Archive for April, 2015

What Does “Living It Up” Actually Mean?

April 30, 2015

Tell me, I want to know. This is a serious question. Unlike most of you out there, wearing your distressed jeans and sunglasses, I’m one of those people who’s never had a “really fun” summer hanging out with a posse of friends, listening to music, and talking smack. No, I never have had an experience like that. So, perhaps this explains my fixation on trying to define what it means to “live it up.” While what sounds like fun to me right now differs from what I’d consider fun as a teen, the truth is that these notions aren’t so far apart. I still like to do a lot of the same things–only now, as an adult, it’s a whole lot harder to gather the posse together (the talking smack comes easy).

I think the crux of my issue is that I have this sense of wistfulness wondering what I missed—you know, during all those times when you normal, popular kids were doing normal, popular things. It’s hard to be the odd man out. Looking back on it this isn’t all so sad. The truth is, there are a lot of activities I don’t enjoy that would easily satisfy the “cool kid criteria.” Cruises don’t appeal to me, nor do tattoos or mixing it up in Florida on spring break. None of that sounds like fun. “The thing about it is,” I commiserated with a friend who feels similarly, “we need to take off those Little House on the Prairie bonnets and go DO something!” But WHAT? What would satisfy this craving?

A perception problem arises when we compare what we want to do versus the accepted norm. So, I ask you, does “living it up” require some variation of physical risk in order to qualify? Has an Army Ranger “lived” more than a librarian? Do we need to get “messed up” or do something illicit? Must we be naughty in order for it to satisfy? I’m asking a serious question. When you’re lying there on your deathbed, looking back on your life, what is it that you will have wished you had done? Answer in light of a text a friend sent me, “OMG misbehaving is SO FUN!” Now, doesn’t that make you the teeniest bit wistful?

When was the last time you felt a sense of mischief and fun?

I know a whole lot of adults, from sea to shining sea, who shrug when I ask them this question. “Eh,” they reply, their answer drifting away. “There was that time we took the kids to a fun park…” And I’m sure that was fun—but what else? Is there anything more that you can think of? Is there anything that inspires more than a middling response? What feels like fun for you in the sense of “living it up” sort of fun? Do you think its even possible for you to have that sort of fun, anymore?

There’s something about the sense of risk that may be part of the answer, but I know I am equally correct in saying that none of us would want to be chased by Somali pirates. Why does doing something we “shouldn’t” hold such strong appeal? People do it ALL THE TIME. Now, why is that? (Personally, I love being naughty—and I’m pretty uptight a lot of the time.) Why do people feel so constrained in their lives that the only thing that feels viscerally thrilling is to engage in risky behavior? (I mean, this has got to be why flashers run around, but I don’t think of that as living it up, I just think of that as creepy and sad.) Does it arise from a fuzzy sense of rebellion? Defiance? Beating the odds? Getting away with something? I don’t know. What do you think?

I’m getting you all stirred up for a REASON: it is this exact, same wellspring of energy that will fuel your re-booting. Re-booting involves risk. Re-booting requires courage. Re-booting means doing something unexpected that we want to do. We don’t know what the outcome will be—what can make us feel more alive than that? What could be more terrifying? Oh, I know. Remaining stuck in our rut—this is a far worse result. Sure, we may be sitting there with our Little House on the Prairie bonnets all nicely tied under our chins (and, guys, this goes for you, too). We may even sit on the back of the wagon, enjoying the breeze—at 5 mph, groan—but is that enough? Is that enough for your life? WELL, IS IT?!?

Summer’s around the corner offering us the promise of warm, lazy nights and abundant sunshine. That’s as much as it can offer, the rest is up to us. What are you going to do with your opportunities? Forget how crappy you look in a bathing suit or how you need to stand vigil on the side of the pool so others don’t drown—they can fend for themselves—get out there and SWIM!

 Swimming hole

 

Portal People: Appreciating the Glint of Beauty in the Madness

April 28, 2015

I don’t know about you, but weird things happen to me all the time. Whenever I least expect it, people say or do really strange things when I’m around. A friend’s brother diagnosed my condition as follows: “She’s a portal person,” he explained. “Something about her opens the door to the bizarro world.” It’s not that odd occurrences don’t happen to lots of people, it’s more than that. To be a portal person, you need to witness the strangeness and relish the intrinsic beauty of the madcap. Far too often, bizarre things happen and people simply shrug them off—not me. My antennae are always waving in the wind; I instantly sense the undercurrent of poetry in the inexplicable. Perhaps it’s because I’m a storyteller at heart that I’m this way; I savor these extraordinary instances and immediately want to share what I see with appreciative others. Are you a portal person, too?

Alas, not everyone is.

To be a portal person, you need to be alert to the unexpected and oriented to mine it for the glints of humor buried beneath the bizarre. It’s humor that often opens the door to greater insight or understanding. Inherent in the definition of a portal person is the baseline belief that the universe is a funny place with the human psyche an unknowable and existential mystery. What does this portal business have to do with re-booting, you ask? It’s all about making unexpected connections and illogical leaps.

I’ll give you an example. A few months ago, I received a letter from the wife of one of my father’s classmates. I hardly know this person and haven’t seen her in years. Her letter begins as follows, “Dear Chrisanna, I am writing to tell you how sorry I am that I wrote you that terrible letter.” Apparently, this person enjoys groveling because this is at least the third (if not the fourth) such apology I have received about this offense of which I have no recollection whatsoever. While intended to be a gesture of good will, the writer goes on to wax poetic about what a “magical” person I am before she proceeds to make a number of intrusive, presumptuous, and insulting comments about my life and what I might do to improve things. (And, she’s not alone in volunteering that I don’t know what I’m doing. It’s so, so sad.) CLEARLY, I NEED A LOT OF HELP! Now, I think I’m on safe ground when I say that most people who receive such a letter would mutter a few choice words before trashing it (which is what I did with letters 1,2, and 3), but this letter I will keep. This letter creates an impression so far astray from what its writer intended that it makes me laugh! My concerned correspondent has gotten everything so wrong about who I am that I take pleasure in reading it. I will never risk getting a big head, thanks to a letter such as this. NEVER. (And, just for perverse fun, one can only imagine what she left out!?!)

Kathy's letter 

Why is this relevant to you?

Good question! My answer is this: we can find inspiration or answers from the most unlikely of sources. For me, one of the things this letter made crystal clear is that I’m actually pretty happy with much of my life—even though, to her, it appears to be sort of sad and pathetic. Her opinion is irrelevant, but my realization that maybe things aren’t so bad is highly useful! This, my friends, is an example of an unexpected connection.

Examples of illogical leaps are harder to make persuasive because they are, in fact, illogical—but I’ll give it a shot. Recently, a friend shared with me some excerpts from a book a friend of hers published. (The fact that it was one of the unconditionally most atrocious examples of bad erotica I have ever read is just a bonus!) Trust me when I tell you that there is nothing erotic about the images or words spread out on those pages. Here is where the illogical leap comes in: I admire this person’s unmitigated boldness and indifference to the consequences–not only to publish this thing at all, but to publish it under her real name and dedicate it to her husband and her mother. In fact, although I’ve been playing around with this idea for awhile now, I was sufficiently inspired by the author’s boldness that I decided to publish my own book (not erotic, sorry, not this time. Nor will it be dedicated to my mother.) I figured, if this person can be so brazenly confident about putting their work out into the world, WHY NOT ME?

Now, is there anything about my decision based on the above that seems logical to you?

Didn’t think so.

The fact of the matter is, all sorts of odd interactions can inspire us to take steps we’ve been afraid to take. Heck, half the things other people do make zero sense to me, anyway, so why not add my own spicy madness into the mix? The trick is to pay attention to what those around you are doingwhat comes up for you when you see someone making a choice that confounds you? Is there anything about their motivation or fearlessness that ignites a spark of wistfulness? The problem with having good sense and being measured in our assessments is that we can overthink stuff. We trip over our own feet trying to make good decisions. Because the truth of the matter is, so what if we bomb? I mean is it really so serious that this ignorant, well intentioned woman sent me an insulting letter? Is it so awful that somebody wrote a really, really, really bad piece of porn and put it out there for the world to see? How about for you? What if you make a complete jackass of yourself doing something embarrassing? Is that the end of the world? (FYI, the answer is NO. Hell, I just saw Tony Weiner back on tv being interviewed about what Hillary Clinton should do in terms of marketing herself for president. Seriously???) If they can recover, so can YOU.

Tony Weiner

Managing Our Pinch Points

April 23, 2015

We all go through life with certain sensitivities that wax and wane according to how we evolve. Sometimes, these sensitivities arise from our experiences, others simply burble up as a result of our individual temperaments. What bothers me isn’t necessarily going to bother you and vice versa, and we don’t always realize what those triggers are—for ourselves, let alone for others. I’ve found myself in situations where I unintentionally stepped on somebody else’s hornet’s nest, and boy, did I get stung! Yowza.

The other day, I was at the gym adjusting the hamstring machine when I noticed a warning illustration about pinch points. It depicted a finger, pulsing red, caught between two unpleasant looking disks. While I’m pretty careful about operating pieces of machinery, the same can’t be said for all of my interactions with people. I don’t go about trying to ruffle feathers or upset apple carts, and yet it occurs on occasion. My high school reunion is approaching and although I’m not totally ra-ra about it, I’m excited to have a chance to see some of my classmates, so I spontaneously offered to host a casual cocktail party on the first night. The response has been less than overwhelming with a couple of reply-alls encouraging our classmates to attend another event, instead.

It amazed me how fast I felt thrown back into the pit of high school popularity contests. I tensed as I read a couple of the emails sent back and forth to the group, ignoring my offer and cajoling others to go elsewhere. Once I recognized that I was worrying about the fact that people I haven’t seen in decades may prefer to do something else with their time, I told myself to get a grip. Pinch Point! Who knew?

While we can’t do anything about other people’s pinch points, we can control our own. A significant advantage to not being an insecure and ambitious seventeen year old is that we don’t have to react that way, either.

I have watched untold numbers of grown adults slip into defiant, petty personas when their pinch points get hit. Men who refuse to respond because the woman’s tone of voice reminds them of their mother. Women whose snark factor ratchets up exponentially after they detect some note of disrespect in another’s comment or behavior. Our pinch points are equal opportunity targets: we can get hit by people we know all too well or total passing strangers. These offenses can be about anything, but what they have in common is their ability to send us into a foul mood that sends warning signs throughout our system—our stomachs tense and our eyes widen, we set our jaw or clench our fists. Any of this sound familiar?

When was the last time one of your pinch points was hit? Do you remember what it was? Do you remember how you reacted? What did you do next?

The reason I bring up my high school reunion example is because it’s so universal. We all know what it’s like to face the competitive herding instincts of our classmates. Ugh, it makes me glad I’m not back in high school. As a determined re-booter, what I did in this particular instance was remind myself to slow down and not read so much negativity into the emails I was seeing. The lackluster reaction of a few doesn’t translate into universal condemnation, and even if my idea of hosting a cocktail party was the worst idea in the world, SO WHAT? How could anything be less important? Now, my panic makes me laugh. What a waste of time and energy to fret over this—good thing I nipped it in the bud.

It’s the nipping I want you to think about. What strategies do you employ when irrationally upset? (Deep down, you know if you’re getting upset over something inconsequential.) How often do you find yourself fuming over a hill of beans? Just to be clear, neither gender is immune to this inanity.

One of my default reactions—and, thank God, I have this instinct—is to search for the funny or ridiculous in any situation. I’ve mentioned this technique before, but when you find yourself irrationally upset, think about how Saturday Night Live might perform the scene. How might the actors carry on, exaggerating your thoughts, expressions, and reactions to whatever has just happened? If you try this out, I promise you’ll laugh and start to feel differently. Laughter is an excellent diffusing technique—it provides perspective when we are sorely lacking any, it distracts us from our foul mood, it lightens our energy. And, yes, you can be every bit as ridiculous as I.

The other side of this coin, of course, is to recognize that when someone flips out on us, their pinch point has been hit. It’s their finger that is throbbing. Recognizing this enables us not to overreact to their overreaction. All too often, we forget to give others the benefit of the doubt. When was the last time someone didn’t give you that benefit? It didn’t feel too good, did it? Do unto others… Even we, re-booters, are not vulnerable to pinch points, but we do a much better job at managing the pain.

 Pinch point

Seeing What We Want to See vs. What is Truly There

April 21, 2015

Pretending, Denial, Willful Blindness, or just plain Stupidity are all synonyms for the same thing: closing our eyes to the truth of a situation. Untold millions—probably billions—of adults do this everyday. They invent all sorts of strategies designed to distract them from acknowledging their reality, but the reason underlying all of these excuses is the same: fear. I believe that fear of change is why people remain bogged down in their distress. The unknown is far more terrifying and inconvenient than the known.

How many times have you cowered from the truth? How many times have I?

It’s painful to allow difficult truths into our awareness because then we cannot escape them. They hover, waiting for us to lock eyes once again, waiting for us to act. I think the number one response strategy is to sweep whatever it is under the rug. There. Spic snd Span. Now, nobody has to look at it; we just walk around that giant lump under the carpet. Am I right? Eh, maybe. Actually, no, not at all. Those lumps have a tendency to grow bigger in the dark—sort of like that random assortment of mugs in your kitchen cabinet, they multiply whenever we look away.

Usually, our inconvenient truths start out small—a trifling dust bunny of sorts–for example, some snide remark or careless action of another that strikes us as “off.” We shrug, chalk it up as a weird, one time thing, and remind ourselves of all the excellent reasons we have to get along with this person. But then they do something else only this time, it’s a little more bothersome. A slight uneasiness rumbles through our gut. A flash of “This ain’t good,” hurtles through our conscience as we look askance at whoever it is who did whatever it was. Or, maybe it was us doing something seemingly out of character (“I don’t usually think/feel/act this way,” we think to ourselves as we frown. “What’s going on?”) More likely, we’re reacting to the actions of somebody in whom we’ve invested a part of ourselves. We rationalize that we’re being overly sensitive and make a mental list of all the positives. But that lump under the rug somehow seems bigger today than it did before. Huh…

Any of this sound familiar?

I have spent the majority of my life sweeping lumps of various sizes under rugs because I didn’t want to deal with the fallout of close examination. The ironic thing is that some of these lumps were actually positives! They just happened to be positives about myself that would force me to rethink how I presented myself to the world, positives that would require me to own my talents, positives that would mean I no longer had an excuse to hide. What do I mean by this? I mean everything from embracing the fact that I was now an attractive woman and no longer a graceless and bulky teen, or acknowledging my talents as a writer and a leader rather than sitting in the back row relieved nobody noticed or bothered to call on me, to addressing large audiences with ease where before I’d never believe anyone would want to listen to me for any reason. Ever. None of these are bad things—and still I pretended they didn’t exist because I wasn’t prepared to accept I could be what was there: a sophisticated, articulate adult. I didn’t know how to be that woman, so I bent over backwards not to see her. It was safer to tell myself that these were false positives—that they didn’t really exist and I was indulging myself in wishful thinking. Fearful of what might come next if I actually trusted what was there, I clung to what I expected to see—the awkward, unconfident girl who was regularly surpassed by her peers. The one who had to wait three days before the boy she asked to prom turned her down. The lazy one who liked watching tv too much to do a good job in her Latin class. Yeah, that girl. That was the one I was familiar with. You’d think it would be easy—a relief–to embrace the good parts of ourself, but it isn’t always

What part of yourself are you afraid to see? How much energy do you spend denying that this part of you exists? What excuses for maintaining your status quo evaporate if you accept that, yes, you really are a person who wants X, Y, and Z no matter how inconvenient they are to your life?

These are not small questions.

(So, that covers the positives we refuse to see. Now comes its mirror opposite.)

 

When it comes to the giant pile of negative lumps shoved under those rugs, I think it’s safe to say that we’ve all tripped over those a time or two. You know what I’m talking about: the uninvolved spouse, the mentally ill acquaintance, the addled parent. Maybe it’s a condition everyone pretends doesn’t exist. Perhaps its untenable money problems. Or a passive aggressive relationship that has morphed into abuse and permanently poisoned the well. Whatever it is, we’ve turned ourselves into pretzels to avoid it. We refuse to look in the mirror, let alone recognize the situation for what it really is. (It’s so easy to get confused.*) When asked, we parrot the party line: what we wish were the case—maybe what even used to be the case—but an honest assessment is more than we are willing to consider. (And so, the lump grows larger.) It is these situations which fester until they become so unbearable that we have no choice but to re-boot. “I can’t live this way, anymore,” we realize, terrified by what comes next but knowing we’ll drown if we fail to make a change.

Where are you on this spectrum? Do you see what is there or what you want to see?

 

What happens if you do nothing?

Are you ok with that?

 

Most of us fear change—especially when it’s up to us to make it. But you wouldn’t be reading this blog if you didn’t already believe that seeing situations and people for what they truly are is a far preferable alternative to a life of smoke and mirrors. The temporary instability, pain, and chaos that change invites is worth it if we come out on the other side with a much more honest and stable understanding of who we are and the life we’re living.

Don’t be afraid of what you see. Take the next step. You can handle it.

Closing eyes

*Keep in mind, too, the problems generated when we refuse to see changes in another person. A key example of this is an inability to recognize siblings as grown adults, different from who they were before. A lot of family issues arise from the inability to see them for who they are today, not who they were years ago.

The Offal Truth: Byproducts of Re-booting Our Lives

April 16, 2015

So, today we’re going to start with a vocabulary lesson so that everyone is on the same page for purposes of this post. While offal is generally used to refer to the byproducts of butchered meat (apologies if you’re squeamish), another way to think of it is some form of discarded rubbish. A byproduct is, “a secondary result, unintended but inevitably produced in doing or producing something else.” In many ways, offal and byproduct can be used, well not exactly interchangeably, but pretty darn close. A more palatable definition of these terms might be the detritus from items that have outlived their usefulness or gotten worn out. For instance, when you’re 12 to 14 years old and experience a growth spurt, your too small clothes are now byproducts of your childhood. It would be pretty creepy if you kept all your old, soiled clothing from yesteryear. So, too, with re-booting.

The thing about offal is, despite its aural similarity to the descriptor “awful,” it need not be a sad, ugly reminder of the past. In fact, the truth of the matter is that any change requires a shedding of old skin. This discarded remnant reflects the offal truth about who we were before–we’re different now, hence we no longer need it. In fact, if we didn’t peel away the old, think how bogged down we’d be with layer upon layer of residue that lingers beyond its natural lifespan. Now that I’ve got you thinking, I want you to reflect upon how many old unhappy memories or sadnesses you cling to. Does this enhance your life? Does it make you more effective today? No, it does not.

The other side of this coin is the surprising results (aka byproducts) of making a big change. While byproducts can be good or bad, let’s focus on the good, unanticipated consequences of the re-booting process. A week or so ago, I met a friend who is recently divorced and neck deep but early on into their re-booting process. There we were, enjoying Martini Mondays together and philosophizing about life. I decided to put on my therapist hat and invite them to do an exercise using the paper table cloth as our blackboard. My goal was for them to discover the offal truth of this major shift in their domestic arrangements. I asked them to list out ten things they no longer had to put up with being married to X. I then asked them to list ten things they were now free to enjoy being on their own. The first list came easy; the second, well, they didn’t get all the way to ten, but that leaves room for more happiness to discover. Think of these two lists as examples of 1) discarded rubbish and 2) unanticipated results.

When my friend looked at the first list, they drew a box around one of the line items and stared at it for several minutes. “I didn’t realize how lonely I was,” they said with shock, pausing as a glimmer of tears showed in their eyes. “But now that it’s over, I don’t feel lonely.” This, for them, is the offal truth.

It’s funny about memories. Some people have the capability to blithely move forward after a traumatic event, but a whole lot of others cling fiercely to the past. In my life, I have seen countless examples of individuals who get caught in a whirlpool of overwrought sentimentality or old wounds, unwilling to let go. (I’ve been known to do the same, on occasion.) Instead of discarding the offal, they clutch it to their bosom, they ingest it into their very fiber of their being. It’s as though they fear that if they were to let it go, if they were to get rid of the tangible or emotional reminders of what happened, they’d somehow diminish its significance or, perhaps, disrespect what somebody they love cherished. And, they expect us to assume this mantle as well! If I value it, you must value it similarly. If I am outraged, you must be, too. I expect everyone reading this post has run across an emotional hoarder or two in their day. (Maybe that hoarder is you.) Here’s the offal truth: the only way to make room for the new is to abandon the old. Abandon your anger, abandon your grief, abandon your feelings of humiliation.

As I have struggled through my own transition, I have discarded so much of both who I was and a lot of expectations and attitudes that contributed to my downfall. Only, as it turns out, it wasn’t a downfall at all; I was actually given a get out of jail free card! Trust me, this didn’t happen overnight and it hasn’t been easy. But, the byproduct of this molting—while awkward and not always pretty–has created room for a sense of freedom and enhanced personal confidence that are totally unrelated to my bank account balance or relationship status or the comfort from being like the pack. When I started this journey, I never anticipated to feel this sort of freedom. How’s that for a happy, unanticipated result? It doesn’t solve all my problems, but I’m much farther ahead now than I was a few years back…

So, let’s now turn our attention to YOU. What memories or matters are you holding hostage (please note the way I phrased this sentence with you being the active hostage holder)? When in your life has something happened that felt bad or disappointing or terrifying but turned out to open a door to something much, much better? (You can think of at least one, I know you can.) Ok, so that was then. Now, let’s examine some current problem you’re struggling with: is it getting rid of too much stuff around the house? Is it clinging to a by-gone era of your life? Is it a refusal to get over a lingering hurt? Is it dreading the fact that you no longer fit the life you’re living? Fear is the undercurrent to each answer. How stuck do you intend to be?

Here’s what I’d say to sum things up: a leather jacket can only exist if certain other things happen first. A leather jacket provides warmth and design and protection from the elements, but first, certain sacrifices must be made. It isn’t always pretty, but that doesn’t mean its bad or that the end result can’t be beautiful.

 Get out of Jail Free

Putting Ourselves Out There: Withstanding the Judgments of Others

April 14, 2015

From the title of this post, it would be easy to assume that my bottom line would be, “Ignore ‘em! Don’t let the turkeys get you down.” Actually, my point is somewhat different. People pass judgment everyday—we all do it—and, in many cases we should. The judgment of others can serve the role of a social safety belt, keeping us from, say, jumping on a comely stranger, or telling that idiot blabbermouth in the meeting to shut up forever, or pulling out our Colt 45 when some asshole drives up the shoulder to butt in line. Jerk off. No, those things wouldn’t be so good, so thank heavens the fear of others’ disapprobation keeps us in check.

The fact of the matter is, we are all the recipients of others’ negative assessments, whether well intentioned or not. Her hair reminds me of Phyllis Diller—she’d be better served investing in some perky hats or a good wig to cover that mess up. I love him, but he insists on churning out that crap, convinced somebody wants his sculpture. His obsession with house rodent taxidermy—please, spare the world. I care about you and I can’t believe you’d walk away from everything you’ve got—this ginned up crisis of yours is going to ruin everything. I’m telling you this for your own good, DO SOMETHING ELSE. You’ll never be as happy on your own—why are you’re doing this?

Now, while I far prefer honest dialogue, there is a constructive way to provide well-intended feedback and a not so constructive way. When you are re-booting, you make yourself an easy target. When trying new things our hearts are tender, our steps tentative. Think of it this way: re-booting is a lot like adolescence. We can’t help ourselves—we have to go through it, and doing so feels awkward and excruciating, typically involving a series of missteps before we can find the exact right fit. What is vital to remember during this process is that what is the exact right fit for us may look insane or sound dreadful to the people we’re talking to—even those who adore us. (It may even trigger feelings of panic in them.) We re-booters feel like a gangly, pimply faced boy–withstanding the sniggers or confounded commentary of others is tough. Except, unlike our teenaged selves, we have a significant advantage in our arsenal: a much stronger sense of who we are.

It is this unwavering drive to be ourselves, to explore what this means, and to re-form our lives into something that fits who we are today, that is the foundation of re-booting. The confidence that develops with age can’t be acquired any other way. So, that’s at least one point in the “plus” category.

Here’s what I have to say about managing the judgments of others when taking your first, wobbly steps into whatever it is: THEY ARE NOT YOU. Remind yourself of this. People bring their own expectations and limitations to the table—the opinion they render will be based on that. It would be nice if they saw what we see, but we need the courage to continue, regardless.

Cocktail fact: did you know that birds can see colors humans can’t? The multihued plumage we see in, say, a Rainbow Lorakeet or Golden Pheasant pales in comparison to what the birds, themselves, are seeing. (Remember that flash-in-the-pan internet debate about “the dress”?) Same goes for dogs and hearing. They can hear things we can’t—we simply lack the ability. This analogy applies equally to coping with the discouraging judgments of others in the face of what you’re trying to achieve. It’s not that your attempts are lacking in talent or cringe inducing—it’s not that at all. In fact, many of these folks want you to thrive and be successful, but on terms they can understand, with definitions they can accept. They cannot fathom why you would decide to do whatever it is you’re doing. They can’t see all your colors. They can’t hear the music you’re playing. You speak a different language than you used to. When you think of it this way, it removes a lot of the sting. There’s no way to play catch with a person who has no arms. It’s not personal about how you throw the ball—they just can’t catch it.

I have said this over and over and over: our motivations and assessments must come from within. Anything else is basically irrelevant: if they like it or they don’t like it. If they think it’s brilliant or it sucks. Remind yourself that their spectrum of capability is different from yours. Yes, they believe what they say and yes, it may have some value, and yes, they may have your best interests at heart, but don’t let their judgments be the determining factor in what you think about your own efforts. Do whatever it is it because it’s important to you—forget about the adulation of others.

 Lorakeet

You: The Untold Story

April 9, 2015

Especially living here in Washington DC, one of the truths I have discovered as I’ve progressively shed more layers of naiveté is that there is always more to the story. It took me a long, long time to appreciate this, but my slowness may be due to the fact that I am so straight forward and earnest–it’s my nature to assume everyone else will be that way, as well. Heh heh. Not so. So, not so. But, just because I’ve become savvier in a city known for its duplicity and double talk, this doesn’t mean that all untold stories necessitate skeletons in the closet. Well, maybe here in Washington it does, but that doesn’t mean that’s true where you live…

Moving away from matters of politics and policy, I’d like to direct your attention to the untold story that resides within you. What is it? What’s your untold story? Is it a deep hidden secret? Is it a fantasy breakout role you’ve long harbored? Is it a part of your past? Or something else entirely? What is that part of you that hovers within, unknown to everyone but you?

Personally, I think it’s fun to think about such things and imagine an alternate reality where my untold story greeted the bright light of day—my life would be so different! If I were to make a list of the dramas and desires that lurk beneath the me who people see, I bet I’d cringe a little. Why? Because, despite our reality-tv besieged culture, I believe that most people prefer not being fully known. Maintain the mystery, say I!

The thing about some of our untold stories is that they’re usually more apparent than we realize. Plus, the rest of us are no dummies, so even without direct proof, we can usually put two and two together, supplying whatever colorful details you neglect to share. Having read a whole lot of literature, I’m really good at this stuff, so I’m going to tell you how to do it. I’m going to coach you how to pick up the clues: first, go for the most obvious explanation. Eight times out of ten, you’ll hit close to the mark. Oh, and remember to look at the shadows—don’t limit yourself to a straight on inspection. Those shadows can convey a lot. For the other twenty percent, you’re probably missing enough other pieces of the puzzle that you couldn’t guess right, anyway.

Our untold story lies in that twenty percent. That’s where each of us bobs and weaves enough that those around us can’t figure out why we’re doing what we’re doing, why we like X activity so much, why we resist doing Y. Maybe even we, ourselves, don’t understand that mysterious twenty. (I’m not entirely sure that I do.) But, I’m willing to bet that more often than not, it’s that twenty percent that has greater influence over our lives and the choices we make than we know.

Now, I want you to go back to whatever secret it is you thought about earlier in this post. Take a few moments to consider how that secret has influenced your life and your decisions. Why is it so important and yet so hidden? If it makes things easier, you can start by speculating on the untold story of somebody close to you—why do you think they turned out the way they did? What do you suspect influenced their line of thinking? You’ll never know the actual answer to this question, but thinking about it may lead you to notice things you hadn’t noticed before.

 magnifying glass

Doing What Comes Naturally

April 7, 2015

One of the most salient aspects of the re-booting process is figuring out who we want to be and how we want to live in lieu of whatever unsatisfactory situation in which we currently find ourselves. Sometimes, knowing which direction to go can be a whole lot harder than knowing what we don’t want. A counselor once termed such feelings as going forward values versus going away values. A great example of this is getting into a cab and telling the driver, “Well, I don’t want to go to the zoo.” Ok, but where do you want to go?

I talk to people nearly everyday who don’t know what they want—it’s not, necessarily, that they’re miserable, but life has taken on a sort of drifting quality or they’ve been so busy with the tasks at hand that they’ve lost sight of their passion. Their unabashed enthusiasm for life feels like something that happened to someone else a long time ago, in a land far away. They don’t know what they want to do, they don’t know where they want to go, and, furthermore, they aren’t totally sure how connected they feel to the people in their lives—there’s a whole lot of private confusion going on. Nobody’s life is perfect, of course, and we all feel empty from time to time—attending family gatherings we dread, participating in activities that we consider a waste of time, or occasionally cobbling together friendships that are a little boring—sometimes you just gotta lump it. We do this because it’s better than nothing…

When trying to figure out what to do when you don’t know what it is you really want, I recommend going back to those particular activities or interests that captivate you, where you can happily spend hours without noticing the time. I like to think of them as organic to us. It sounds so simple, doesn’t it? Doing what comes naturally. The problem is that, all too often, we run down or minimize our innate talents. I know I certainly have. I used to believe that if it came easily to me, it couldn’t be truly valuable or unusual—what other people did was awesome and impressive, but me? Not so much. When people run themselves or their interests down this way, it often stems from a fear of being ridiculed or somehow proven to be not so talented, after all. By pretending we’re not interested in, say, Civil War reenactments or new age philosophy or riding a unicycle, we can protect ourselves from anticipated derision. It’s like we’re afraid to own a part of ourselves. Sound familiar?

What comes naturally to you? What makes you feel enthusiastic? When was the last time you did that thing? Do you remember how great you felt?

 

The more you can reintroduce these happy influences into your day or week, the better off you will be—just think of the spillover positive energy that you’ll have to share with your spouse and kids! When I went to school back in Texas, I saw a ball cap that read, “My wife said I had to choose between her or hunting. I’m sure gonna miss her.” (The font on the cap was small.) This sentiment continues to amuse me, and goes to serve my point. Now, ultimatums aside, isn’t our hunter fortunate to have an activity he liked that much? Do you?

I’ll take this line of thinking a step further: forging friendships with people we really like. I don’t know about you, but I don’t meet people everyday (or year) who inspire me to think, “Wow! I’d really like to know them better.” It just doesn’t happen—and I meet people pretty easily. And, even when we do meet such people, more often than not because lives are disparate and busy, we let that connection drop. It takes a certain amount of time and courage to offer up one’s friendship. While it’s certainly true that admiration is not always equally felt, what I can confidently say is that chemistry can’t be faked. Doesn’t matter whether its platonic or romantic—when two adults resonate, it’s genuine. It’s also rare.

Who was the last person that you met who had a spark that caught your attention? Did you do anything about it? Are they your friend today?

My point in this post is not for you to go away and mutter something about having no real friends or interests, my point is for you to remember that you do have these things! You have natural talents you’ve probably set aside and you’ve met people you were drawn to. Instead of saying how you’re too busy to do anything about it, why not give it a go, take that risk and see how much more energized you feel? If it provides any inspiration whatsoever, I will tell you that almost nothing energizes me as much as writing does. When I write, I am utterly absorbed and happy. The fact that I’ve taken the extra step of putting my writing out there for you to read, well, doing so takes courage. So does reaching out to someone and telling them, “I want to be your friend.” When people respond favorably, nothing makes me feel happier and more hopeful. I bet you could use more of that in your life, too.

Homework assignment: sometime this week, set aside 20 minutes to test out one of your ongoing interests; double points if you reach out to someone you haven’t seen in awhile. See how you feel…

 Civil War

Simon Says: Going Through the Motions

April 2, 2015

We re-booters understand what it feels like to be stuck in a routine, doing things simply because it’s expected we do them. Just last week, in fact, I was fussing around preparing the house for a gathering and I paused, asking myself, “Why am I doing this?” At times, life can feel like a giant game of Simon Says where we do what we’re told when we’re told to do it. Of course, the underlying premise of the children’s game is that the players agree the only time you can act is when Simon says you can. Anyone who deviates from this formula loses.

Why is this game fun?

The way I see it, some games are worth getting thrown out of. You can have a whole lot more fun on the sidelines.

Now, while I’m somebody who loves having a schedule, I recognize the perils of getting lost in routine—we can find ourselves in a rut without realizing we’re stuck. Of course, with any worthwhile goal such as building a career or raising a family, there’s a lot of drudge work that simply has to get done, but what I’m talking about here is when our routine responsibilities become so burdensome as to suffocate our enthusiasm for the long term goal. To cope, we often end up deadening that part of ourselves that holds our insistent spark, transforming into automated drones drifting from one set of chores to the next. We wonder what happened to our life?

Back in the day when I was gainfully employed, I felt as if my days were defined by an endless rotation of dreary shifts: work, exercise, chores, repeat. By the time the weekend rolled around (when I wasn’t travelling for work), I was so drained that I had no enthusiasm for socializing or engaging in a favorite hobby. All I could do was sit and stare into space. It was awful. I was doing exactly what I believed I needed to do in order to have a successful career, a successful life. While I was grateful that I had people I cared about around me, I had almost nothing to give. I did what I had to do and that was it; happy moments were few and fleeting. Too many people were counting on me to deliver. I was counting on me. Sound familiar?

In the adult version of Simon Says, Simon can be anything: our spouses, our careers, our family’s expectations, our own fixed ideas about who we are. If Simon says it, then that’s what we do. End of story. Simon is one ruthless bastard. How many times have you seen examples of men who bury themselves in work to provide for their families while studiously avoiding the mess at home (made only worse by their extended absence)? How many women feel chained to the hearth—whether they work or not—feeling abandoned and forced to carry the domestic mantel alone? There’s always another meal to prepare or child needing attention. The deeper the ruts get as we trudge along, the more removed we feel from our partners and ourselves. We can’t remember why we wanted this. The responsibilities we so eagerly embraced in our twenties now feel like an unbreakable yoke. That’s not true, of course. It’s simply how we feel in the moment.

The thing about re-booters is that we are the kids who decide we’re not going to do as Simon says. Yes, the price is that we’re thrown out of the game, but so what? We can invent a whole lot better games that are way more fun than the group sitting there touching their elbows because Simon told them to. As someone who agonized over getting thrown out of the game, who desperately wanted to be part of the crowd, who tried her best to be the very model of a Simon Says champion, I understand and sympathize with the struggles re-booters experience when on the precipice of making an unauthorized move. Simon didn’t say we could.

But here’s the thing: doing what other people tell us is all fine and well when we are children because we need the guidance, it’s just not ok as adults. In fact, inherent in the definition of being a mature adult is having the freedom to make our own choices. How many choices do you have? All too often, we lock ourselves into this game, but it happens slowly, like a frog in boiling water. We don’t realize things have gotten as bad as they have. We don’t recognize how our lives have become something else. We’ve gotten lost in the shuffle. Having assumed certain responsibilities and having people count on us means we have to deliver—and we do. We’re tough. Nobody promised us a rose garden. We can manage. But, when we keep taking on just a little bit more, and a bit more after that, slowly but surely our freedom ebbs away, and so does our joy.

Remember that insistent spark I mentioned earlier? It’s sort of like our pilot light; it provides the source fuel we need to keep going. What keeps that spark alive is carving time out for us to be us—not to be the parent or the spouse or the dedicated worker—doing things the way we want to do them, in our preferred order, never mind that doing so puts us on the sidelines. Why be one of the bozos touching their elbows? When you think about it this way, the playing field is a narrowly defined space. You’ve got way more room to be you away from it.

Simons Says2


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