Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Blog Relocation Reminder

January 7, 2016

Just a friendly reminder to all old DR followers, I’ve switched sites and changed names for this rebooting blog! You can find my latest post at the following  link:

http://www.chrisannawaldrop.com/rounding-fourth-and-knowing-how-we-got-there/

2016: Brand New Year, Brand New Blog

January 5, 2016

So, here we are kicking off 2016! This will be the start of so many new and exciting adventures for all of us re-booters, including the fact that, as of today, I am renaming (and relocating) my blog. Dignitary’s Retreat is being officially retired and I’m switching over to “Rebooting a Life” as my new handle. (When you get to the blog page, click on the title and you’ll get the entire post, otherwise, you just read a squib.) I’m getting my act organized and have created a personal website as well as decided on a name for this blog that accurately reflects what it’s about! I hope you’ll come along for this revamped ride and follow me there…

http://www.chrisannawaldrop.com/2016-brand-new-year-brand-new-blog/

Finding Our Way Back Home

December 17, 2015

With Christmas just around the corner, a lot of us will be traveling hither and yon to join family or friends for the holidays—I among them. This retracing of steps is fraught with bittersweet memories and a certain amount of anticipation, whether or not we imagine it to be the “holiday of our dreams.” (Ha ha, as if…) But the concept of finding our way back home expands much, much further than simply a fixed geographical or genealogical destination. In fact, if truth be told for many of us, we find ourselves at “home” in the oddest or least likely of circumstances, completely upending our expectations of where or who or what might bring us closer to who we are deep within.

 

Of course, it’s also fully possible that we respond to a variety of different settings or types of people as “home.” We each have more than one side to our personalities and different contexts evoke different, equally legitimate parts of ourselves. For example, there is a definite part of me that will always be someone from Washington—the city imprinted on my brain from the start and will never fade. But, then, there’s another aspect who seeks refuge in a totally relaxed and non-competitive setting, which I often find in the hills of Tennessee or the beaches of Santa Barbara. It’s not that those snarky elements don’t exist there, it’s more that I am somehow far more immune to them than when I’m back in DC.

 

What places speak to you? What settings resonate with the different parts of who you are? Can you explain it?

 

But beyond physical locations, what fascinates me the most about this topic of feeling at home is the unexpected people we meet who make us feel that way. This is what I love most about life, crossing paths with others we’ve never imagined were “out there” or who, on paper, don’t seem like the sort that would float our boat—but then they do, big time! Isn’t it exciting when that happens? When was the last time this happened to you? What puzzles me is when people I know say that there isn’t “anyone new to meet” or that they have enough friends. What? I’ve never understood either of those attitudes because, to me, one can never have enough friends and interesting people are everywhere, simply waiting to be discovered.

 

This concept of finding our way home is the crux of re-booting. Finding that place, occupation, or person who mirrors who we feel we are is a powerful experience and critically important to leading a fully realized life. As I type these words, I think of a man I’ve known forever who has always seemed discomfited by his own skin. While we used to play together as kids, I hardly know him as an adult; but the last time we crossed paths, he seemed as displaced as ever. I don’t know why that is, but it has been a consistent theme in his life ever since he was a little boy. It makes me sad for him.

 

Where do you feel displaced? Who have you met in your life who has developed into a kindred spirit? Does it come as a bit of a surprise that this particular individual would play such a role? Have you welcomed them into your life or do you hold them at arm’s length because somehow they don’t fit with your image of what your “home” team crowd should look like?

 

The regrettable truth is that sometimes we fight what feels right to us because it conflicts with our rigid ideas of who we are, the crowd we keep, or the places and activities we’re supposed to enjoy. I bet you know what I’m talking about… “If I like X, what will Y think? What will that say about me?” we wonder to ourselves. Crossing that Rubicon of who we have always thought ourselves to be, or wanted to be, in order to relax sufficiently to go with the (unexpected) flow requires courage and flexibility. Are those qualities you possess? If you’re bothering to read this blog, my guess is you do!

 

So, back to that highland, cross country jaunt so many of us are gearing up to take. In one form or another—particularly during the holiday season–we each must confront what “coming home” means to us. Perhaps the first step is to be more accepting that where we are now doesn’t have to be perfect, that it’s ok if we feel slightly out of place. Why do I say that? Because these are data points, important clues to what is going on internally… So, your final homework assignment for the year is to check in with yourself as you proceed through these next two weeks and see what feels right and true and honest as well as what feels forced or somehow out of kilter. They’re data points—that’s all they are.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, everyone!

I’ll be back with more re-booting twists and turns come 2016…

Xmas tree

 

 

Behold the Meniscus!

December 15, 2015

martini

There’s that sweet spot in any enjoyable activity where we are getting close to the end and must ask ourselves, “Do I want to take this further?” That tipping point between the delicious elixir of indulgence versus taking something just a tad too far has always been difficult for me to navigate. (I’m a hedonist at heart—figures for a Taurus.) Although not historically developed as a drinking term, I’ve been introduced to the concept of the meniscus of the martini, that spectacular convergence at the bottom of the glass of the salt, vermouth, gin, and olive which melds into one delightful last, savory sip.

 

It is at this moment a decision must be made.

 

How far do we take our warm fuzzy feelings before we get ourselves into trouble? I’m not just talking about cocktails here, folks, this applies to anything where we risk becoming overly enthused. Now, I am all for being exuberant—truly—but I’ve learned over the years that not everyone shares the same enthusiasms, so sometimes its wiser to keep them to myself. It serves a re-booter well to be more measured in his or her response despite whatever internal instincts exist. The reason I say so is that our emotions can’t be trusted. What we feel, we feel intensely in the moment, and this reaction may not be proportionate to what the situations merits whether that be love, fury, disappointment, confusion, hope, malaise, depression, or anything else that occurs to you. Losing ourselves in that headspace may make us feel alive (sort of) but it’s a false high.

 

When was the last time you took something too far? (Just the fact that can remember indicates what a powerful life lesson this can be.)

 

This concept interests me because there are so many elements of a mature adult’s life that are…measured, responsible, middle of the road, and even mind numbingly neutral. You may disagree, but to me, life should be more than a flat line event—and I’m so not into drama—but negotiating that tightrope between keeping ourselves in check and enjoying the occasional rush that comes with certain interactions or events or activities is not always clear cut. Having lived a life where I have exercised an astounding amount of discipline in many, many facets of my life, I will confess to you that I often wonder how much I’ve missed out on because I didn’t do something, I remained in control, I bypassed the risk. And risk is what re-booting is all about.

 

Have your habits of self control and discipline somehow gotten in the way of living your life more fully realized?

 

The converse of this, of course, is taking something too far and we’ve all done that, too. We fell head over heels in love with the potential of a person as opposed to the individual standing before us. We persuaded ourselves that, this time, the venture would work because we so desperately wanted to be right. We ignored the red flags or figured we could say what we wanted and it wouldn’t hurt anybody, anyway. Or, perhaps, we ordered up that next martini and finished it when we should’ve stopped half way…

 

There are no ready answers to the question I am posing in today’s post. Sometimes we go too far and others we don’t go far enough, but with each instance, I believe there is that magical sweet spot to be discovered. Re-booting encourages us to refine our skills sufficiently to be aware of this and to recognize it when it happens. So, here I am toasting you on your re-booting journey. Skol!

 

 

 

 

Finding a Path Through the Chaos

November 17, 2015

I don’t often write about current events because it can get political which distracts from the universal quality of the re-booting experience, but today I am. One of the most salient characteristics of a re-booter is the effort we make to maintain perspective and continue to feel hopeful about life. Some days that’s easier to do than others. So much has happened in the last week that my thoughts are muddled—none of it to me, personally, but all of it impacting how I feel, making me wonder whether the world is spinning out of control. The struggle to maintain a common sense balance when part of us teeters on the brink of overwhelm is something we all understand. What is the point of fretting over developments about which we have no control, and yet, their import weighs on us, clouding our days.

 

What should do we do?

 

Ranging from personal to global matters, over the past week, I feel as though I’ve withstood a series of body blows. I’ve watched as my dad struggles with his sadness over friends who have died or are hospitalized for long durations. The cold wind of aging frightens him and I stand by as his capabilities to manage life become less robust. Then, there’s the quagmire of conflicting beliefs, allegations, and knee jerk responses that has hijacked higher education as illustrated by events unfolding at the University of Missouri and Yale. The debates swirling around about freedom of speech versus creating a “safe space” arise from the litany of grievance and identity politics is strangling so much of this nation, creating a distraction from the business of governance, learning, and the exercise of critical thinking. People in Syria and Afghanistan have reason to worry about finding a safe space, not kids on university campuses. I know, first hand, how these bouts of righteous indignation devolve into scream fests of hyperbole, hate, and overreaction. And then, of course, there’s the murder of all those poor people in Paris who were simply enjoying a Friday night, living their lives. My heart breaks at this tragedy.

 

The pace at which life can move leaves us gasping for air, hoping we misheard.

 

In an effort to regain proportion, I remind myself that it does nobody any good to sit around feeling despondent and helpless. Our kids take their cues from us, watching what we do, how we behave during troubled and confusing times. What are you modeling for them?

 

In my quest to retain perspective, I remind myself that we live in a world where news travels in a flash makes everything feel that much more immediate, but the truth remains that most people in Paris are alive and well. It’s also true that for as much as college students appear to be pampered, politically correct, whiny babies, not all of them are. Eventually, they will step into the world and, at some point, grow to realize that reality isn’t much interested in whether or not their very particular sensitivities are attended to and that they can rise above the onslaught of disappointment or insults which all of us experience at one time or another. Perhaps they may even get to a point as to see these struggles as a proving ground of sorts, preparing them to withstand the rigors of the real world. And thirdly, I remind myself that as sobering and lonely as it must be to watch friends and peers succumb to the mortal coil, it is the guaranteed end of all our journeys. Besides, my dad is not alone. I am by his side to help, to cheer, and to distract. Re-booters recognize the irony of the fact that each previous generation feared the world was going to hell in a hand basket, and yet, here we are—making discoveries, babies, and laughter where we can…

 

I think that’s the best we can do. That and pray.

 

 

A Re-booter’s Reconsideration of Hardship

November 12, 2015
Every hardship has a positive buried within

Every hardship has a positive buried within

November always feels like such a “homey” month, doesn’t it? Between the brilliance of the changing leaves, the kids’ sporting events well underway, and clear, cold nights we marvel at how time speeds along, reminding us the end of the year is nigh. Looking up from the long list of tasks that need attending to as the holidays bear down, it’s useful to dedicate a few moments to consider our immediate difficulties and enumerate the good things that come from them. It may not make sense to recommend such an inventory, but even in hardship, we can find good. This is well worth remembering as we rapidly approach this emotionally fraught time of year.

Having a positive frame of reference (especially when life starts to feel burdensome) makes our loads lighter. You’ve heard this before, but it bears repeating because certain insights only come to us after we’ve spent time reconsidering how we perceive them. Say for instance, you’re unemployed, retired, or are on an extended hiatus due to illness. On many fronts this can feel terrible, but a break in routine enables you to regroup, possibly relax, reevaluate what you’re doing, and presents an opportunity for you to strike out in a new direction. Undergoing this process is that much harder to do when you’re exhausted or consumed with deadlines and inventory. Think of it as a gestation period.

Alas, I am keenly familiar with the excruciating discomfort that can arise when we feel caught in-between. It’s terrible to feel adrift, without a clear purpose. What’s my identity now? But what we tend to forget is that not all good ideas can be birthed when we’re frantic or drained. “I’m too responsible to make a change,” we mope, nearly catatonic as we stare at the tv with our half finished beer. Have you ever found yourself in such straits? Do you recall that feeling of resignation or helplessness? Did you do anything about it? How many people have you known who are simply spinning their wheels, impatient to break free but terrified of what’s required to do so? I was one of them

My point in today’s post is to consider some of the aspects of your life which are hard and reflect upon the positives that spring out of them. This doesn’t mean that the positive outweigh the negative, but is intended to cultivate a more reasoned, less emotional perspective so you can make better choices. It’s far less “fun” to be sensible than emotional about matters that strike close to home, but this is part of maturity—you know this! (A big problem in today’s society is the celebration of emotionalism we see all around us.)

Re-booting requires us to reconsider everything. What we previously consigned so readily into good or bad, now appears to have greater nuance. Maybe it’s not the end of the world that you got fired. Maybe getting older actually brings with it certain advantages, releasing us from certain expectations. Maybe dating in mid-life isn’t as fraught with heart rending rejection as it was when we were younger because we actually know more now. Maybe we’re far enough in life to recognize that having a relationship end is not the end of the world.

Ordinarily, any of these events could reasonably be categorized as distressing and sad, and I don’t mean to imply that they aren’t. But, what I’m saying is that they’re more than that. Just the other day, I was torturing myself that it was “too late for me.” I’ve missed the boat in so many ways as to render my life perplexingly pathetic and sad. I should just accept my sad little fate. But then, I reminded myself of all the things I get to do, all the burdens I don’t have, and just how much I’ve changed over the last five years. How miserable I’d be if I’d remained in my old life. And then I felt better…

While it’s a certainty that nobody is going to point to me as a shining example of someone who’s got life by the tail, I suppose that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m a lot farther ahead than I was and while it’s been a long, rough road for me, these years in the wilderness have enabled me to reconsider my priorities, rehabilitate certain relationships, and explore my writing on a serious basis. The fact that I can’t list those things on Linked In or anywhere else doesn’t lessen their importance, buoying me up when I feel down.

This is what I want for you.

This is why you need to take some quiet time today to reflect upon the positives of your very trying situation. I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t work to change where you are, but I want you to give credit to the positives that do exist. We always have more than we lack. Always.

Now that You Know More, Would You Do It Anyway?

November 10, 2015

As indefatigable optimists, re-booters strive to improve our attitudes, techniques, and approaches, using past mistakes as a basis upon which to learn. And, as any re-booter knows, we get things wrong all the time. People zig when we knew they’d zag. We take wild risks, underestimate the significance of the random rumblings of others, and look for confirmation of our expectations rather than watch for signs of deviation. Everybody does this. When we screw up, get it wrong, or are left dumbstruck by the actions of another, in hindsight, it’s usually straightforward to weave the narrative together. “Oh,” we mutter, “now, I see. Huh. I guess I should’ve realized … If only I’d known, I would’ve done it differently.” Maybe yes, maybe no.

Any of this sound familiar?

The thing about hindsight is that having more or better information doesn’t mean that we would’ve made a different choice. Knowing in advance that your boss is an irredeemable asshole doesn’t mean you’d be any less shocked when they turn their guns on you. There are some things we just can’t bring ourselves to admit because what happens afterwards is so awful to contemplate. I guess what I’m trying to posit is that information has its limits in terms of influencing our decisions. Repeatedly, I am astonished by the murky, counter-intuitive depths of the human psyche. How much of our obtuseness is naiveté and how much is willful blindness?

The topic of intelligence failures and whether or not more knowledge would’ve made any difference is the subject of today’s post. All too often, we say to ourselves, “If only I had known…” Yeah right. That’s what we tell ourselves, but even we can’t be fooled all the time. Sometimes knowing more information not only would not have changed the outcome, it would’ve made everything harder. That’s an odd thing to say, isn’t it? Having more knowledge doesn’t always enhance our position or alter our choices. Sometimes, we’d do it anyway, even knowing as much as we do today. Huh. We are a reckless random bunch, we hominids.

These days, I am wading my way through a dense (and recently declassified) report on intelligence failures using the fall of the Shah of Iran and the allegations of WMDs as case studies. It’s a fascinating read in which the author deconstructs the flow of intelligence and why certain developments were ignored or glossed over. To me, such breakdowns in understanding have as much relevance to our personal lives as they do for the US Government.

People are almost always too slow to take account of new information…sudden and dramatic events have more impact on people’s beliefs than do those that unfold more slowly…. people can assimilate each small bit of information to their beliefs without being forced to reconsider the validity of their basic premises. They become accustomed to a certain amount of information which conflicts with their beliefs without appreciating the degree to which it really clashes with what they think.”

In his text, the author stresses the critical importance of considering alternative explanations, arguing that doing so leads to overall better analysis even if the conclusion remains the same. In other words, spending the time and energy to speculate what else might explain why something happened probably won’t change your overall conclusion, but what it will do is make that conclusion that much more solid because you’ve actually thought it through. For instance, there are going to be several ways to explain why your spouse is gone every Saturday. Taking the time and trouble to run through these possibilities gives you a more reasoned and thoughtful basis for your assessment.

Does any of what I am saying make sense?

Years ago, had I subjected my own situation to this sort of scrutiny, I would’ve been uncomfortably aware that the odds of X happening were far higher than I told myself—which is precisely why I didn’t do so. I was afraid. I was naïve. I didn’t want to deal with the implications of drawing such a conclusion. And, I might have been wrong. Instead, I opted for the Slow Boil School of Frog Cooking.

Of course, it’s always easier to see patterns and problems when we have some distance from the situation—which was precisely what the analysts didn’t have when it came to reporting about the health of the Shah’s regime. There were too few analysts with too much to do and they had neither the time nor the institutional incentive to sit back and provide some analysis of what was happening–which is why so few alarm bells were sounded in the summer of 1978. Afterwards, it was too late.

So, too, with you. You’re swamped with car pools and deadlines and payrolls to meet. You know you’ve been stressed, so it’s likely that whatever little hiccup occurred last night has to do with momentary thoughtlessness on your (or their) part. Put it behind you, it’s not important…Re-read that quote I cited above.

Does this apply to you?

I haven’t finished my Intelligence Failures book yet, but it’s certainly got me thinking. Would I have stayed where I was for as long as I did if I’d known what was coming? I still don’t know. I still can’t answer. It’s sobering to subject ourselves to such scrutiny and realize we wouldn’t have made any different decisions—especially when the end result was so agonizing. Fatalism is not what I’m driving at in this post. And many times, we’re set on a path and there’s no way around it. But, what can we do with our greater base of knowledge today to avoid similar situations in the future? How can minimize our own intelligence failures from here on out?

When Your Experience Gets in the Way

November 5, 2015

Seeking a distraction from my relentless ruminations about the Rest of My Life, I turned on the boob tube to find Titanic playing. Although I was far too old to get swept away in the adolescent wave of enthusiasm for the 1997 film, it’s sufficiently well acted that I decided to watch it rather than flick through a hundred other channels with nothing on. Depending on my mindset, different things about movies catch my attention–this time, it was an observation about the ship’s captain. “26 years of experience working against him. He figures anything big enough to sink the ship they’re gonna see in time to turn. The ship’s too big with too small a rudder. It doesn’t corner worth a damn. Everything he knows is wrong.”

As we all know, Captain Smith’s realization came too late, resulting in deadly consequences. As soon as I heard that piece of dialogue, I knew I had the makings of a blog post exploring the nature of risk and desire versus caution and humility. Experience, confidence, ambition, and arrogance are so often intertwined and can lead to both wonderful and disastrous results. All we can do is our best, but humanity is rife with stories on both sides of this weighty equation which is what makes considering it so interesting…

The older we get, the more unlikely it is that we’ll challenge what our experience tells us. Life is far too complicated and moves at far too fast a pace for it to be practical to dedicate time to double checking our knowledge base or asking ourselves what might be different in this particular case, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try. Feeling under the gun and embracing a certain amount of confident laziness, we reasonably rely on what’s worked before, often overriding any warnings that flash in our gut. If we held back in every instance, we’d never get anywhere, right? Right. It’ll probably all work out just fine…

And usually it does.

The reason I am drawn to this as a re-booting topic is because we need to recognize that sometimes shifts occur for no explainable reason. (This isn’t a direct analogy to poor Captain Smith but stick with me.) Let me give some examples. Let’s say your relationship is going along, status quo, as it always has, but one day the sand shifts–the easy going energy between the two of you disappears, replaced by an odd tension you don’t initially recognize. Something is off, but maybe it’s just you. So you ignore it. The problem is that relying on your “tried and true” problem solving skillsets won’t help you here but that possibility doesn’t occur to you, so you try them again. And again. Like Captain Smith relying on the watch to see the ice bergs and believing his rudder will do its job.

Where have you plowed ahead, crashing spectacularly, unable to use any of your previously successful rescue moves?

In my life, I always relied on the fact that honesty, capability, and hard work would be rewarded. It was a solid belief and worked all the way up until the moment it didn’t. And when that moment came, I was utterly unprepared. I couldn’t believe it. Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that this formula wouldn’t pay dividends, so when I crashed into reality, I had the wind knocked out of my lungs good and proper. I couldn’t breathe. I had no back up strategies on which to rely.

Fortunately, unlike the ill-fated Captain Smith, most of us can find a way to stay afloat, however much we feel like drowning. But it takes time to understand what’s happened. It takes time to realize we were spectacularly wrong—even if all the times before we’d been proven right.

How do you prepare for moments such as this?

You don’t. At least not the first time. It’s a cold comfort for me to tell you that you can’t prepare to have your life turned upside down, I know. It’s deeply discomfiting to realize that those possibilities exist, but they do. And they’ll happen to each of us. I guess the best I can come up with is to try to be less arrogant and a bit more philosophical, trusting that we can improvise through the worst of whatever happens.

So, how does what I’m saying fit in with the arrogance vs. confidence equation? After all, nobody wants a philosophical airline pilot or surgeon! I guess what I’d say is that the occasions in which our lives or most fundamental understandings of what our lives will/should be like get turned inside out are rare. Most of the time, we’re ok to rely on our experience. Most of the time, some version of what’s worked before will work this time, too. But experience can weigh us down and limit our choices. We need to retain greater flexibility, be more fleet of foot, practice greater humility while not making us indecisive. Does any of what I’m saying make sense?

Could the tragedy of the Titanic have been avoided? Yes. Was Captain Smith contemptibly reckless for trying to break the Atlantic crossing record? No. Like distracted driving or leaving the kids in the pool for just a second while we dash inside to grab the phone, permanent consequences arise under otherwise normal conditions, changing our lives forever. I guess you can’t prepare, but it’s good to remain humble. There’s just so much we cannot know.

In this instance, everything he knew was wrong.

In this instance, everything he knew was wrong.

Rewriting History: The Dangers of Overcorrection

November 3, 2015

As we grow, our understanding of what happened to us changes. We gain more information. We develop a more sophisticated and nuanced perspective. We acquire greater sympathy for the other dramatis personae crossing the stage of our flawed lives. An evolution in character and maturity is typical for any adult with a modicum of curiosity and honest insight.

But what happens when we interact with individuals whose highest purpose is to present themselves in the most flattering light possible, no matter how far this takes them from the truth? How do we handle such blatant distortions?

As seen in too many Congressional hearings to count, politicians and bureaucrats are guided by the precept that truth is a flexible concept, a rough approximation of what happened. More often than not, history is written by the victor, so certain inconvenient facts may be glossed over or eliminated. Unsurprisingly, we’ve all done this at one point or another. What becomes tricky for a re-booter is when our pursuit of an objective and fair an understanding collides with the wildly inaccurate but emphatic version someone else espouses. The closer they are to us, the trickier the situation becomes.

What do we do?

Do we speak up and correct them? Do we silently label them crazy or hard core liars? Do we bitterly complain to their shrink? Or, do we counsel ourselves that it doesn’t matter?

How have you handled such scenarios?

I have close, personal, and painful experience with self-serving tellers of revisionist history, which have left me feeling both flabbergasted and angry. But now that I’m neck deep in this re-booting business I force myself to question whether I might be casting the same series of events in an unfair or inaccurate manner. Whether there might be more room for deviation from the narrative than I have previously admitted. Such uncomfortable scrutiny is difficult, but doing so has brought with it certain advantages…

Because I recognize that I’m vulnerable to interpreting events in my own favor, asking myself these questions has resulted in slowing down my swift and clear condemnations of the other person. Instead of focusing my energies on what was said, I now look behind it to explore why this person said it, why they believe this is so. What is it about their version that helps reduce their anxiety? Their warped perspective serves a very particular purpose (usually related to minimizing all traces of their own responsibility).

For example, when my parents split up, my dad was furious, livid, claimed to be shocked and betrayed, and outright accused us kids of being Benedict Arnolds by supporting our mother in any capacity. He (along with my grandparents and extended family) held firm to this narrative for a good thirty years. They talked of family love and loyalty in the exacting and unforgiving terms of war—I’m not kidding. Words cannot express how awful it was and what a searing impact it has had on my life. One of the main reasons I returned to Washington has been to heal this rift.

These days, my father presents himself as nothing but sweetness and light. Conveniently for him, there is zero recollection of the single minded hatred and rage he perpetuated. No concept of the impacts his behavior had or the gasp inducing unkindnesses of what he used to say. None at all. Tabla rasa. While I am old enough and have had enough therapy to know that I am responsible for my choices and reactions to his behavior, there is a part of me that fumes at his revised self-portrait, blithely unaware of the long term consequences of his actions. To him, I’m just his perplexing but charming daughter who never managed to get married—never once even questioning whether or not his behavior might have something to do with the course I charted.

Of course, it’s wonderful that he now strives to be gentler, more patient, and supportive. All that’s very good and vastly preferable to the alternative. But it’s been done with zero recognition of how he was prior to this… At the end of the day, there’s nothing I can do about it; I’m certainly not going to stir up old resentments by disputing his version of what happened around the divorce—what constructive purpose would that serve? Just so I can witness him experiencing a few moments of devastating guilt before conveniently forgetting it all over again? No. I won’t go there. Not with him and not with others.

Instead, what I can do is 1) remind myself to watch for instances where I start weaving my own fantastical tales, 2) keep in mind that whatever I am hearing from someone else may not be a full picture, and 3) try my best not to get upset. When you think about it, these are pretty good takeaways.

So, where does this leave us in terms of our re-booting journey and today’s post?

Revising history happens to all of us—we are both its victims and its perpetrators. The best a re-booter can do is to strive to be aware of this danger, to have a mature sympathy for its practitioners, and to retain a humility about what it is we think we know. Even when the facts are accurately told, there’s always more to the story

Just how did that cloud get there? Is it a cloud at all?

Just how did that cloud get there? Is it a cloud at all?

What is it you truly want in your life?

October 29, 2015

A few days ago, I was minding my own beeswax at the gym when a man looked at me and after a few mild comments about stretching and flexibility asked, “What do you want?” It is probably one of the most extraordinary questions I’ve ever been asked by a stranger and launched a conversation that lasted nearly forty minutes. There we sat, side by side, exploring the conundrum of what it means to “want” something and how our wants change and the things we do to impede achieving our stated goals. This was followed by an exploration of when people say they want something but really don’t, or those who say they don’t want something but really do. Note to self: dirty hair and spandex do not appear to deter fantastic philosophical discussions.

What DO I want? How does one answer such a question? Did this fellow being a stranger give me greater license to be honest or less because I’ll probably run into him again? Do I tell him about my needs, my aspirations, or my most personal private wishes? Do I give him the equivalent of a shrug, mumbling something about: love, acceptance, contentment, purpose, and meaning? Have you had an honest conversation with yourself about what it is you truly want? This is the heart of the re-booting.

 

What do you want? Do you understand why you want it? When you do a gut-check, does wanting this make you afraid, excited, or both?

Long ago as a student, I was taught that when writing a research paper I needed to ask who, what, when, where, why, and what of it? Although mining the depths of our innermost psyches is far less straightforward, the five Ws present a framework that may be useful when figuring out what the hell it is we truly want and why, of all the various things we could choose, we want “this.”

Because it’s easy to wind up talking in circles when it comes to such a confusing and complicated topic, I’ll provide an example of the deductive reasoning involved:

  1. Why do/did you want to get married?
  2. Why do you want to marry X?
  3. What does being married to X represent to you? Is it an indicator of social status? Is it a vehicle for having children? Is it a financial decision? Is it a guarantee against loneliness? Or is your reason something else entirely?
  4. Why do you stay married?

Or the obverse of this line of inquiry:

  1. Why do you want to stay single? What makes it sufficiently preferable that you’re willing to forgo all the pleasurable aspects of steady companionship?

Any answer is fine. The point of this exercise is to gain clarity about why you’ve chosen these particular priorities. Take this line of inquiry and apply it to whatever is important to you–whether that’s your profession or your living situation or your outside activities. Why did you make these choices? Do these choices reflect what you truly wanted at the time or what you believed was important to achieve? Why was it so important to achieve this? And do these same goals continue to reflect what you want today? What we want changes as we evolve, mature, and grow—what you coveted in seventh grade is not the same as what you hanker for today (at least I hope not). (Truth be told, I look askance at anybody who claims they’ve retained the same priorities for decades. Life has changed all around them—haven’t they?)

Here’s an example from my life: I went to law school because I knew it was 1) a respected degree, 2) my favorite uncle was a lawyer, 3) I could always work for myself if need be, and 4) I was terrified of trying to find a job right out of college. I didn’t go to law school because I had some passionate interest in the law or thrilled at the idea of a future spent arguing about some arcane legal principle. What happened? In less than three years after graduating, I walked away from the practice of law, and in the subsequent twenty odd years have drifted further and further away from any semblance of a white collar, office-based career. While this choice feels deeply right, it has been a confusing struggle to get here. I continue to wrestle with my feelings about abandoning a prestigious-seeming career. However, I’ve set aside these more outer-oriented concerns in order to have the time and opportunity to do things more important to me: like repair my relationship with my dad and pursue my writing. Nobody else is going to care about what I do, but I care. And that’s enough.

Having laid out this example from my life, I want you to go back and ask yourself why you made the choices you did? Is studying to become a concert pianist a goal you pursued because you loved the piano so much or because someone thought it up for you? Are you a workaholic because you love your work so much or is it a way to avoid other obligations? What in your life is more about prestige or security versus arising out of a genuine and heartfelt interest? (Btw, it can be both, but it’s useful to get clear on your various personal agendas.)

That conversation with a stranger at the gym was invigorating. I love the fact that there are other people floating around asking themselves these sorts of questions and that they’re so interested that, every now and then, they’ll risk asking somebody else such a deeply personal and universal question. Which is what I’m doing here right now with you:

What do you want?


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