Posts Tagged ‘courage’

Tolerating Ambiguity

December 12, 2013

I’m one of those people who loves getting things done. I mean I love it; I get a visceral pleasure each time I cross a task off my list or accomplish a goal. Which is why my current situation is tremendously challenging for me, what with having so much unsettled and undone in my life. The uncertainty that surrounds questions such as employment, income generation, relationship status, and life direction haunts my thoughts. I don’t have the first clue as to how I go about answering any of the above. Which brings me to the question I now pose to you: how do you handle ambiguity in your life?

As Re-booters, we recognize enough to know that much of life lies beyond our control. For some of us (like me), this is a source of great concern; wiser and more well-adapted others recognize the reality of this state of affairs and let it ride. They go with the flow. They build into their calculations the fact that not all “I”s will be dotted or “T”s crossed. Hmm. I wish I were more like our more sanguine brethren. Where do you fall along this anxiety-generating spectrum?

Tolerating such flux requires a great deal of courage and belief in oneself. Even if we don’t have all the answers, Re-booters manage to maintain a level of resilience that serves as a life preserver in a rolling sea. I have to remind myself of this on a continual basis—I’d far rather be negotiating such unknown currents than be one of the many who find change and the unknown so frightening that they’d rather cling to whatever (dysfunctional) “known” they have than plunge into the shadowy depths. In fact, I can think of myriad examples of people I know who remain mired in situations (professional or personal) that no longer serve them because the specter of starting over is so petrifying. They don’t know what they’d do, how they’d get started, or if they’d “survive” in a new setting—I’m sympathetic. While the terrors presented by such scenarios are intimidating, the truth is that we’ve created something far, far worse in our minds than whatever reality is likely to dole out. At times such as these, we need to remind ourselves that our fears are products of our overactive imaginations, simply because we lack the Road Map To Our Future presented to us on a carved tablet, by angels descending from Heaven.

I’ve got some news for you, kids: the tablet is there, but our discovery of such will not involve Caravaggio’s angels. Instead, we’ve got to be willing to search around a little, reconsider previously dismissed talents, skills, and interests. Alas, as much as I have pleaded for some clear direction in my life, what I’ve received, instead, are a couple of persistent, low grade nudges. No trumpets. No lightning bolts. And no guarantee of success. But, here’s the encouraging part—despite all this, I still know I’m better off than I was four miserable years ago. Even now, with all this struggle and discouragement and obstacles in my way, I feel better equipped and stronger than I did when my life appeared to be far more promising and “successful.” And I ain’t blowing smoke when I say this. I am taking the time and trouble to share this with you as a means of encouragement! You are strong enough to take the step you’ve been fantasizing about. What is the change in your life that you wish for most? I want you to compare yourself to someone you know who has lived their life in fear. Don’t you feel sad for them? Don’t you imagine it could’ve been different for them if they’d only summoned the courage to try?

Now, get to it. I’m sure you’ve got tasks to cross off that list, goals to achieve…



The Current Value of an Old Tub

February 12, 2013

One of the challenges of massive, structural change—whether societal or personal—is the temptation to sweep away everything from the old order: the baby, the bathwater, and the tub itself. Caught up in the adrenalin necessary to push forward such upheaval, we sometimes minimize the value of everything and anything that came before in order to summon the nerve.


At times, the spectre of change is so scary that those engaged in it must work themselves into a lather rejecting everything about their prior lives.

Down with bathtubs! Who needs hygiene? If I smell that’s your problem—you’re trying to repress my natural expression of Who I Am. No more baths.


Free To Be You And Me.


I understand the impulse to start with a clean slate; it’s a lot easier to begin anew rather than find a way to incorporate valuable prior ways into a not-quite-formulated approach. Things that are known have track records that are easily criticized. But flaws, failures, and long running imperfections don’t make things automatically worth abandoning. You have flaws and failures, are you worth abandoning? No, of course not!


So, how do we summon the courage to alter our lives in order to create the existence we desire while retaining traditional elements that have nourished us, added value to our lives, and evoked our strengths? This is no small question, my friends. Oftentimes, it’s easier and less painful to draw a hard psychological or emotional line and pledge that, “everything will be different.” This utopian vision of what our future promises is simplistic and false. Simplistic, because no matter what direction we steer towards, there will always be complications and difficulties. False because utopia assumes no residual history—the presumption that the past won’t taint the present. When have you ever known this to be the case?


Now, back to that baby and the bathwater. As a Re-booter, I know all too well what it’s like to hate the life you’re leading and to feel absolutely desperate for change. This is an extreme position to find yourself in, and while I hope it never gets that bad for you, we all experience something on this continuum. The impulse is to run away, hide, and never look back—but this is a fantasy and one that really doesn’t serve our interests because our current existence has current value! There are elements that will serve us well should we carry them forward. And, if we were to admit it, gadding about smelling up the joint probably isn’t what we really want.


My point is this: while it’s all very exciting and necessary to see oneself as a revolutionary when contemplating big change, the utopian vision that generally accompanies such effort ignores the positives of what currently exists. The tub, the water, the social contract not to offend others—these all serve constructive purposes. It’s far less fun to deconstruct the bathroom so that you might soberly  re-use the lumber and plumbing than it is to set the whole thing on fire and dance wildly about, but what’s going to serve your long term interests better?


As you go about considering change in your own life, I suggest that you reflect upon those bits that most bother you and see if you might parse out some useful elements that might serve you well post-change. They are there; you can see them. Acknowledging their positive qualities may feel somewhat irksome to you right about now, but your feelings shouldn’t take precedence over good sense.

Going Forward Values: Where Do You Want to Go?

January 29, 2013

Recently, I attended a conference where one of the main themes discussed was how important it is to present your ideas in a positive manner:  instead of setting out all the reasons another idea is bad, it’s way more attractive and persuasive to approach a concept from the positive. What makes your suggestion so terrific? Why is it the “right” way to go?


I have been prone to identifying the things that I don’t like or have problems with, and using this as my starting point. Perceiving life as if it were a giant game of elimination, “I won’t do this. I refuse to be with a person who does that. Spending all day with people who engage in X is my idea of hell.” Well, you get the picture. Except, this sort of deductive reasoning gets me very little other than feeling grumpy.


As Re-booters, we need to be moving towards something. We have tested out enough of the negative orientation philosophy to realize that knowing what you don’t like doesn’t move you any appreciable distance closer to what you do. It’s far easier to tear down another person’s offerings than to build up those of your own; folks who throw stones get very little accomplished, which may explain why some people prefer to cast aspersions—it’s easier. If you bleat and kvetch loudly enough, people will be so busy reacting to your whines that they won’t have the presence of mind to ask you for an alternative solution.


Sorting out what you do want requires honesty, energy, and careful thought. Maybe you (gasp!) want something other than what you’ve been told to want! Courage is required when you reach a point where you’re willing to announce your ideas or preferences to others, because they may decide now’s the perfect time to tear your ideas down.  For me, another challenge related to being clear about what I want is the fear that if I confess (to myself or others) that I want X, I fret about the fact that wanting X means forgoing Y. I hate narrowing my options, because what if I change my mind? What if it turns out that Y is really better for me than X? Isn’t it safer to keep as many possibilities on the table as possible? And one way to do this is to focus my attention on the things I know I don’t like, instead of what I do.


Does what I’m saying make sense?


The thing is this: as a Re-booter, what I know is that choosing to focus my efforts on what I want is the only way I’ll ever achieve that goal! What do you want? What is it that attracts you? What is it you’ve always held a secret interest in? What if you took a few steps towards learning a little bit more about that thing? Is it truly likely that others will ridicule you and condemn you for exploring this path? And, if they do, are they people you want to allow to hold that much sway over you?


I, too, cringe at the prospect of being judged or disapproved of for pursuing particular interests, but I remind myself that I’m probably overblowing other people’s reactions AND maybe, just maybe, it’s even good for me to withstand the censure of others—if for no other reason than to prove to myself that I can live happily without a 100% approval rating. Such interests can range from gun collecting to nail art, from politics to beanie babies, from becoming a wig master to going to college. Different people condemn different interests, but don’t let that stop you from pursuing yours. Re-booters move forward with their lives; they have something they are going towards; they are enthusiastic about a positive plan.


As I’ve written before, you don’t get in a cab and say, “Well, I don’t want to go to the zoo.” Where do you want to go?

Revisiting our past, reunion style

May 31, 2012

Here in Northwest DC, late spring is a season of budding flowers, gentle breezes, and class reunions. Ah, yes, the class reunion. We all know it; we’ve all been to at least one, and often, it can be like enduring puberty yet again. For some, a delightful romp, for others, not so much. Without fail, a snarky classmate attends but then refuses to speak to anyone. And, of course, there is always the Classmate Who Surprises.


Come on, you know who I’m talking about. The classmate nobody would’ve guessed to be any way other than A turns out to be Z. He or she reveals their true colors that are as much a revelation as a mystery: how could we have missed the signs? Our eyes search the room, desperate to find acknowledgement from someone else who is as surprised as we by the glory on display.


One prime example comes immediately to mind: a demure, tiny brunette who few in my class paid attention to returns 25 years later as a platinum blond body builder. For our updated class yearbook, she submitted a studio portrait of herself flexing in an orange bikini, holding her naked infant. Wow. I admire her confidence.


And then there’s the classmate who received a doctorate in Renaissance medical techniques and now “consults” with the US Navy. Undoubtedly, she must spend much of her time in undisclosed locations on an atoll in the South Pacific where the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply.


Or there’s the time when we knock on the door of the home where the Big Party is being held, only to introduce ourselves to our classmate hostess who’s had so much plastic surgery to render her unrecognizable. Awkward.


Alumnae magazine updates may be less personal, but when I read entries of our peers who write to inform the rest of us about the benefits of adhering to some humble yet righteous diet while recording soon-to-be-lost native lullabies sung in war zones or those who have created an entire cottage industry as a certified psychic or life coach, well, reports like these make me want to crawl under my twin sized bed and stay there.


Why don’t these updates say something more like, “I finally married a straight guy who has held onto the same job for the past five years and knows how to change a tire.” Or perhaps, “Having recently been fired, I am relieved to be gone and am now happily working as a telemarketer.” Where are these entries?


Personally, I would be relieved to read something honest like that than the sort of dreck that regularly gets published. And I know I’m not alone. When I once made a little noise about the type of entries that get printed, it was patiently explained to me that schools never publish such updates because it might “hurt the brand.”


It takes a lot of courage to return to our old stomping grounds and subject ourselves to the scrutiny of peers, but overall, most of the time, it’s life affirming. Either you’re glad you didn’t wind up like X or you’re elated to discover that Y has come into her own. The thing that’s so nice about returning to a place where we share the same vocabulary is that, even though we may no longer speak the same language, that touchstone reminds us how far we’ve come.

Crisis Management

May 15, 2012

Isn’t there some Chinese symbol for crisis that means challenge and opportunity? Well, I think about that a lot these days. Part of the business of re-booting my life involves both—all day, everyday.


When I’ve talked about this transition I’m going through, some friends have sighed and told me how lucky I am, how they know loads of people who would kill for the opportunity to re-boot their life. Others have stared at me wide-eyed over lunch and said, “Wow! You’re really brave to try to start out all over again!”


Both statements are equally true: I am brave and I am lucky. While my particular re-booting journey is dramatic—uprooting myself from the place where I lived out my early adult years with family and friends, moving across the country without a job, and settling into my childhood room–I believe that each one of us has the chance to re-boot over the course of our life. What’s required is the courage and determination to make some change–whether it’s a more private, internal transformation such as a conscious shift in perspective as to how we think of ourselves or how we choose to react to the world around us or an externally obvious shift like changes in living situations, careers, or lifestyle.


It doesn’t really matter what the possible adjustment is as long as we take responsibility for what we choose to do about it. As terrifying as change can feel, when I think back to people I’ve known who were too afraid to change, too set in their ways to withstand the excruciating agonies change can mandate, or who were simply too tired to deal with the pushback they’d get from others should they try, well, it makes me sad.


There are lots of valid reasons not to change—valid, not good. You don’t want to anger your children or lose half your assets to a spouse you no longer want to be with, so you stay. You’ve got so much invested in a job you’ve hated for years, so you grit your teeth and hold on. You can’t imagine that there might be anything better “out there” waiting—you’re too old or not bright enough or have serious doubts anyone would help you along the way. So you defer indefinitely.


To feel better you tell yourself, “I believe in the sanctity of marriage.” “I’ve come so close on the XYZ initiative, if I left now all that hard work would be for nothing.” “I can stand it for a few more years and then we’ll see.” “I owe it to them to be here.” You hide by burying yourself in so much activity that you don’t have time to reflect. “I’m too busy to think about being happy.” You remind yourself that it’s more important to be responsible than to be fulfilled. And the you who is you, deep down, dies a little.


I argue with none of this. It’s all valid, it’s all responsible, but it’s also cowardly. I know because I’m a coward, too. Nobody likes change—certainly not the sort that has no guaranteed happy ending, and certainly not change that involves a seemingly unlimited duration of instability and unknowns.


But that’s where opportunity comes in, my friends. That’s where the freedom and the chance to make life as you really want it enters the picture.  What this requires is for you to have enough faith in yourself to get out of bed each morning, take a deep breath, and just try. Nobody else is going to give it to you; nobody else can. If you’re restless or unhappy, it’s up to you to figure this out. Please, please don’t hide behind whatever handy construct is available.


Life is about showing up.


I think about that Chinese symbol, and convince myself to take that first step each morning.

What about you?

10 Things to Ask Yourself When Re-booting Your Life

May 9, 2012

I thought I’d share with you some of the tools that have helped me as I’ve been making this transition in my life. For me, it helps to write things down, to see them in black and white as opposed to the jumble of emotion, images and thoughts that can swirl together in my head. The thing about re-booting is that prior to that point where the screen goes black, you need to decide whether or not you’re going to push that off button. Here’s my version of what to do before you make that choice.

  1. What sort of change do I feel I need to make?
  2. Why do I think I need to change things?
  3. How might others be directly impacted by my making this change?
  4. Am I prepared to handle the fallout?
  5. Am I prepared to handle the uncertainty that accompanies any change?
  6. Realistically (and this is the hard part), what’s the worst that can happen?
  7. Could it really be that bad?
  8. What amazing things might happen if I did make this change?
  9. How would I feel about myself if I decided to stick with the way things are?
  10. Do I believe in myself enough to try?

(Bonus question: what assumptions am I making as I answer these? Are those assumptions true or fair?)

Without fail, change enters all of our lives—some we choose, some we do not. Change can bring the end of many bad things: bad jobs, bad relationships, bad health, so there’s a lot about change that we can happily embrace!

Often, though, change presents itself at an “inconvenient” time. We don’t always get to choose when change happens, just like we don’t always get to choose when to have a baby or when to do something else we’re not entirely sure we want to do. But, if we wait for the “right” time, that time might never come.

So, as you go about mulling over what it is that you’re dissatisfied with in your life or what it is that you’ve had a nagging urge to try, ask yourself the above questions. Ask yourself to answer them, in writing, first thing every morning for five days in a row. Quick answers, don’t think too much. Don’t do this when you’re feeling miserable about your life, wait until you’re in a decent mood to begin. Then go.

Try it. Take a breath, trust yourself, and be brave enough to ask.

If you have any additional questions you find helpful, I’d love to hear them–this is an ongoing thing for me.

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