Archive for June, 2015

What Progress Have You Made?

June 30, 2015

Ok, so it’s less than six months until Christmas, which means that half of 2015 is now in our rear view mirror. What have you been up to? What sort of life road marks have you passed? As a kid, I never believed it when my parents would tell me that the older you get, the faster time flies, but they were right. I am flabbergasted by the remarkable speed with which this year is hurtling onward, so today’s post is as good as any for us to check in on the progress we’re making.

How are you doing?

In the last six months, people I know have struggled with everything ranging from the aftermath of suicide to receiving disturbing medical diagnoses, they’ve been promoted at work, or reached out to estranged relatives, some have taken steps to master their bad tempers, others have found a way to bolster their self-confidence. (I even managed to publish a book!) Soup to nuts. All part of the resplendent buffet that is our lives.

Each of the examples I listed demonstrates a variation on the re-booting theme. The reason I say this is because these sorts of events invite us to reassess how we think about ourselves and those around us. Often, the biggest and most pressing of these concerns involve difficult relatives or thorny work issues. Maintaining a serene outlook when grappling with an ongoing irritation is no easy task. We need to remember that whoever is being obstinate isn’t necessarily behaving this way to provoke us (although, sometimes, they are). Whether they’re deliberately provoking us or not, what we need to do is the same: keep calm and hold our fire. At least that’s true for those of us whose tendency it is to fight back. For those of you more inclined simply to roll over and play dead, your lessons are of an entirely different order. No matter what our personal challenge is, a re-boot of our attitude towards this matter is required. The onus lays on us.

I want you to take a minute and reflect upon a situation or relationship that irritates you. Now, test out in your mind a new way to assess what’s going on. What is it about the other person’s behavior that reflects a bigger, overarching theme in who they are? Can you think of instances when they’ve behaved similarly with other people? Is, in fact, your situation just another example of them doing the same thing over and over?

The reason I am prodding you to go in this direction is because the more we recognize patterns of behavior, the more we will see that what they’re doing is about them, not us. Getting to a place where we don’t take the behavior of others personally is a tremendous advantage! I have learned this first hand and it is something I struggle with a lot—not taking things personally. For those of you whose temperaments are such that you, naturally, don’t take things personally, it’s smart to recognize that not everyone is like you. The reason I say this is so that it’s easier for you to understand why some people react poorly when you announce that you’re going to do Y instead of X. They perceive your choice of X as a diminishment of what they’ve chosen. (It’s not true, of course, but that’s how they see it.) It’s my opinion that, in general, men are much better at this than women, but I know plenty of men who take things personally and dealing with them is a gigantic pain in the ass.

I’ll give you an embarrassing example from my life. One of the most powerful and useful pieces of advice a counselor gave me was after a session spent griping about whatever inanities were driving me crazy–mundane examples of ordinary bullshit. “They’re not doing it to purposely annoy you,” he observed. What?!? His words came as a revelation! Recognizing the truth of what he said has made a remarkable impact on my ability to negotiate my day. I’m not nearly as pissed off about stuff as I used to be. I reminded myself of this even this morning when I went to the market along with the 50,000 other people who thoughtlessly abandoned their carts in front of the vegetable display. While I feel chagrinned offering up this petty example about myself, I’m doing so for two reasons: #1 remembering this mantra helps me move through my day with far fewer feathers ruffled and #2 it demonstrates just how hard it is to remove oneself from the equation.

Here I am, years later, writing this blog about re-booting, urging you not to take things personally and I continue to wrestle with my annoyance at the thoughtlessness of others. This stuff ain’t easy! In fact, it’s really, really hard to change how we perceive and think about the world. But change we must. It’s a re-booter’s prerogative to get with the program and find a better way to live. If we can manage this, not only will we feel a lot more serene, but we can model it for others.

They may not change, but we can.

Ok, so back to that situation I asked you to reflect upon earlier. What I want you to consider is how you might modify your attitude to whatever your annoying situation is. How can you shift your perspective enough that doing so improves the relationship? You can’t be a peacemaker if you’re all stirred up yourself. You’ve got six months ahead of you—GO.

Time flies

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Stop Thinking So Much!

June 25, 2015

Overthinking—it’s something we’ve all done. What a pain. There we are, trying our level best to be responsible, to be savvy, and to think things through, in the hope that the decision we make will be the right one, the best one for all involved. So then we think about it some more. Except, the problem with overthinking is that, more often than not, doing so freaks us out! We get caught in an emotional eddy and, more often than not, we get stuck, torturing ourselves with all the ways it could blow up in our face. Exhausting.

Any of this sound familiar?

As an individual prone to thinking things to death, I envy those carefree souls who don’t worry too much about the possible consequences. They don’t allow their fears of looking stupid or feeling embarrassed or failing spectacularly prevent them from doing what they want to do, whether that’s introducing themselves to someone new or reaching out to someone old, investing their money in a personal project or calling it quits on something that no longer works. Yes, these folks have my respect because, to me, they appear fearless. Of course, that’s not true. They have as much anxiety as any of the rest of us they just manage it better.

How well do you manage yours?

Re-booting is all about managing our fears—our fears if we don’t do something and our fears if we do. Consequences will follow regardless of our choice, so we may as well do what we want. What do you think about that sentence? How do you feel about doing what you want?

We live in a nation built upon the Puritan premise of of self-abnegation, denying ourselves things everyday. No to the bread, yes to the berries. No to saying what we think, yes to politically acceptable platitudes. No to the slow lane, yes to the power play. Making these choices is part of daily life, but where we get into trouble is when we talk ourselves out of testing the waters. We refrain from reaching out to people we like or think we may like. We refuse to reverse course on a big commitment because we’re terrified that doing so may reflect badly on us. We judge ourselves harshly for getting it wrong, pining to go in another direction. So, instead, we sit tight, treading water, watching enviously as others swim right by. Over thinking will do that to you. Overthinking will squash your spark if you let it.

Now, I’m the first to say that throwing caution to the wind has its absolute downsides. Of course it does. But what doesn’t? The way I manage such internal debates is reminding myself that I have a (fairly) good head on my shoulders so I should be able to manage whatever fallout may come from taking a risk. But then (and here’s the trick), I also tell myself that no matter how stupid I may come off or how embarrassed I may feel, there’s more to me than this. I am much more than what happens to me.

You are more than what happens to you. You are more than your achievements. You are more than your losses. You are more than your dreams, your fears, or your beliefs. You are much more than how you feel today. There is a part of you, an indwelling part of you which never changes, never gets distracted, and is never afraid. This is your highest and best self, and it’s this same self that will provide the power you need to grow and evolve. Rather than relying on the haywire, erratic adolescent mentality that often highjacks our brains, we need to trust that part of ourselves that really does know best. At times, it may tell us to do things we really (and I mean really) don’t want to do, but we need to listen.

For me, that indwelling part of myself had whispered for quite awhile that I was heading in the wrong direction. I dismissed these messages repeatedly. I had a lot going in the right direction and, besides, I had no idea what I’d do otherwise, so I plowed forward. Sometimes, after a few glasses of wine, I would screw up my courage to ponder what I might do instead, if I left this life of mine behind. I fantasized about walking away from relationships and careers that I had spent years investing in. And then I drained the bottle, reminding myself of how much I stood to lose. But these murmurings didn’t fade; my instincts continued to fire, and still I overrode them. By now, regular DR readers are familiar with my story, but the reason I keep repeating it is because this is what you do, too. You’re ignoring your gut on something pretty important. You’re making excuses as to why you can’t do X, Y, or Z. You find a reason not to pick up that paint brush or look for another job or imagine what your life might be like if you called it quits…It’s all wildly inconvenient and upsetting, I know.

Of course you’re terrified! The terror doesn’t go away, I assure you. What I will say is that my overthinking kept me chained to a life and a set of priorities that did not serve me. I was my own jailer and my overthinking was a form of Chinese water torture. Drip, drip, drip.

Instead of thinking about how much you stand to lose, why not reframe it and imagine how much you have to gain? Stop thinking about it and just do it! If Plan A doesn’t work, there’s always Plan B…

Plan A

Getting Off with DSK

June 23, 2015

For those of you who have forgotten, Dominique Strauss-Kahn is a brilliant Frenchman who previously led the IMF, positioning himself to run for president of France. All those plans came to a screeching halt in 2011 when he was arrested for allegedly assaulting a maid in a New York hotel. While those charges were eventually dropped, this incident set into motion a series of trans-Atlantic investigations and new charges in France that concluded recently with DSK being found not guilty of organizing lavish parties with prostitutes in Lille, France.

Each of these hearings and investigations contained lurid details about DSK’s proclivities for rough sex. He was a powerful man who liked to blow off steam, shall we say, engaging in activities that weren’t, exactly, family friendly or conducive to running for public office. Karma, karma, karma! Now, while a valid and healthy debate can occur as to how influential private behavior should be on whether or not an individual is suitable to hold the responsibilities of public office, the DSK example is particularly illustrative of what can happen when people push the envelope of legal or acceptable behavior and how life has a funny way of catching up with us, whether or not we have formally been found “guilty.”

Denny Hastert, Mary Kay Letourneau, Ted Haggard, David Petraeus and of course New York’s newest restaurateur Tony Wiener have each earned a special place in the annals of famous sex scandals, with varying results at rehabilitating their personal and public reputations. Whether or not they and those close to them went on to live lives of satisfaction following their missteps isn’t certain. But, I’m not just trotting out a list of colorful examples simply for the shiny fun of it; I also want to make an analogy to re-booting.

We all screw up. We all inflict damage. Sometimes things end disastrously, leaving a trail of embarrassment and hurt, whether we’re the victims or the villains. But, who the “bad guy” is doesn’t matter for purposes of this post because everyone involved has to re-boot. This includes Steve Reinbolt, Vili Fualaau and Steve Letourneau, Gayle Haggard, Holly Petraeus (not to mention the US military command), and dear sweet Huma Abedin, each of whom must adjust to a new normal following the actions of others (this list doesn’t even include their kids).

Shit happens. It just does. Whoever is “culpable,” whoever is “innocent,” is irrelevant. For all of us, it’s what we do next that makes the difference. It’s finding a way to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Do you think Bill Clinton wastes his time feeling guilty—about anything? Of course not! He was nearly impeached and that still didn’t stop him. And look how he’s rehabilitated himself. Some may say “shameless,” but you can’t deny the guy has got it goin’ on. (Even Monica’s post “handbag designer” life has included giving a TED talk or two.)

My point is this: if they can spring back, so can you…and so can whoever was hurt by what you did. Remember both sides of this equation! Nobody, and I mean nobody, should give you so much power over them that you could ruin their life, and vice versa. There is always an opportunity to make things better, to head in a new direction, to start over. What you have next may not look like what you had before, but that doesn’t mean it’s not as good. There’s a real chance it may even be better. This is always true. There are always nuggets of gold to be found in any situation.

Circling back to our friend DSK, we know that he got off in a number of ways. We know that he is a brilliant man whose ego and sense of entitled imperviousness created enormous problems for him. We also know that his story isn’t over. His talents haven’t gone away. And now, perhaps humbled, bruised, and chastened he may find a new path to do some good.

DSK

The Hidden Blessings of Difficulties

June 18, 2015

Powerful life lessons can arrive in many guises, good or bad. There are people who cross our paths who give us great joy and confidence, the memory of whom warms our hearts and lifts our spirits. And then, there are those who evoke darker memories, painful associations that make us hurt, slightly hunching our chests in self-protection or furrowing our brow when we remember them. If we’re lucky, these thorns have faded from our lives, but their legacy haunts our awareness. Other times, such individuals or conditions are impossible to escape, their sharp ends poking at us without mercy. These teachers can arrive in any guise. Examples include difficult relatives or coping with a physical or mental condition that makes life exponentially harder. But, the truth of the matter is, these challenges are in our lives to teach us something positive we need to learn.

What lessons are you having to wrestle with that you need to master?

The most powerful lessons I’ve learned have also been the hardest. “Why is this happening to me?” I’d sob, deeply resentful of the burden, despairing about how difficult everything felt. Looking back, I realize now that walking through fire was the only way my hand would be sufficiently forced to reexamine what I was doing, to reconsider my erroneous beliefs, and to build the internal resources necessary to live my life differently.

When thinking about your own struggles, what I want to say to you is this: instead of unduly upsetting yourself, trust that your difficulties exist to teach you things you need to know.

None of this is easy.

Take, for example, someone who grows up in a household where one of the adults regularly turns their rage on the others. While I would never recommend that anyone continue to live under such conditions, I will suggest that witnessing these meltdowns can teach us how hurtful and unproductive rage is. We can take this knowledge and learn to express our displeasure in more productive ways. Similarly, if someone close to us struggles with mental illness or a serious physical infirmity, through our interactions with them we may learn how to be patient, how to build compassion, and how to work around these problems while still finding the good in life.

These sorts of problems are serious. They’re often chronic and inflict suffering for multiple individuals. In this post, I am suggesting a way to re-frame your response so that you seek out a higher lesson embedded within your distress. Bolstering your internal resources of resilience, goodwill, and optimism is a way to reduce the despair you feel when confronted by suffering (whether its your own or that of others). This knowledge doesn’t lessen the difficulty, but it makes it more bearable.

Does what I’m saying make any sense at all?

Allowing our difficulties to have too much influence over how we feel and think is a constant danger. Doing so is a choice remember that! Because the experience is so powerful, it is tempting to replay the memories, searing them into our neurons. This is a mistake since it chains us to a swamp of negativity, anger, and grief. Not only have I done this to myself , I have watched as many people I know have done the same, hurting themselves and others over and over. Who do you think of when remembering somebody who has over-identified with their hardships, unable to extract any possible, positive meaning?

When I get lost in my suffering, one of the strategies I use is to remind myself of how much more I know now and how much better equipped I am to handle extreme stress. Going forward, I know better than to recreate similar conditions. In the future, I will watch for red flags. Having withstood rejection, anger, and embarrassment, I know now that I am far more resilient than I believed. Even better, I realize that just because they say [whatever] about me doesn’t mean it’s true—I needn’t take what they say or do as an accurate reflection of who I am. I am more than what happens to me.

When you think about your painful lessons, who was your teacher? What takeaways did you extract and do you need to revisit any of the (erroneous) conclusions you formed at the time?

I ask this last question because a key part of re-booting demands that we reconsider our old assumptions and conclusions. We don’t always get it right the first time. Alas, all too often we proceed on erroneous conclusions, formed when we were younger, more emotional, less experienced. After being yelled at by his dad in front of fellow teammates, the decisions a twelve year old boy makes about himself, his dad, and how to express anger is not likely to well serve him as an adult. The twelve year old drew the conclusions of a boy. As a man, he may view things differently. He may realize that he had previously accorded his dad’s outburst far more legitimacy than it merited. He may reach a point of feeling compassion for his dad who, in a moment of supreme weakness, vented his own frustrations out on the head of his son.

Do you see how this works? Where might you have done something similar? How are you like that twelve year old boy? What conclusions do you need to reconsider?

How Bad Do You Want It?

June 16, 2015

When it comes to re-booting, a key consideration is to ask how much hard work and discomfort we’re willing to withstand in order to achieve our goal. The dilemma we confront when balancing our need for change versus the disruption it will cause is real. Sacrifices of one variety or another must be made, whether this affects our relationships, our career, our sense of vulnerability, or something else, entirely. More often than not, other people are impacted by our choices, so the fact that what we do directly impacts them counts as part of the hard work we must be willing to assume if we decide to implement change in our lives. In a sad contrast, there are legions of adults who spend every minute of the day wishing their lives were different but who are unwilling to risk shifting the balance, rationalizing that their insistent yearning might be fleeting or telling themselves that swapping “good enough” for some inchoate unknown is insanity.

Are you one of those people who stand by, watching others take risks?

I have a friend who is considering ending their marriage. The marriage is…ok. The couple is cooperative and companionable. They’ve enjoyed good times and they’re good people who value commitment, but significant distances between them exist, with no signs of abatement. Having shared their doubts and concerns with their spouse, my friend received a sensible, civil, and considerate response. Sitting in a café on a sun-drenched afternoon, my friend mused, “Can I accept things as they are knowing they won’t change? I have a good life; I mean things are ok. They could be better. I just feel there’s so much I am missing, but I made a commitment. Who’s to say life would be any better if we called it quits?

Nearly all of us have been caught in a similar purgatory, unsure whether to make a bold move or not—I certainly have. Whether the dilemma is what to do about a difficult relationship or taking steps to share our creative work with the world, we know that a go or no-go decision will have significant repercussions. Jettisoning our old ways involves significant cost, but the path less traveled beckons us forward. Looking at the situation as it is today, we wonder to ourselves, “What if I didn’t have to be with this person/job any longer? What if I had room in my life to do X?” When we think about the possibilities, a feeling of terrifying, exhilarating freedom arises. Is the collateral damage worth it? This is the essence of the re-booting dilemma.

There are no guarantees we’ll make the right choice, no promises of a future filled with golden moments or money pouring down onto our heads. Our decisions to change our life can mean anything from remaining in our marriage or career (but with radically revised expectations) to quitting and moving on. Is it better to opt for stability or to step out on our own? What decision have you made? What examples have you seen?

Now, remember, while I’m using marriage as my primary example, this line of questioning is equally applicable to other parts of our lives. The same approach can be used when reconsidering how we define ourselves, how we choose to interact with our family members, whether or not we are willing to let go of old resentments and put the past behind us once and for all. Whatever your dilemma is, whether you decide to maintain the status quo or implement transformational change, there will be hard work required in order to make things better. Are you willing to do this? What are you prepared to sacrifice to get where you want to go?

What if nothing changes? How will you feel about yourself then? Can you live with that?

When I ask these questions, I ask them sympathetically. Change is hard. Change is terrifying. But it’s also thrilling. Looking back on my own crisis, as desperate as I was to escape, I remained frozen in place for far too long. Despite the panicky sense of drowning in the angry muddle that had become my life, despite feeling myself shut down as my enthusiasm drained away, even then, I resisted change. I hated every single second of my day, yet, still I stayed put. I’m not sure how different my life would be had I taken steps sooner, but I know that for me, the idea of jettisoning everything I had spent the last umpteen years working towards was the last thing in the world I wanted.

Thank God it happened.

In my situation, there was no way things were going to improve, so my dilemma was less wrenching than for those of you who can list clear positives in your situation. But here is what I have to say about that:

1.Your life need not be an unmitigated hell before you are justified in implementing change.

  1. The people in your life can be good and decent while also being unbearable to live with.
  2. Changing your mind does not qualify you as morally bankrupt or unkind.
  3. Beating yourself up does nothing to improve things.
  4. It’s ok to think about this stuff.

You just have to be prepared to handle the fallout, whatever you decide. This is on you, so own it.

Can you do this?

You: Uncensored and Unwound

June 11, 2015

With summertime knocking at the door, it’s time for us to return to long, lazy, twilight evenings, warm breezes, and ice cold drinks. Of course, unlike Santa Barbara, not every clime is conducive to hours spent outdoors—I, for one, must go to enormous lengths to keep the mosquitos at bay—but I generally consider summer to be the time of the year when I feel most relaxed, unburdened by concerns of fighting off the cold and the dark. Such seasonal fantasies lead me to reflect on which individuals in my life make me feel most at ease, whose smile and genial presence draws out those parts of myself too often locked away.

Who brings out the most relaxed, playful version of you?

Alas, some of us have forgotten what it’s like to be at ease—we are so consumed with worries that we barely recall a time when life didn’t feel like a burden. I can sympathize. Before I began my re-booting journey, I was wound so tightly that it was a chore to be in my company–it was worse for me, I assure you. In those dark days, my happiness crumbled beneath the relentless pressure to contort myself into somebody I barely recognized. The barbed wire of ambition and craving for acceptance twisted itself around my heart and mind, constricting everything and making me hurt. In the worst of it, aside from time spent with my yellow lab, there was not a single moment where I felt at peace. How’s that for friendless?

I hope you’ve never experienced anything close to that, but my guess is that at least some of you have. Despair can pollute our veins and cloud our vision. Those who love and care about us become collateral damage when we are suffering so greatly—sometimes, those same people are the source of our concern. Being unable to fully predict what bad things might happen triggers enormous anxiety. But what I have learned time and time and time again is that the fear is far worse than the actual event. In the meantime, we’ve worked ourselves into such a frenzy that we lose perspective about everything. Any of this ring a bell?

It requires a supreme effort to summon the discipline to keep our worries in check. Being smart and creative, we can envision a variety of catastrophic scenarios. I remember how bleak everything felt in the year preceding my life turning upside down. My perspective was so out of whack and I was so panicky and confused as to what to do about it that I was no longer me. I was some other, tortured person.

Fortunately, this is no longer the case! Re-booting has shown me that a key to retaining sanity is to seek out joy, even in the darkest of dark days, no matter how small or fleeting the pleasure. Now, I relish and am grateful for time spent with people who put me at ease and make me laugh, recognizing that such moments don’t occur everyday. When trouble arrives at my doorstep, I do my utmost to manage my fear, remembering that blowing things out of proportion or tearing my hair out makes it all worse. When things get bad for you, what do you tell yourself? Would you say you do a good job at managing your stress?

But, back to my initial question, I want you to think about the person(s) you feel comfortable with and happy. Who are you looking forward to seeing again? What is it about them that makes your chest relax and your insides unwind?

Who gets to see the uncensored version of you?

 

If you’re anything like me, you probably relax in different ways depending on who you’re with, but what I want you to get is a clear idea about is what characteristics or ways of being make you so comfortable that you can actually close your eyes, let down your guard, and tap into that fundamental part of yourself you don’t always show. Hanging with friends is different from kicking back with family or time alone with someone special. Each of these interactions brings out a different part of ourselves—so which version of you do you like the best, that you wish you got to enjoy more often? Who makes you feel most yourself? Why? What is it, specifically, about how they are that makes you feel safe? Do you have someone like this in your life today? If not, it’s time to start looking…

 

Relaxing

Putting It Together: The Pluses and the Minuses

June 9, 2015

Maybe you know this already, maybe its clear from my writings, but a fresh realization about myself surprised me because I envision my life so differently. I am indecisive. There. I said it. I’ve come to this conclusion partially as a result of working with a career counselor, but I’m not sure what to do next—I’m indecisive about that, too. I’m not sure about its significance to my life or what it says about me—other than the obvious. Acknowledging just how indecisive I am rubs me the wrong way because I have always thought of myself as the go-to gal, the one with strong, clear opinions, who can diagnose a situation in nanoseconds. So, the possibility of me being some sort of dithering, confused person who gets utterly distracted by everything she sees around her, well, I don’t like this at all.

But it sure explains a lot.

Working with my counselor, our discussions keep nudging me towards a very reluctant realization that returning to a traditional, office based career is not for me. This is too bad because operating within such a format, I know what that is, I know what to expect, but the unhappiness quotient outweighs any countervailing advantages. For years, I imagined being one of those corner office players, hustling about in suits and “taking meetings.” I’m not sure how to envision myself in any other setting—especially in a town like Washington. But, as reluctant as I am to abandon the pantomime that is my current job search, I think that’s probably what I’ll do because everything inside of me screams at me to go in another direction.

What part of your life confuses you? What screams to go elsewhere? Where do you dither?

What makes things worse is that part of me has always known what I want to do: I want to write (hopefully generating a reasonable income along the way). I’ve just dismissed this heartfelt goal because it feels like such a wildly impractical and self-indulgent road to take. Everything I’ve done up to now has been premised on the idea of becoming a respected, white collar professional. So, now I walk away from that? What happens then?

I’ve always been a highly sensitive and observant individual. Growing up, I needed to learn how to read the moods of those around me in order to sidestep the adults who held so much sway in my life. Nurturing these talents has provided tremendous advantages—these abilities make me a strong and empathetic person, let alone serve me as a writer—but this same sensitivity has created multiple stumbling blocks. I worry a lot about what other people think. I fret that what I choose to do won’t measure up to their standards (let alone my own). I’m afraid to own what it is I truly want.

What won’t you allow yourself to have?

We all possess personal qualities that bestow both strengths and weaknesses. Mine may be acute sensitivity, while yours may be laser like focus or a talent for creating a beautiful space. Perhaps it’s a calling to minister or heal others. The problem arises when we take those talents and forget that not every moment needs to be a teaching moment. Celebrating beautiful things may also mean that visual cues too easily distract us. The problem with laser like focus is that we may fail to remove our blinders. As mature adults, it’s important that we cultivate awareness as to when our strengths may impede our progress. It’s not always obvious. Julia Child once wrote, “Fat gives things flavor.” My point is somewhat similar: we know that fat enriches the piquancy of a dish, but too much makes it swim in grease and clogs our arteries.

Ok, so having laid out this premise, I want you to think about instances where some of your talents or strengths get in your way. What happens when you do too much of whatever it is you’re good at? Do you drive people away? Do you find yourself swamped in by all your beautiful things? Do you fail to see the big picture in the midst of your consuming interest? For me, my ability to be aware of what’s going on around me makes it overly easy for me to dismiss or forget what I want because I’m so attuned to the preferences of others. What they do or think or want shouldn’t matter.

As I said to my counselor, “Maybe I don’t want to eradicate my sensitivity altogether. Maybe because it’s so much a part of who I am and makes me good at what I do, wanting it to disappear is the wrong direction. Maybe what I need is to learn a better way to manage it.” I’m on to something here, I think, because there’s no way I can squish the life out of my observant nature—I wouldn’t even want to. But, it happens to be this same penchant that keeps me tangled up with wrong headed ideas about what I should be doing with my life versus what I want to be doing. Talk about a Catch-22.

What innate strength do you need to learn to manage better? How will you do so?

It doesn’t get any more re-bootingish than this…

Strengths

Washington Writ Large: Tip-Toeing Our Way Around Those Cow Patties to Get a Better View of Those Fireworks

June 4, 2015

If you haven’t flown over the city of Washington at night, make a point to do so. It sparkles as grandly as any capital ever constructed. There I was, flying back from Santa Barbara, not recognizing the darkened landscape—figuring it was the morass that is Northern Virginia–and then, BOOM! the Washington Monument and the Capitol came into view, glittering from beyond the wing of the plane. Pride of place, as they say in real estate ads. I felt proud and privileged to see the city this way. It was amazing! The irony of living in a metropolis burdened by corruption, murder, obfuscation, and disappointment but where there’s room for beauty and inspiration does not go unnoticed. It would be easy for me to gloss over the magnificence of Washington and focus on the shameless self-dealing, gridlock, and pettiness for which this city has a well deserved reputation, but doing so would diminish the awe inspiring power of the democratic ideals on which our nation was founded. Washington is far more than a bustling city where matters of state are allegedly attended to. The greatness of this city arises from the imagination, courage, and dedication of those who support it—whether they’ve been here or not. My point is this: the ability to see good and feel hope in the midst of serious concern is not to be dismissed as silly thinking. Wonderful things can happen in the midst of troubling chaos. The fact that we can admire the splendor of a place like DC is hugely important because what we can do for circumstances outside of us means that we can manage the same for ourselves, when lost in our internal struggles.

What beauty do you see in the midst of your everyday labors?

When feeling as though our lives consist of an unending list of demands—whether that be child rearing, surviving difficult neighbors or in-laws, meeting payrolls, or absorbing the mind spinning pace of change that makes up these modern times—it’s easy to narrow our attention to the threats or concerns. We forget to look out the window and value where we are. But it’s not enough simply to give it a passing smile and return to our hamster wheel, we need to do more than that. We need to make the conscious effort of embracing the joy of living before it’s too late.

Yesterday, I was having lunch with some friends when one of them remarked that she had examined her calendar for the next two weeks and there were only two items on it that she was excited about—our lunch and something else. And this is a busy, well adjusted, and content person who appreciates her life! As the conversation meandered, she mentioned how her mother was obsessed with her weight, denying herself any extra glass of wine or piece of cheese because she was so consumed with the number on the scale. “I just think about how much pleasure she’s missing out on,” my friend mused. “And for what? So she can say her weight hasn’t changed since she was in high school? So what?” Of course appearance is only one example of the sorts of topics where people assume defensive postures. The same line of thinking applies to those who are misers with their money or their compliments or their time. When I think about this, I suspect a lot of this mindset comes from an impoverished world view instead of a philosophy that life is meant to be abundant.

What’s your world view? Do you hunker down, clinging to what you have, or do you run around with your arms wide, expecting life to bestow more of its richness upon you?

This is a loaded question for most of us—myself included—because we know there are no guarantees. We are keenly aware that it was the ant that was ready for winter, not the grasshopper. I vacillate between these two stances all the time—it gets to be a pain because I never allow myself to fully enjoy my high times or fully congratulate myself on my sensible planning. This dilemma has only been heightened during my time of re-booting. But what occurs to me is this: of the two protagonists in our story, it is the grasshopper who gets to see a bigger view of what’s possible. The ant is scurrying around, collecting his foodstuffs to get through the winter—very responsible—but I think, “Is that it? Is this all that the ant does all day, everyday? Does he see nothing? Has he limited his world to this?” Maybe there are alternate food sources he might have discovered had he only lifted his head. Maybe something metaphysically more yummy existed beyond that next hillock, if he only took the trouble to wonder and wander. Maybe having that extra glass of wine would have given him the courage to break out from his rut (even if the scale did read slightly higher the next morning)…

When was the last time you looked up? Do you dare?

Now, when I pose these questions, I do not mean that your life should be one of the careless vagabond, bold and free all the time. Nobody’s is. We all have crap and baggage and real responsibilities that weigh on us, but this is why we are here. We are meant to attend to our responsibilities while finding a better, more joyful way to live. Learning how to toss the baggage aside and master a new and more constructive way of handling the crap is all part of the re-booting journey. Instead of letting the passive aggressive bullshit shenanigans of whomever it is that irritates the shit out of us drive us mad, we need to find a way to let them roll off our back. Cause, honey, the assholes ain’t never gonna get smaller. No way. No how. It’s up to us to find a new approach, a new way to think about it. Instead of getting mad or feeling hurt, we can try to shake our heads and think, “There they go again!” We can’t live a life free of bullshit, but we can find a way to avoid stepping in it. We’re owning that cow patty as ours when we freak out about it time and time and time again. “This is my shit!” we announce. “I embrace it, each time I let it get to me. I smear it all over my face. And then I run around and tell the world how awful it is. Poor me.”

Well, boo hoo for you. Why don’t you go get a wash cloth and stop rubbing up against it? Is this how you want to live?

DC Fireworks2

Changing Up Our Roles: Revising Our Objectives

June 2, 2015

From time to agonizing time, having a clear idea about our purpose is a challenge for most people. As we evolve from dependency to self-sufficiency, from being single to coupled to decoupled, from our tentative youth to our powerful middle age to our reflective later years, many roles naturally fade away or come into focus. But the sort of objective I’m examining in this post is the motivation beneath these quotidian experiences. Why are you doing what you’re doing? What drives you? Is it something from deep within or are you doing it because someone told you, because you thought you “should?”

“I’m 65 years old, and I wonder about my goals,” someone admitted in a recent conversation. “I go into the office and none of my employees really needs me anymore. My kids are grown and out of the house. I’m not sure what my objective is.” As different as my life is from theirs, I’m deeply sympathetic to their sense of feeling lost. It can occur at any point in our lives and it never gets easier. Indeed, I envy those individuals who are confident about their life’s mission. They’ve come into this world knowing they are a doctor, a teacher, a farmer, a sentinel. They know what fits and without any hesitation, they embrace their calling. It’s all very clear for them. Hmm. I wish. Not for me. Probably, not for you, either.

Anyone interested in re-booting knows what it’s like to question their direction, question their reason for being. We are malleable, mysterious creatures, we re-booters. We reflect, we deliberate, we gut check, we notice the struggles of others and wonder what’s happening with them. I’ve wandered through adulthood, fantasizing about playing one role and then another, trying on different identities as I assess whether they feel “right.” Where I get confused is that I can find things to like about most of them—I can see myself playing these roles–so it’s all very inconvenient when I sense an invisible force pulling me in another direction, away from these good possibilities. What in the world am I seeking? And then a partial explanation burbled up from beneath my awareness: because, for me, they’re just roles. If I were to do these things, I’d be play acting instead of fulfilling my purpose. (Woo. Whoa. That’s sorta heavy.)

How many roles do you play? In your deepest of deep hearts, how many of them would you say suit you?

Now, let me be clear about something: playing roles is something we all do. The distinction arises when we don these costumes simply because they appeal to us, even though we aren’t perfectly cast. We watch wistfully as the Laurence Oliviers amongst us slip into these identities, fully inhabiting them because this is who they are meant to play. They have hit their mark. We believe them as they model the loving patriarch, the patient teacher, the attuned musician, the radiant friend. The energy they transmit is genuine, the light they reflect is clear.

What sort of light do you reflect these days?

After all these years of struggle, my light is growing brighter. I’m beginning to recognize that for most of my life, I have been distracted by everything outside of me, believing that what “they” had must be better than what spoke to me. It’s taken me a long, long time to recognize that casting myself in plays written for others was never going to work—and that’s ok. It’s not a tragedy.

Having made this realization, it makes me feel stupid, needy, and embarrassingly dependent on the opinion of others. Groan. I’m still not totally confident that me being me is sufficient, but that’s what I gotta work with… I gotta star in the one woman show that is Chrisanna—at least for now. If I don’t laugh, I’ll cry. (What I still can’t figure out is if I’m playing to a totally empty hall.)

So, why am I blathering on about this? I want you to reflect upon the various roles you’ve played in your life. How many of these roles have been ones that fully reflect your most basic self? How many have been ones you assumed because that’s what was expected? Which of these roles have you outgrown? Which of these roles do you continue to fake? Do you like your costars? How would it feel if conditions changed such that you no longer were needed to play that part?

What would you do instead?

What first step might you take to get there?


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