Archive for March, 2015

A Re-booting Requirement: Growing a Thicker Skin

March 31, 2015

One of the growing societal trends that alarms me the most is the tacit encouragement given to people who shriek about how offended they are by something another person said or did. (As though it’s the worst thing in the world to have hurt feelings.) What nearly always follows is some insincere apology by the accused, promising that they never intended to offend anyone, and are sorry to those they may have harmed. Harmed?!? They’re words not bullets! Talk about first world problems. You think anyone is running around Syria apologizing for whatever hurt feelings they may have caused? It’s at times like these when the old nursery rhyme Sticks and Stones can be useful. There’s a lot of wisdom in this little ditty.

 

While it’s true that there are some historical words and symbols that have been used to intimidate, diminish, and malign various groups, the hair trigger sensitivity that exists today shocks me—university speech codes are a prime example of the victim mindset that is hijacking our culture. The fact of the matter is, everybody has their feelings hurt at one point or another, and everybody causes offense, whether intentionally or not. It happens. It just does. But these days, whenever I turn around, one group or another is expressing righteous indignation at some perceived insult—I fear that serving as the spokesperson for such groups will soon be listed in the official Occupational Outlook Handbook!

 

Where has our perspective gone? Why would we give so much power to someone who has (allegedly) maligned us that we then scream in indignation? Why not just ignore them and get on with our day? A nation of red faced, fuming, fulminating fools does nobody any good and certainly does little to promote the peace.

 

Case in point: recently, a group of art students at Santa Barbara City College erected a teepee on the campus grounds that was intended to promote dialogue between community members. The students plugged the project by advertising on Facebook what they called “Tea in the Teepee.” A couple of Indian students protested that the erection of the teepee was offensive and demeaning to them. They claimed that the art students had misappropriated a cultural symbol that wasn’t theirs. As a result, the teepee was dismantled and removed.

 

Now, I have many problems with this, but I will focus on the taking offense aspect. What I would ask the school administrators is: why does one small group get to determine what is or is not insulting? And even if they find something provocative, why is that the determining factor in whether the project stays or goes—especially at a place of “learning”? Further, why is being offended such an egregious condition that there must be a remedy? I would ask the protestors this: by claiming that the teepee is a part of a long tradition of negative stereotypes instead of trumpeting its use as a practical source of shelter, aren’t you hastening its demise? Why would you want to eradicate a symbol of Indian life if it’s part of your identity? Additionally, what could you possibly mean by claiming the teepee is “misappropriated” when used by anyone other than an Indian? Does this line of thinking apply to all cultures? Should only French people be allowed to prepare and eat French food? Should only Americans be allowed to play baseball? Is it a “cultural misappropriation” if someone other than a native Chinese receives acupuncture treatments? How far does your line of argument extend, beyond who may or may not “appropriately” build a teepee?

 

I have two points I’d like to make: 1. When you feel offended, what you are doing is giving other people power over you. Why would you do that? Why grant them that power? What they say or do is far more about them than it is about you.

 

Of course, there are times in our lives when we hit a pothole or two. Something goes wrong—you do something foolish and go bankrupt, your kid wrestles with addiction, your best friend runs off with your spouse—it doesn’t matter what it is, only that you’re sensitive about what happened. There will always, and I mean always, be someone who gossips about it. If this were to happen, I’d remind you that while nobody likes feeling criticized or ridiculed, don’t make their words out to be more than they are—they’re just one person’s words/conclusions. Your hurt will fade away (if you let it). You cause trouble for yourself when you blow things out of proportion.

 

The same is true for our re-booting journey. When you start doing things differently, this may upset/threaten someone close to you. They may even claim that your new attitude hurts and offends them. 2. Just because they feel hurt doesn’t mean you’ve done anything hurtful! (Think: teepee)

 

Nonsense needs to be recognized for what it is.

teepee 

 

Narrowing Our Focus So We Don’t Get Overwhelmed

March 26, 2015

In previous posts, I have written about how important it is to keep the big picture in mind when in the midst of re-booting. Today, I’m taking the opposite tact. While, generally, I believe in a long term strategy, the fact of the matter is, no game is won without taking one yard at a time. (Nothing you didn’t already know.) The trouble with a big picture focus is that it can start to feel overwhelming. When a life goal appears to be an enormous challenge, I have been known to freak out and shut down. “OMG, what am I gonna do about my life?” It’s too much. There’s no way I can manage it. Years ago, in the immediate aftermath of a crisis, the only way I could cope was in two hour chunks—that was as much as I could handle.

 

Now, I do better.

 

While my problems continue to feel daunting, one of the coping strategies I employ is focusing on what’s going right in my life. Today. Right now. I seek out those things about which I can feel positive. They can be small things like making the bed or exercising. These days, I make a deliberate effort, as best as I can manage, to choose to be happy. It sounds so simplistic, doesn’t it? Each of us can come up with a world of reasons why we should worry, why we should feel distressed and upset. Trust me, a few years ago when my life appeared to be in far better order, I was a MISERABLE WRECK. Unhappiness doesn’t begin to convey where I was. To get through this hell, I thought I had to cling to the “big picture” as my goal—a goal, it turns out, I was saved from-desperately trying to “will away” my everyday suffering by reminding myself how much was at stake. Have you suffered similarly?

 

I’m not minimizing reasonable concerns about big picture issues–I have them, too. But a major problem with a big picture focus is that it necessarily involves projecting ahead to a whole bunch of stuff that we can’t control or predict—so we’re, in effect, worrying about possibilities that may not to come to pass. Why is it that it feels more conscientious to worry about what we might lose than it is to focus on feeling happy about what we currently have?

 

How good are you at choosing to be happy?

 

Taking for granted all the things going right in our lives is a common problem. In general, we feel criticisms or insults more keenly than we do praise. We invest far more significance in a negative turn of events than a positive one. Why is that? I suppose it has something to do with where we feel vulnerable. When things are going well, we usually feel confident and minimize what it took to get us to this happy point, whereas if some calamity occurs, it throws into question our entire narrative of us as the conquering hero. And nobody likes thinking of themself as the loser. Curbing that tendency of overinvesting in loss or potential loss is precisely why we are better served if we narrow our focus onto what’s going right in our lives. So what’s going right for you?

 

Ok, so I’m not telling you anything you haven’t heard before, nevertheless it bears repeating. Redirecting our attention to what we can do and can manage and where we feel that sense of accomplishment ENCOURAGES US TO DO MORE. We feel energized and emboldened. “I did that!” we say to ourselves. The more fulfilling the activity—the more personal meaning it has for you—the more uplifted you feel. Think of a time when something happened that made you feel proud. What is it about that moment that gladdens your heart? Doesn’t just thinking about it lifts your spirits? We all need to be more like dogs. Do you think any of them worries about the big picture? Keeping our attention on our immediate positives better prepares us to find the energy to do more, to feel hope.

 

Next time you’re down in the dumps and wondering what in the world is going to become of you or your kids or your business, I want you to narrow your focus. Take a breath. Walk around the block. Remind yourself of two small goals you accomplished that day—brushing your teeth or getting the car filled up. Anything. It doesn’t matter. Start there.

 

Because, what’s your alternative?

 

A day or lifetime of handwringing about the big picture accomplishes nothing. You’re doing nobody any favors—least of all yourself.

 

Sorry to be so preachy, but I have found that it’s helpful to have the most basic of reminders when drowning in a pool of misery. I know how frustrating and frightening it can feel. Remember, no matter what your situation is, you always have more than you lack. The significance of your life extends far beyond any single crisis or mistake or unhappy number of years. There is much more to you than that. Many, many good things. Make the choice to see them today. Stop worrying about tomorrow…

 Joyful dog

Springing into a Re-booting Regimen

March 24, 2015

Although those lucky few who live in the perfection that is Santa Barbara wouldn’t know that spring has sprung, those of us in DC and elsewhere are beginning to tempt fate by putting away our snow shovels and heavy sweaters. Turning our faces towards the sun, we wait in eager anticipation of the cherry blossoms. (Actually, as I write this, the ground is covered with a light dusting of snow wrought from a leaden grey sky, but I have a vivid imagination.) Our blissed out West Coast readers notwithstanding, spring is the time for rebirth and renewal all under the trusty umbrella of Re-booting! Carpe diem, baby!

 

Folk wisdom and advice columns are filled with traditions of spring cleaning and I now join their chorus. (I should tell you that I feel righteous enough to say these things because I am oozing with virtue, being on day six of a ten day smoothie cleanse.) It’s time to get your ass in gear and commit to tackling one of those projects you’ve been putting off. Maybe it’s your taxes or an exercise program or getting your brakes checked–maybe it’s something more. But, you’ve gotta start sometime, right?

 

Regular DR readers know that this blog is all about starting over, but, mostly in a different manner than we are accustomed to thinking about such things. The need to re-boot exists in one way or another for every adult out there. Even if our life situation is fairly stable and happy, each of us has something that leaves us wanting. We want to do better. We want to feel better. We want to fill that hole, whatever it may be. Sometimes but not always, filling that hole requires huge changes such as walking away from aspects of our lives in which we’re heavily (but unhappily) invested—relationships, careers, our expectations (about ourselves or others). Other times we may be required to accommodate change we didn’t choose—chronic physical ailments, death, job loss, or the disintegration of an important relationship. But, whatever form it takes, change comes. Always. It’s what we do about it that makes the difference between a re-booter and someone who’s too terrified to try. Where do you fall on this spectrum?

 

Spoiler alert! There’s never a “right” time to begin the re-booting process and, fyi, you’ll never fully finish. Re-booting takes a lifetime. This process requires the commitment and dedication to figuring out a better way of being WHO WE TRULY ARE, which means we have to 1) ask ourselves some difficult and sometimes painful questions and 2) summon the courage to move closer to what those answers tell us. (Who wouldn’t want to stall when you put it that way?!?)

 

The problem with stalling is that we can spend our entire lives putting off the answers we know lurk within, when those answers can only make our lives better. Deep down, everyone longs to be true to themselves. How true are you? Seeking the answer doesn’t have to mean launching an entirely different career or getting rid of a dead weight spouse–it can mean finding a better way of coping with a difficult relationship that’s not going to change. I’m not here to advocate for a heave-ho of your entire life (which is sort of what I did with mine), but I am here to use examples of my struggles to give you courage to tackle yours.

 

Ok, so here’s how I’m going to tie the re-booting process into the spring theme for today’s post. I want you to think about flowers. Floral bulbs have nothing much to recommend themselves. They’re dry and papery and pretty nondescript—they all look pretty much alike. We never truly know what we’re getting with a bulb, and the only way to find out is to stick it in the dirt and wait. But, at some point, while it’s buried, an impetus gets triggered and the little bud begins to push its little head towards the sun. It’s still too early to tell what it will be, but the signs are there. That’s you, right now. There’s a part of you that’s caught in that dirt, unable to squash your urge to push your head above ground. I’m here to provide a sprinkling of water to lubricate the process.

 

What are you struggling with right now?

What do you wish?

 

My blog is here to encourage you forward. I post this stuff week after week because it’s something I struggle with, too. Everybody wrestles with this stuff. I don’t care how old you are or how accomplished or how much your life is a hot mess. If you are trying to figure things out and trying to find a better way of approaching some very human problems, I am here to assure you that YOU ARE NOT ALONE.

 

Ok, so, we’ll work on more specific issues in another post, but for now I wanted to provide a review of what Dignitary’s Retreat is all about. At some point, we have to set the navel gazing aside and GET IT DONE. Whatever it is you’re thinking about, spring’s as good a time as any to roll up your sleeves and pull the weeds up from their roots. Let’s spring forward together; I’m here to lend a helping hand…

 cherry blossoms

Back to the Cradle

March 19, 2015

A gargantuan challenge for any re-booter is to unlearn and overcome the maladaptive behaviors we picked up as kids. I declare with utter confidence that 99% of the world’s population fails to meet this goal. For those who struggle to break free of such bonds, the stakes gets higher when we find ourselves, years later, forced to deal with these same, regressive relatives about a matter that’s important to us. Talk about PTSD! Why is it that our hard won, mature coping skills have a tendency to fly out the window when confronted by our kin? It’s happened to all of us. There we are, having worked so hard to unlearn bad habits and develop better ones when our best intentions get shot to hell by a few, well chosen snarky remarks or aggressive action by a family member.

 

Don’t you hate it when that happens?

 

Recently, a kerfuffle in my family erupted where my discipline and coping skills are being tested. So far, I have wriggled my way over to the sidelines, but I could be called back into the scrum at any moment. Witnessing the well known tactics and counter-tactics employed by my fuming and self-consumed relatives triggers all sorts of unattractive instincts in me which I am determined to squash. I know I am vulnerable to a certain amount of reversion and will work hard to avoid doing so. I don’t want to be like them. In an effort to calm down, I remind myself that I have alternatives to choosing between being a doormat or participating in WWIII; I can set out different terms for our interactions (or at least I can try). This drama is ongoing and I’m not sure how it will get resolved, but what I am sure of is that how I behave and think about this conflict is way more important than whether or not I get “my way.”

 

For those of us who have not been brought up seeing healthy models of Alternative Dispute Resolution, understanding that disagreements don’t have to be toxic is very hard. We might accept it in theory, but the practice seems highly improbable. When confronted by Bad Family Behavior, a useful distancing technique is to remind yourself that what is occurring is an excellent example of what not to do. For instance, when someone is impatient with us, we learn how important it is to be patient ourselves. If we are the subject of unkind gossip, perhaps this will persuade us to keep our lips zipped next time we are tempted to pass along a rumor. Oh, and as a baseline premise: yelling never enhances the effectiveness of an exchange.

 

This is not to say that we won’t be tempted to backslide; eruptions can occur. But, the more we practice demonstrating sane and safe negotiating techniques, the more natural they’ll start to feel. It’s hard to master new habits! It’s even harder when we’re called upon to practice with people who have no such skills and lack any desire to promote comity or peace. They’d much prefer to draw us back into their toxic territory.

 

Any of this sound familiar? How well did you handle your last family feud?

 

Our combatants intend to provoke us—I remind myself that this is the only tool in their tool box. They are unpleasant because they see no other way to win. (I’ve recently started to liken certain bad behaviors amongst my relatives as akin to being an epileptic—they cannot help themselves. Somehow, framing the issue this way has lessened the sting.) I know from personal experience how unsatisfying it can be to allow insults to lay there, unanswered. This is when it becomes critical that we keep our long game in mind by asking ourselves questions such as: Do I want to be like them? Am I willing to stoop to their level? Is this battle worth the cost? Will my fighting back make any difference? Lord knows, they won’t respect you for holding your temper. But I will, and you will. As well as anyone else who’s been on the receiving end of this sort of puerile volatility.

 

Why am I saying all this? I’m saying it to acknowledge that it is really hard to draw on new techniques and approaches when the stakes feel so high, and what stakes are higher than those when dealing with our relatives? The higher the stakes, the more important it is that re-booters try to hew closely to our new selves. It won’t always feel good at the time, but this sort of progress is worth the sacrifice. Paragons of peace manifest in many forms.

The Peculiar Paradox of Life Lessons

March 17, 2015

So, today is St. Patrick’s Day and a goodly number of folks will be out carousing from pub to pub, green beer in hand. I guess that’s fun, if you like that sort of thing, but I’m not convinced that Ireland’s Patron Saint would feel revered by the millions of folks getting plowed in his honor. We’ve all seen cultural celebrations get hijacked by outside interests, morphing into something far removed from their original purpose—the commercialization of Christmas or the insane amounts of money and hoopla invested in weddings come immediately to mind. This got me thinking about the many paradoxes that exist in our lives.

 

The way I see it, the tension between two concurrent states of being is an interesting construct because the equation generally balances out in an unexpected manner. For instance, as you advance in your career, the more authority you wield, the more restrained you must be when exercising it (and the more important it is that you see yourself as a servant to those beneath you). The stronger you are, the more gentle you need to be. The more you earn, the more you should give away. The wiser you are, the more patient you need to be about others’ ignorance. Shifting paradox gears somewhat, there’s the universal truth that our most important communications are silent–a touch or a glance can be far more powerful than anything words can convey. What paradoxes can you think of?

 

Recognizing the truth about paradoxes doesn’t happen overnight. In fact, it is only through careful observation that we become aware of such ironies. As you’d caution a child, just because you can doesn’t mean you should.

 

How have paradoxes manifested in your life? Have you ever been on the receiving end of another’s unfair power play? Did that experience evoke more sympathy for those who are at a disadvantage? Have you learned to use your power wisely?

 

Diplomatic restraint and maturity seem to be fading out of our modern day culture in favor of excessive emotionalism and a dwindling ability to filter one’s thoughts. Alas, this immoderate behavior has spilled over into the halls of power here in DC where Administration officials and elected legislators hurl epithets at one another on a regular basis. Some have even fooled themselves into believing that “talking tough” shows they mean “business.” Codswallop! Any fool can curse. It takes real skill and finesse to be civil and persuasive during heated negotiations. We’ve elected a bunch of knee jerk, hot heads to manage affairs that require cool, rational governance. Ah, the irony!

 

Ok, let’s switch gears and examine what paradoxes are involved when it comes to re-booting. First of all, I think it’s fair to say that in order to forge a new life, we must first experience the death of what went on before. What re-booters need to remember is that death is not all bad; it can mean the end of periods of great unhappiness or hardship in our lives. This point is driven home in one of my all time favorite books, Recovering from Death and Other Disasters by RR Leichtman, MD. In this book, the author provides guidance on how to reframe the way we think about major loss as part of an ongoing effort to reinvent our lives. I have returned to his pages many times as I’ve stumbled through my transition, drawing hope and perspective so as not to lose myself in a pit of failure and despair. We are resurrecting ourselves when we re-boot by building on our already existing strengths and talents. We know more than we realize. Who we are is far more than a tabulation of our losses and wounds. So, the paradox here involves trusting in our strengths at a time when we feel nearly worthless. Think about this for a minute; let it soak into your awareness. It doesn’t seem like the natural thing to do, does it?

 

It is times such as these when we must call upon our maturity to overlook the dramatic, to bypass our hurt and, instead, focus attention on what we can do, on those parts of ourselves and our lives that we know remain vibrant and strong–even when our immediate circumstances seem to be telling us we’ve blown it. A paradox, indeed. Making such a leap of faith requires courage. As I have said many times prior, re-booting is not for the faint of heart. We must find the guts to ignore all the negative messages (including from our own minds). “You’ll never make it. Better hold tight to what you’ve got. Don’t be a fool by taking that risk.” Sound familiar? I wrestle with this problem every damn day. Every single one. And this past week was a real low mark for me in terms of reminding me how much ground I have lost these past few years, so that was jim dandy…

 

Have you watched someone give up on themselves? How did it make you feel? What would you have said to them if they would’ve listened?

 

Now, aim that same message back at you. How might you encourage yourself during your time of struggle? If someone were trying to help you get back up, what do you wish they’d say that would give you the courage when you felt most afraid?

 

The paradoxical truth is that it is most important to tap into our inner strength when we feel defeated. The maturity required to hold it together is no small thing, but it is possible. It’s what we must do. No doubt St. Patrick would toast to our success.

 Paradox

The Scars We Carry With Us

March 12, 2015

There’s not a creature alive who doesn’t acquire a scar over the course of their lifetime. Not one. I probably sport far more than the average Joe—not the most serious or disfiguring, fortunately, but I’ve got a lot of ‘em. Of course, we all know that scars don’t limit themselves to physical reminders. The ones that impact us most usually involve some variation of disloyalty, which is different from loss, mind you. Over the course of our lives, we all expect to experience loss, what we don’t expect is to be deceived or rejected by someone close to us.

 

When you think about feeling betrayed, who springs to mind?

 

How we think about our scars is the crux of the matter. Scars can represent so many different things: our stupidity, our courage, our recklessness, our naiveté, our strength, our plain bad luck—maybe all of the above. Scars serve testament to our battle tested self. Of the various scars I have, most have faded from notice–I no longer recall what happened to bring them about–but others continue to throb. These sensitive places evoke feelings of shame, regret, or sadness; I hate the reminders.

 

As we re-boot our lives, one of our most significant challenges is to drain from these scars their power. There are many of us who ascribe far too much significance to our scars. If polled, no one else would consider them proof of our personal failures. I’ve made my situation worse because, instead of letting the scars fade away, I’ve blamed their existence as the reason I am unable to move forward. Their existence is not holding me back; I am. (This is akin to an amputee saying he can’t walk because he has no leg. Untrue. He can learn to walk differently.)

 

This is a very painful topic to write about because it is so personal and because I feel so impotent about my scars’ existence. It is taking me a long time to move beyond the injuries I have suffered. Would I return to what was before? Not in a million years. Am I glad and grateful to have escaped? Absolutely. Did I have to fight and claw my way out? Yes. Am I wiser now, learning lessons that I probably could never have learned any other way but through this set of circumstances? Yes. Am I glad I to possess this hard won knowledge? Yes. And, if I hadn’t fought back? I’d probably be dead (in the metaphorical sense, not the literal). So, when examined in this light, my scars are proof that I survived. That I was stronger than everything my opponent threw at me. That I defied their intended outcome.

 

How do you relate to your scars, be they mental, emotional, or physical? When you think about them, what feelings do they evoke? Do you see yourself as a sober and more savvy survivor or an ashamedly wounded soldier who just wasn’t as worthy an opponent?

 

Heavy questions I know.

 

Re-booting invariably involves scar tissue. We’ve all been beaten up. But the huge difference between us and the rest of the world is that our incentive to re-boot stems from a belief that our scar tissue does not define us! We refuse to let the scar have more power than our intrinsic self. And, if we are really wise, we don’t allow shame to infect the wound. Everyone makes errors. People can be mean and manipulative or willfully blind and participatory in our downfall. Nobody has a perfect record. Not you. Not me. Not anyone we know. We’ve all had our asses kicked. Maybe we even deserved it. Maybe not. But it happened, right?

 

It’s what happens next that counts.

 

Re-booting is an expression of faith that what we do when we stand back up promises a better life than if we remained lying on the sidewalk. Keeping ourselves down because we feel bad about what happened or how we look to others or anything else is a huge mistake. We’ve got legs to stand on, so do so! Don’t just sit there, pressing on that bruise, mournfully grimacing at how purple it looks. It’ll go away if we just get on with our business and stop fussing. Easier said than done, I know, but still true…

Roaring lion

Delayed Gratification vs. Carpe Diem: When Do You Choose to Act?

March 10, 2015

The principle of delayed gratification presents much good in its underlying construct, however, it can also be used as a justification to push away things we fear. I know because I do this all the time. As an adult, what interests me is that see-saw balance between the rewards associated with delayed gratification versus the knowledge that some opportunities are fleeting.

 

Waiting for the “optimum” moment to have something we crave makes sense—we’re thinking ahead, considering our long game. After all, eating a green banana is far less satisfactory than one that has been allowed to fully ripen into golden deliciousness. So, too, with many other things. Hard work and struggle makes the victory that much sweeter, doesn’t it? Well, yes and no.

 

As an adult, I have become ever more aware of how fleeting time is and how there aren’t as many open doors available as I once believed was the case. In many respects, the older we grow, the more complicated our lives become, the more entrenched we feel—and probably are. Now, this doesn’t mean that we’re stuck—re-booting and this blog are all about finding the wherewithal to becoming unstuck. But, I guess the point I’m trying to make in this post is that people and opportunities don’t always circle back. Doors that open don’t always remain open. There are times when we need to step through that door now, if we wish to step through it ever. Even if we don’t feel fully confident.

 

Let’s look at the Season Five finale of Downton Abbey, for example. “I will never again receive an immoral proposition from a man,” the Dowager tells Isobel having sidestepped a romantic, late life entanglement in favor of reuniting Russian Prince Kuragin with his alienated and embittered wife. No doubt Lady Violet had many valid reasons for sending the Prince on his way, but her statement reflects her understanding that she was also permanently shutting the door on reuniting with a man she loves. Did she do this because she was afraid of her family’s or society’s disapproval? Did she have reason to believe he was insincere? We’ll never know. What we do know is that he won’t return. That chance—for them both–is now gone. They’ll never know how things between them might have turned out…It can be argued that delayed gratification is not at issue in the Lady Violet example, but let’s make it the issue—for you.

 

Have you ever deferred something you wanted but were afraid of, reassuring yourself that the opportunity would present itself again? What if it doesn’t? Will you be glad you made this choice?

 

I have put off a lot of big decisions in my life, mostly reasoning that I’d be better equipped to make a smarter choice later on, when I felt more confident. I reassured myself that similar opportunities would eventually make themselves available. In my life, I’ve always wanted to get the “hard stuff” out of the way first, expecting that it’ll make my later years more enjoyable because I will have already mastered life’s toughest lessons. Or so I thought. But second chances don’t always come round.

 

That’s not to say that the consequences of delayed gratification don’t enable other, better alternatives because they can. But, examining this matter with the wisdom of hindsight gives credence to the carpe diem side of the equation. Maybe now I can risk being more spontaneous because I have the skills to better handle any negative, unexpected fallout. With experience comes perspective, right?

 

So, how impulsive are you? Where have you taken a great leap into the unexpected? Are you glad you did? Could you have gone further? What kept you from doing so?

 

We all know that life is a series of choices with no single right path to follow. We each must make trade offs, sacrifices, and take risks, stumbling into unexpected happiness with no guarantees that they’ll present themselves again. Finding the balance between delayed gratification and seizing the day is going to be different for each of us. I believe re-booters feel this struggle more keenly than others because we are so aware of the fact that the choice is ours. We are not consigned.

 

How heavily will we allow our responsibilities to dictate our choices? How much do we trust ourselves to withstand unanticipated fallout? What is our personal tolerance for risk? How keenly do we feel the passage of time? How much do we trust that we’ll get a second chance?

 

When I look back at certain situations where I didn’t leap or push or try to force the situation, I’m not filled with regret. In certain ways, I probably saved myself from a certain amount of grief, but I can’t know for sure. What I do know is how much I don’t want fear to dictate my choices under the guise of waiting for a better time.

 

How about you?

 Pocket watch

Adult Supervision Required

March 5, 2015

There are days when I really wish I had adult supervision; I’d feel better. Making such a statement surprises me because I am so fiercely independent, but those long ago times when I had that baseline comfort of knowing someone bigger and stronger and smarter was there to scoop me up if things got bad sure provided succor. These days, I read the papers and wonder whether adults run anything, anymore? Who have we entrusted our country to? The lurching from crisis to crisis or focusing on issues that are red herrings occurs throughout all branches of government, making me reconsider the wisdom of building a fall out shelter. Haven’t done so, yet–perhaps it’s just as well—I may do better without a Plan B…

 

I think we’d all agree that the world is changing at breakneck speed. Usually when folks make such observations they contain an undertone of slight panic or overwhelm because everything begins to feel…unsustainable, uncontrolled, unpredictable. This perception of events beyond our control, closing in around us, is scary, I know. What’s going to happen to the kids?

 

It is at moments like these where I remind myself to take a breath and slow down. These days, I have to be my own parent. I provide my own careful supervision. It’s up to me to exercise mature restraint. It’s my responsibility to identify the exit. No purpose is served by getting worked up about matters over which I have zero control. I have a friend who tortures themselves by googling questions about ISIS bombing the US. Now, what good can come of that query? It’s sort of like those instances when you look up your medical symptoms—the answer always is that you have some terminal, disfiguring disease. Not so useful, let alone wrong. Instead, as any good parent would remind us, it’s best to focus on matters within our control.

 

Who do you know who needs to be a better parent to themselves? Who do you know who delegates this responsibility to somebody else? Why do you think they’ve done so?

 

Learned helplessness is an interesting concept. It applies to many different scenarios, but the one that springs most immediately to mind is that where one or the other of a married couple allows themselves to become dependent. Often times, one spouse actively wants to dominate, to be in control, to hold the cards, so yes, it is usually an enabling dynamic involving both parties, but it damages the controlee far more than the controller. Giving away your power because you detest the responsibility is a huge mistake. Think of it this way: maybe you are sick and tired of carrying the groceries into the house. Maybe lugging those bags hurts your back. But do you loathe it so much that you’d cut off your arm?

 

Having dedicated so much time and energy to observing people, I have concluded that a lot of people get lost in ideas such as, “Life should be fun!” or “He’s so much better at it than I am, I’ll just let him do it.” “She knows best, she’s their mother.” “I don’t want to think about it.” Well, guess what? As a grown up, you need to think about this stuff. You need to know how to do it. What is the bank account balance and how has it changed? Are there other accounts in addition to this one? A conscientious adult would know the answer. You need to speak up if you believe Little Suzy Whatsits shouldn’t be allowed to go to the un-chaperoned after party. And, most importantly, you need to call yourself on your own bad behavior. “Maybe I’m being stingy about letting them see the kids.” “It wouldn’t kill me to help with the dishes.” “As upset as they’ll be, I owe it to us both to say I’m unhappy.” The other side of this coin is that we also need to praise ourselves regardless of what anybody else does or does not do. We are in the best position to know just how good a job we’ve done, how excellent an effort was made. Any good parent appreciates that praise is as important as discipline. Delegating responsibilities and power that is rightly ours to somebody else is a fast path to nowhere.

 

I can hear you muttering now. Of course life was simpler when we were five or fifteen, but who wants to go back to that? With rights come responsibilities. Sorry to be so preachy, but recent conversations prompted me to resurrect this topic. We’ve got to stop seeking out others to manage matters, to fix our problems, or take care of us. We need to be our own parent. And that’s a good thing!

Where, in your life, have you delegated responsibility to someone else? Why do you think you’ve done so? How might you start to take that power back? (I recommend looking at the books psychologist Harriet Lerner has written about some of the strategies you can use. I’ve found them to be easy to read and highly practical.)

A re-booter understands that a strong set of shoulders is a fundamental job requirement.

Atlas

 

When Pride Gets in the Way

March 3, 2015

There are many occasions and circumstances in which pride provides an empowering incentive for us to make the decisions we do: pride in our accomplishments, pride in who we are as individuals, pride in the principles by which we live. But pride—to be specific, false pride—can keep us from speaking up or making choices that are the right ones for us. Examples such as 1) a refusal to admit we were wrong, 2) strident beliefs that holding on to what we have is more important than what we need, or 3) an unwillingness to try again when earlier attempts have failed. And then there are those instances when we erroneously ascribe more shame to a disappointment or struggle than it merits because our pride has been hurt.

 

To me, one of the most tragic variations of this theme is when our pride prevents us from trying again because that renewed risk of failure feels so treacherous. A recent episode of Downton Abbey brings this to mind when Mabel Lane Fox tells her former affianced, Lord Gillingham, that she hopes they will resume their relationship even though he spurned her in order to pursue a (failed) romance with Lady Mary.

 

MABEL: I don’t want to know what you see in Mary. I just want you back.

TONY: I do admire you for saying that.

MABEL: I’d rather be happy than proud.

 

It’s no small endeavor to express hope unabated by prior rejection. However, it’s this same show of vulnerability that people find so touching. Our hearts go out to someone who takes that risk; we sympathize and admire them. We want to take their hand. It’s not that making ourselves vulnerable is a life or death matter, but our pursuit proves that something is missing in our lives, something we very much want. Same goes for re-booting. What’s tragic is when people are too prideful (ie frightened) to try. Mabel continues to love Tony despite his preference for Lady Mary. “I’d rather be happy than proud,” she humbly explains. Good for her.

 

When in your life have you summoned the courage to set aside your pride? What made you take that risk? Are you glad you did? Where is pride getting in your way, today?

 

False pride creates big impediments to living a better life. It can keep us from moving past old hurts; it can prevent us from repairing important relationships. It can confuse us, sending us down dead ends. Like a malicious Greek chorus, pride can whisper that we should do “this” when what we really want is “that.” A deadly sin, indeed.

 

A different version of pride can spring from an exaggerated sense of responsibility. I know a lot of people (and include myself in this group) who have fallen into the trap of believing that they are the one person who can really get the job done—you know, the way it “should” be done. “Everyone is counting on me,” we tell ourselves. “It’ll all fall apart if I don’t.” This is wrong headed thinking for many reasons, plus, it places an unreasonable burden on our shoulders. Even in an ER there are back up docs! Nobody is irreplaceable, I don’t care how many good reasons you have for believing this.

 

The truth is that being dispensable is a very good thing! At the end of the day, we’re all expendable and we will expire. So, isn’t it a positive for others to share the same skillsets we have? Isn’t it a favor to know someone else can pick up the load? The false pride of believing that it is our sole responsibility to do X hurts us, hurts those depending on us, and can prevent them and us from making the strides we need to make. It shackles us to a fixed dynamic.

 

There’s also a false pride that demands we have all the answers at the ready. I theorize that much of this problem is linked to Western culture. Now, while I’m all about the chop-chop and crave a fast delivery time as much as the next schmo, even I recognize that the way we’re living has fostered societal impatience. The idea of waiting for an answer becomes more and more foreign; any perceived delay makes us feel like we’re losing ground. We’re told that “not knowing” is a source of shame, an indication of serious inadequacy. Any answer is better than none, right? Wrong. In fact, most of us don’t have ready answers about who we are or what we truly want, but our pride tells us we should.

 

Homework assignment: What is it you wish to do? Who is it you want more of in your life? Get out there and make yourself vulnerable. Be ok with not knowing what happens next. You’re a different person now with different needs and different capabilities than ten years ago. Give yourself the room to be who you are TODAY! I promise, you won’t go crazy and abandon all good sense or responsibilities. Do what is necessary to make some room to breathe. Don’t let your pride suffocate you.

 Greek chorus


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