflection, self-assessment, and self-correction—all of which is a good and valuable activity in which to engage. The downside of such introspection is that we run the risk of becoming almost too self-aware. We become vulnerable to the misperception that our shortcomings are as evident to the world as they are to us, and this overly acute self-consciousness makes us feel embarrassed or ashamed.

 

Now, I am one of the first people to say that there are plenty of folks in this world who should feel mortified by their antics, but there’s a freedom in their obtrusiveness that I occasionally envy. Heck, I’ve done loads of embarrassing things that I didn’t realize then (or now) were so cringe inducing. Anybody who is or has a parent can sympathize! But blushing awkwardness aside, the point of this post is to encourage you, my fellow re-booters, to do your best to put aside your feelings of discomfiture and be more like our obtuse brethren. Their blithe unawareness (note: this is different from those who are simply self centered SOBs who act selfishly without regard to anyone else) or perhaps their more solid sense of self allows them to take risks, put their foot in their mouth, look silly, or wear dumb shoes without it becoming a Major Event.

 

I’ve known a lot about feelings of shame in my life—most of it unwarranted and made worse by my own panic at how to handle feelings of awkwardness—but such episodes put me through the wringer and directly impacted my ability to interact with people I liked (a lot) because I told myself I was too awkward or loud or unattractive or just not good enough to relax and enjoy being myself with them. Instead, I would freeze up internally, certain I would make precisely the wrong move whatever I did. No doubt, these people had no clue of the debates raging in my head, but what they did pick up on was a shift in my Chrisanna-ness, and then, it simply wasn’t as much fun to hang out with me as they had initially (and correctly) believed. I did this to myself.

 

When was the last time you felt something similar?

 

Over the course of this year, I’ve met a couple of new people where we really clicked. It’s such fun when you meet someone like that, isn’t it? A genuine joy can be found in the promise of a potential new friend. But, part way through our initial interaction, I could feel my self-consciousness descending upon me like an unwelcome, dank mist. All those familiar, doubting, ridiculing voices murmured at me on the sidelines—all because I started to fear I was, somehow, gonna blow it–again. Only this summer, because I am older and wiser and have more deliberate, re-booting experience I employed a different tactic. As a counter force, I told myself to calm down, relax, and stop worrying. I reminded myself that even if I did screw up, it wasn’t a fatal flaw. I mean, we all cherish relationships with people who can be challenging or awkward or, yes, even embarrassing from time to time. And they cherish us through all our antics, too. So, I forced those black thoughts to go away and summoned an artificial confidence that me being just me would not drive these new possible friends screaming from the room. I hate feeling embarrassed and my heart aches when I see others hang their heads because they tell themselves they are awkward or weird or somehow “less good.” In that spirit, I gave myself a dose of the same medicine I would give to them and to you: don’t be scared! It’s ok if you stumble. I like you already.

 

As a re-booter, with all the introspection that you do and dedicated work to maturing and increasing your total amount of life wisdom, I hope you will also bolster that goofy, ridiculous part of yourself that will never go away. It’s part of what makes you your special self.


%d bloggers like this: