Posts Tagged ‘re-booters’

The Comeback Kid: Not Taking the Bait

October 7, 2015

Of course, everywhere and throughout the ages, humanity has been plagued with a particularly insufferable expression commonly identified as the know-it-all, but I believe that Washington DC has the market cornered on this particular phenotype. Nowhere is it likely to find the convergence of ambition, smarts, education, and insecurity that one stumbles across along Mass Ave, 17th or K Streets. Words such as pedantic, bloviating, and ridiculous spring easily to mind when dragooned into the Purgatory that can occur when attending a quasi-academic evening lecture in this town. The fact that know-it-alls are exasperating isn’t news to you or me, but my reaction points to just how much additional re-booting work I’ve left to do…

Case in point: last night, in an effort to diversify my social circles and possibly learn a thing or two, I trooped downtown to hear a lecture on US-China relations given by a former CIA guy. The crowd was not glittery but respectable—that usual Washington crowd consisting of slightly smelly reporters, earnest graduate students, and several elderly types who pretended they were there because they are so engaged with world events but who were really drawn by the promise of free food and wine. Overall, it seemed to me, it was a civilized affair that is until…

Somehow, I found myself talking to one of the free food guys who felt a need to impress upon me his lifelong passion and dedication to social and cultural justice. Perhaps it was the wine, perhaps it was hitting a saturation point of hearing too many similar speeches or running across too many people in love with their own moral superiority, but once this fellow (who wasn’t a day under sixty) explained to me, “When I was five, I asked my parents why China wasn’t sufficiently represented in the United Nations.” It was at this moment when I had HAD ENOUGH.

“Really?” I said. “You actually asked your parents this when you were five years old?”

“I did.”

“You were concerned about China’s place in the world?”

“Of course.”

“Hmm. I didn’t think about such things when I was five.”

The conversation went downhill from there. I expect he was sorely surprised and disappointed that I didn’t fall to my knees in admiration. Too bad allure didn’t work it’s magic—in this particular instance.

Now, here’s where the re-booting portion of today’s post comes in: I shouldn’t have taken the bait. I should’ve known enough and exercised sufficient discipline not to have allowed myself to get annoyed by this dingdong, let alone wasted the breath to challenge him on such matters. My doing so did not enhance our interaction and only resulted in both of us feeling significantly annoyed. In my defense, I will say that it is extremely hard to remain placid while tidal waves of bullshit crash onto my shores, but this is something a re-booter needs to master. The truth of the matter is, blowhards and annoying people will always surround us—whether at evening lectures or the workplace or even our own families. They are here to stay. It all comes back to being in charge of my reactions and not letting bullshit irritate me the way it did last night.

I ought to have known enough to keep my mouth shut. Speaking up accomplished nothing constructive. He wasn’t going to educate me and I wasn’t going to educate him, so there was really no point at all in having a comeback. What a dumb, dumb kid.

So why do we do this? Why do we feel the need to make a rebuttal in the face of such hopelessly irritating circumstances?

Growing up in a highly verbal and literary family, I fell in love with words (and advocacy) early. It was our currency; in fact, the adults used to call it “word salad.” What “word salad” means is you toss the words up into the (proverbial) air and see where they land, whether they hit their mark, that sort of thing. The faster and harder you could do it, the better. Looking back, I see now that such a philosophy may not be the best (although it trains one to make wonderful banter) because you’re not just exchanging words, you’re exchanging the energy behind the words. And that energy isn’t always helpful. Like last night, with Mr. Social Concern.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that while not everyone feels compelled to talk or to meet point with counter point, it is the sign of an accomplished re-booter to recognize and respect when circumstances are better served to remain MUTE—even when the person opposite has been infected with a case of verbal diarrhea. But my point goes beyond this because it’s not simply a matter of discipline, even more importantly it’s getting to a place where their behavior doesn’t provoke me. That’s just them being them.

Know-it-alls are only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this re-booting challenge. This principle applies for any quirk that raises your hackles. I face the same challenge in learning to manage my reaction to my father’s all to frequent tendency to talk as if he were a baby—HUGELY ANNOYING. Be grateful you don’t have that one on your plate…

When have you learned to ignore the behaviors of others to the point that they no longer irk you? Where do you continue to need some work in this department?

My pledge to you, my fellow re-booters, is that the next time I go to any sort of lecture event, I will be a model of beatific and passive politeness to all who wish to expound upon their prodigious brilliance and sensitivity. Peace be unto you.

Charlie Brown

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Refining and Enhancing Our Skillsets

August 18, 2015

Sorry to break it to you kids, but with half of August already behind us, we’re careening into the final few weeks of summer. Soon, the languid warmth will give way to clear October skies, frost on the grass, and nightfall closing down around us. We’ll stare in wonder as Canadian geese form their v formations, heading South for the winter.

Such reminders of how fast this year is whizzing past aren’t all bad because they prod me to pay more attention to what it is I’m doing with my time. Nothing happens if we don’t invest some concentrated effort, whether that’s emptying the dishwasher, shedding that five pounds, or coaching yourself to change how you respond in situations that make you uneasy. Whether you’re consumed with family activities, work projects, or outside commitments, managing our responsibilities has a lot in common with managing our personal strengths and weaknesses—we have to work at it.

Now, what do I mean by that?

We all come into this world with certain, inherent strengths and weaknesses, and it is up to us, as re-booters, to learn to manage these qualities better than we do today. Reading these words may make you groan, but I’m here to tell you that our work never ends, there’s always more to learn. Where adults get into trouble is when they tell themselves they know enough.

Do you think you know enough?

It may sound strange for me to suggest that you need to learn how to manage your strengths, but too much of a good thing can turn out to be not so good. For instance, say you’re the retiring, quiet type: there’s much about such qualities to be commended—so often, silence is a way better option than responding–but when you consistently fail to push yourself to speak up, rationalizing that, “they already know how I feel,” or whatever it is you tell yourself, the silence can go on for too long or be radically misinterpreted. It may feel safer not to say anything, but you’re missing a chance to remind those you care about that, yes, you do give a damn. Don’t underestimate the cumulative impact of your omissions.

Now, let’s examine the converse: the chatty types who assume more than their fair share of conversation. Your willingness to talk can be a great asset and can help smooth over certain awkward situations, but there comes a saturation point when others tune out your prattle. Even if you are the most charming person who ever walked the planet, nobody wants you sucking up all the oxygen—no matter how much they may laugh or smile. Yet another instance of how a strength can be bungled. I’m confident you can think of others

What’s to be done about situations where there is nothing “wrong” with what we currently know and are doing—isn’t it best to leave good enough alone? No, it’s not. As I said earlier, there is always more to learn! We can examine our strengths and work on refining our technique or enhancing our understanding to achieve greater levels of insight, finesse, or subtlety. Think of a professional golfer who pushes himself to gain even greater strength and dexterity, setting out for himself the goal of designing a master golf course, not just playing one. Too many adults consign themselves to fetid pools of stagnation when they fail to push themselves (reminiscent of that mildly stale or outright rank smell you notice around crotchety old people).

Telling ourselves that where we are now is where we can happily remain is a huge mistake. First of all, it’s arrogant. Secondly, it’s lazy. And thirdly, refusing to test out ways we might do a better job eliminates the possibility of introducing greater fulfillment or joy into our life. Over these past four years or so, I’ve had plenty of temptation to tell myself that I did nothing wrong, that I was doing everything possible to seek out work, move past old hurts, and carve out a new and better life here in Washington. But that wouldn’t be true. There’s always more to do and better ways of doing it. During this prolonged re-booting phase of my life, I have had the opportunity to reexamine my perspective, to reconsider aspects that before I dismissed, to learn how to control certain of my personality quirks. None of its been easy, but I am way ahead than if I had decided I didn’t need to change.

For instance, (aside from this blog) I am far more restrained in telling other people what to do or how to do it. If they ask, I am happy to provide feedback, but I am far less of a know-it-all than I used to be. Also, I recognize more and more that as engaging a conversationalist as I can be, there are many times when I need to zip it, to hold back on my storytelling. I have taught myself to be much more aware of my tone of voice and have changed the way I modulate it. Although nobody told me I needed to change how I spoke, I did it because it occurred to me that I might have better results if I spoke differently. And I have.

So, what qualities (good or bad) occur to you as worthy of some modification on your part? Time’s a fleeting! Before all the Canadian Geese have disappeared into Southern climes, isn’t this moment a perfect time to get started? You’ve got work to do…

Canadian geese

The Joys of Transient Obduracy

October 2, 2014

It would’ve made him so happy if only I’d said yes. Instead, I chose to torture him, reveling in his frustration, impotent to do anything to change my mind. It pleased me to watch him squirm as I politely rejected his entreaties to move my Honda back into the safety of our driveway. Yes, dear reader, my father is obsessed with keeping my car off the street.

 

I’m not sure how long he has had this fixation, but images of wildly careening vehicles sideswiping the cars of those in his care has seized my dad’s imagination. To my knowledge, there has never been an instance of Violence Against Vehicles in our suburban domicile, but perhaps this is due to his vigilance—no doubt, he sees it that way. I confess that his extreme concern takes me by surprise, and it would’ve been so easy for me to have acquiesced—I have done so in times prior—but last night, I drew the line. I would not move my car from its tantalizing spot.

 

The secret glee I felt at this transgression is the point of today’s post. When was the last time you did something solely to assert your free will in defiance of another? How good did it feel?

 

I understand that my refusal was silly and achieved nothing but making my poor old father flummoxed, but so what? Within each of us dwells a three year old, just waiting for an opportunity to manifest. I believe so strongly in this premise that I often call upon it when deciding how to entice others, regardless of the circumstances. What would a three year old want, I ask myself; it’s a highly effective strategy, honed over years of practice. But back to the parked car consternation: I was the one taking all the “risk” of leaving my car vulnerable to urban marauders; truth be told, I don’t perceive a threat at all. This doesn’t excuse my decision to torture the poor fellow, but I did it because doing so gave me pleasure. Visceral pleasure.

 

Of course, fully realized re-booters need not resort to such antics because they sit calmly on their throne, content and confident in their power to effect change when needed. Not me. I’m not there yet. I may spend a certain amount of time reading stuff like the mythic realms of The Odyssey or the history of migrations of various immigrant groups, etc but when it comes right down to it, I can be as stubborn and illogical as the next guy. I will not eat green eggs and ham.

 

People break the rules all the time. The thrill one feels when flouting convention is not to be underestimated; disobedience infuses us with a powerful type of energy. Such actions don’t always go well, of course, but to defy the established order of things (even if that order exists for useful purposes) reminds us of our own power—and it is this same wellspring which enables us to re-boot. This is not a small point. As adults with responsibilities, expectations, and goals to meet, we can easily forget that we retain the capacity to do things our way and not according to the dictates of others, simply because we want to. At times, such personal reminders may evidence themselves in silly forms of insistence, but the underlying motivation—to remember that we exist as independent and emboldened individuals—requires a dose of oxygen every now and then to remain vital. So, whether it’s parking your car in a “dangerous” spot, wearing an outfit your spouse disapproves of, or something else entirely, it’s a small cost for a large payout to your psyche. Defiance has a place in any re-booter’s roster…

Mule

 

The Hidden Parameters of Quantum Weirdness

May 20, 2014

Years ago in college, I fantasized about being a theoretical physicist; alas, my brain doesn’t have the neural connections needed for such pursuits so I had to shift to Plan B. Although I can manage many other sorts of cognitive functions, I’m supremely maladroit at grasping the equations and the perspective critical to scientific research. However, what I lack in such talents, I compensate with imagination and the ability to apply exotic principles to the far messier (and equally unquantifiable) realm of human experience. So, it comes as no surprise that when I read about outlandish sounding research involving concepts such as quantum entanglements, the EPR Paradox, and Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle my attention is caught. I stare at the words, half jealous that I can’t fully comprehend what these researchers are getting at, but energized by how I might use their work as a launching point for my own. And so it is that I begin this post.

 

Quantum weirdness is an authentic construct that occurs at the subatomic level of science. On a scale where everything is measured in nanos, the classical rules of physics no longer apply. In 1935, Albert Einstein and two colleagues wrote a paper suggesting that two subatomic particles, thousands of light years apart from one another, can instantaneously respond to each other’s vibrations. They named this phenomenon the EPR Paradox, a premise which has subsequently been confirmed. Now, just think about this for a minute. According to this principle, two subatomic particles can respond to one another faster than light can move through space. The dilemma is that the EPR Paradox/quantum entanglement construct conflicts with Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. In other words, two established laws of physics appear to contradict one another—and yet, the reality is that they’re both correct.

 

So, where does this leave us?

 

What this suggests is that there are other factors at work which researchers have been unable to detect. Unthought of questions yet to be resolved.

 

It requires a flexible mind and a great deal of imagination to push past the parameters of the accepted. Allegations of hubris, insanity, recklessness, or any number of other things are usually cast at those who push beyond what is considered “solid information.” Of course, it’s understandable that people get jittery when scientists start publishing papers about introducing new, artificial nucleotides (A,T,C, G + the new X,Y) into a DNA sequence. I’m not sure how I feel about it, either. But, let’s go back to the problem presented in that quantumly weird world where Relativity and Entanglement intersect. They contradict one another and, yet, they both exist. What does this tell you? What are we missing in our understanding?

 

People do contradictory things all the time; and they can’t explain why they do so—they are as weird as they are relatable. The reason I am harping on this is that there are many aspects of our lives and relationships where we do not have the full picture. Re-booters recognize that there is much we don’t know, and may never fully understand; but we know both things are true. Ours is the human version of the EPR Paradox. The thing we need to remind ourselves is that hidden parameters–to our lives and our mindset—exist, and if we dedicate ourselves to recognizing that these parameters play a role in our choices, and work at detecting the traces or echoes these mysterious influences leave behind, our overall understanding of our life may be enriched. Does any of what I’m saying make the least bit of sense? We err only if we believe we know it all, whatever “it” may be. There’s always more to the story.

 

Whether one has a personal relationship with God, are a Humanist, Atheist, or whathaveyou, when one considers topics such as the secrets of the universe or the secrets of the human heart, I think we can all agree that there is way, way more “out there” that we don’t know than that we do. Sometimes, this realization can feel humbling or intimidating, but it leaves room for occurrences we’d never dream were possible. I like to think about it as the amazing influence that makes life so magical. Re-booters and researchers, alike, grappling with the mesmerizing quagmire of quantum weirdness.

A Transcript for Life

May 8, 2014

Once you reach a certain point in life, your scholarly and academic past is basically irrelevant. And don’t get me started on the varying sorts of intelligences people have which may, or may not, be reflected in one’s formal education. So, it came as an enormous surprise when a friend told me that one potential employer had requested a transcript. Given the fact that she works on Capitol Hill, I assumed they wanted some print out of her testimony before a congressional committee—not so. Instead, they wanted to see her law school grades from 30 years prior. What????? How in the world would marks from long ago academic studies reflect, in any way, her talents, experience, or knowledge today? This is not a question of whether she actually graduated, received a diploma, or passed the bar, this is reviewing actual letter grades for courses that reflect nothing about current day professional skills.

 

Scoffing at the inanity of what she was being asked to provide, I told my friend, Amateur Hour comes in many forms. So do Gate Keepers.

 

Over the course of my career and life, I have witnessed and interacted with a wide variety of people who consider themselves assessors of particular standards. Most of them are idiots who have no real sense of what’s important when making a key hire and simply look to promote those who either mirror their own credentials or those of their superiors. The analysis begins and ends at how closely the candidate resembles themselves. Instead of seeking out glimmers of creativity, lessons hard learned, or skills that cannot be taught, they ask for transcripts.

 

I’d laugh were it not for the fact that it is these same people who control whether or not one even makes it to first base. Sure, we can walk away and refuse to play with groups represented by such fatuous individuals—whose sense of great importance is but a cloak for bottomless insecurity–but the truth remains that they often stand between where we are and where we want to go. Since there are way more ignorant, easily threatened people in this world than there are creative, intelligent ones, you need to find a way to work within the system. I’ve seen examples of truly brilliant people who refused to do so and never got anywhere because an Army of One is, still, just one. So what does a re-booter do?

 

You need to be clever. You need to anticipate the Gate keepers’ concerns and strategize around them. If my experience in Academia, Government, and the corporate world is any barometer, I can say with total confidence that the Gate keepers always (and I mean always) have a personal priority that is part of their assessment equation. No, I’m not talking bribery; I’m suggesting that unspoken fears or desires can be addressed, massaged, or alleviated.

 

One of the hardest and biggest workplace lessons I learned was about office birthday parties. Although, like Elaine Benes, I detest the ritual of forced, workplace socializing, my unwillingness to participate in the weekly ritual resulted in my being branded all sorts of terrible names by my coworkers. This naïve choice on my part set the tone for all subsequent interactions with anyone else in the office and made my ability to get my job done exponentially harder. So I learned. Now, you will see me cheerfully participating in every candle party, cookie sale, holiday festival, you name it, I sign up for the pot luck.

 

This sort of knowledge can’t be found on any transcript. You get me?

 

What lessons have you learned that standard methods of evaluation won’t uncover? And, even more importantly, when you are evaluating unknown others, whether for work or social purposes, are you caught up in your own, little rigid checklist? A re-booter is smart enough to know that they haven’t thought of everything, that people come with all sorts of surprising qualities that we might miss if we insist on examining their transcript.

Frequency Variations: What Is It That We’re Hearing?

April 3, 2014

As I understand it, “Doppler Shift” is a term used to explain minor alterations in frequency due to change in position, as evidenced in how we hear varying sounds from an ambulance or an airplane as it changes location relative to us. The sound being generated doesn’t change, but how we hear it changes because our relationship to the vehicle varies. This concept is far more complicated than a simple question of volume—the pitch and intensity of certain elements of the sound rise to the top of our awareness as the ambulance makes its journey towards and then past us. Since I live near a hospital, I get a lot of practice listening to emergency vehicles swoosh past with their sirens blaring.

 

So, too, can our perception and understanding of what another person is communicating shift as our relationship with that person changes. It’s not that they’re saying anything different, but we hear (and understand) it differently because of the shifting dynamics between the two of us. When one or the other (or both) of us varies our “position,” the Doppler Shift between us alters, too. Make sense?

 

I am using Doppler Shift as a way to examine elusive alterations in relationships. When it comes to long term associations, we often operate on the assumption that because we know the other person so well, how we understand them remains static. Because we are lazy, we settle in on a particular frequency and proceed as if all communications are sent out and received on this one setting. But the truth is, they’re not. It changes all the time—our position in the relationship continually shifts, whether we are cognizant of this or not.

 

Let me give an example to make my point more clear: say you’re at the gym on one of the cardio machines and there’s a person on the machine right next to you. You both have the tvs tuned to the same channel, only the timing of the signal and tint of the picture on your screen doesn’t exactly match that being shown on the other. Perhaps on your screen, the interviewer looks slightly orange and on the other person’s screen the tinge is more yellow. For most practical purposes, this is irrelevant. But, what if you both were trying to assess how healthy the person was? You’d come to different conclusions based on how your particular tv received the signal. Only one image is broadcast, but how you receive it differs. Does this make sense? Now, let’s say that you can’t see the other tv, but the two of you are both watching the same broadcast at the same time. When you go to discuss the health of the interviewer, the two of you believe you are assessing the same image, but you aren’t. Each of you is in a different relationship with the broadcast signal—which is where the Doppler Shift comes into play—and thus, takes in slightly different information.

 

God, this is getting painful. Why is this important?

 

It’s important because problems often arise when two people use the same vocabulary about a situation, but the vocabulary means slightly different things to each person. How we use it and how we hear it differs, but because it’s the same general word, we think we understand what they’re saying, when we don’t. And because we think we know, it doesn’t occur to us to check for clarification. For instance, let’s say two people tell each other, “I don’t want to get married.” Yet, one person means, I don’t want to get married to you, while the other means marriage isn’t right for me. Big, big difference! And yet, they’ve made identical statements, so the understandable tendency is to believe they’re in agreement. This could lead to a lot of unhappiness and misunderstanding down the line. The same holds true for other types of communication. For instance, when I say the word “ok,” it signals (to me) that I’m ready to negotiate, but someone else heard it as a patronizing putdown. It took me a long time to figure out why we were running into trouble about an issue—our positions relative to the word “ok” were different. Back then, I didn’t know about the Doppler Shift.

 

So, as re-booters, we need to be keenly aware of the possibility that others are receiving signals we don’t intend because they’re operating from a different angle of repose. And vice versa. The signals come in differently and so, the frequency on which they’re received varies, too. A relationship is never static, but we often pretend that it is. A successful re-booter remembers that there are no fixed targets.

There’s Always Something You Can Do

March 18, 2014

The other day, I was griping about a situation in my life which continually annoys me. Feeling exasperated, I worked myself into quite a swivet. (Yes, me, the author of this sensational re-booting blog, the champion of finding a more serene and mature perspective about the human coil, I, too have been known to whine.) My friend listened to this monologue and gently observed, “There’s always something you can do to make things better.” Her words caught my attention. And, of course, she is right. The question then becomes, what do we do about it? We may not want to make that extra effort; we may feel passionately that the other person should change; we may wish for a whole host of developments that will never occur; but no matter how futile and fixed a problem may seem, we are not without options.

 

Sometimes, improvements come in the form of discontinuing a behavior: we stop bitching, we stop allowing it to bug us so much, we stop assuming responsibility for the outcome, we stop being surprised that this person repeatedly behaves the way they’ve always behaved. Because the truth of the matter is, they’re probably not going to stop—even when they assure you they will—so, unless you’re willing to leave altogether, you’ve got to find a way to coexist. Easier said than done, I know.

 

It’s funny about life, certain sensitivities we outgrow and some we don’t. Nearly all teenagers are embarrassed by their relatives for one reason or another, but somewhere in our twenties or thirties they don’t mortify us quite so much. We learn to see their foibles as about them and not about us. They didn’t change, we did. Of course, there will always be certain individuals whose narcissism, mannerisms, or neuroses make it impossible for us to deal with them without losing our minds, but they aren’t the norm, so we needn’t bother ourselves with such cases for purposes of this post.

 

But back to my wise friend’s counsel and how we might apply this today. Take a moment and reflect on some situation or person in your life who’s a continual source of stress or unhappiness for you. Can you specify what it is that bothers you so much? Assuming that they will continue to behave like this, what is one thing you can change to improve the situation?

 

Take me, for instance. My dad likes to run a Holiday Inn at our house. An ongoing stream of travelers stop by for, oh say, a weekend, two weeks, three months, eleven years (ahem), and settle themselves in for a long winter’s nap. (They are perfectly content to sleep on lumpy twin beds, using threadbare towels and bathrooms which are so ancient that a plumber recently informed me he now refuses to tackle such antiquities.) I, however, do not enjoy this parade of visitors. I do not embrace the Canterbury Tales combo pack of characters who sit in the kitchen, waiting to be fed and entertained. I do not like it, Sam I Am. I do not like Green Eggs and Ham. Well, I recently discovered that yet another of these types is landing on our doorstep—for an indeterminate stay.

 

This knowledge has made me most distressed. I am highly particular about my personal space and feel affronted by this non-stop Tavern on the Green bit. But, at this point, I choose not to move, for a number of reasons; it’s my own, personal Hotel California. You can check in, but you can never check out. Since my dad refuses to heed any of my pleas to take a break from Hospitality Row, the only thing I can do is to try out a variety of strategies not to let his actions bother or impact me. So, my first attempt has been to change how I think about myself in relation to these guests—perhaps I no longer need to think its vital that I behave as the consummate hostess. These people are not my guests. Whatever trouble my dad does or doesn’t take to accommodate them is not my problem. I don’t care. While the trade off in an attitude like this is that some visitors may come away with the impression that I am less than congenial, I won’t worry about that, anymore. I won’t be rude, but I needn’t engage with them in the manner I have up to this point. No longer assuming a sense of responsibility for how the visit goes is a way to ameliorate a situation that drives me nuts. Do you see what I’ve done? I’m changing how I see myself in relation to this guest-host dynamic. I’ve removed myself from the equation. The thing about it is, freeing myself up from this need to play hostess and this need to be approved of, it’s like a door has opened; I’ve found an escape hatch. Wow! This will take some getting used to…

 

So, now, back to you. Considering your situation, what can you do to make it better? What action can you take to decrease your irritation? Can you change the way you think about it? Can you redefine your role in this particular play? Are you ok with people thinking less of you than optimal? Test out something different, live with it for awhile, endure the awkwardness that accompanies new approaches. You might just climb out of that hole. There’s always something you can do.

 

 Image

How Do You Move A Fish?

March 13, 2014

It’s a good thing I’m not a fish aficionado, because if I were, I’d have no idea how I’d have moved my precious pisci when I made my transcontinental journey from Santa Barbara to Washington. When you think about it, how does one transport an aquarium full of shimmery creatures, over long distances, without the container spilling? Aside from those demonic snakehead fish that threaten to gobble up the entire state of Maryland, gill-bearing organisms can exist only in aquatic environments–sloshing out onto the floor of one’s U-Haul is not a feasible alternative lifestyle.

 

So, as a responsible steward of exotic swimmies, what do you do?

 

By my estimation, the options are few: you can either leave ‘em behind or take ‘em along, hoping they survive.

 

For purposes of this post, tropical fish are not unlike some of our own presumptions about How Life Works—these beautiful and delicate marine dwellers require highly specialized environments in which to survive, and when deprived of same, will die a most malodorous death. Likewise, when we face a major shift in our personal circumstances or environment, it’s not necessarily obvious to us that we might be required to retire or adjust some of our expectations. Two easy examples: (1) holidays must be observed in a precise manner or (2) truly successful individuals can demonstrate achievement in X, Y, or Z. The “major shift” I’m referring to can be anything: living in a new place, marriage, divorce, birth, death, disease, job loss, job gain, winning the lotto—all of it involves some form of starting anew. Such change, re-booters may discover, brings with it a certain amount of fracturing to our bedrock presumptions. In terms of balance, we need to release as many behaviors or beliefs as those we now embrace.

 

For instance, growing up here in DC, I assumed everyone, everywhere dressed up for holiday meals. Washington is a formal town and the ladies wear dresses and the men don coats and ties. So, it was quite a surprise when I spent holidays in Texas or California to discover that a far more casual dress code accompanied these celebrations. It required an adjustment on my part to understand that turkey in jeans could be equally meaningful as turkey in trousers: one approach was not more reverent than the other. Once I was removed from the formality of life in the District, I started to appreciate the specialized environmental factors in California or Texas that encouraged a more casual approach. Each locale has its own, peculiar forms of protocol. In Santa Barbara, it wouldn’t have “enhanced the experience” had I insisted that everyone dress according to East Coast dictums. Am I making my point? A lot of our assumptions are circumstance-dependent; they depend on our specific family dynamics, they depend on the immediate cultural influences around us, and they do not, necessarily, travel well.

 

So, to repeat the question: how do you move a fish?

You don’t.

 

We all carry within us personal definitions of filial piety, a steadfast spouse, a dedicated employee, a good friend, a success, a failure. But how we arrived at these conclusions depends, somewhat, on our backgrounds, they’re not universal understandingsa fact we tend to forget. As re-booters, our concepts of who we are and how we’re going to live our lives are in flux, change is afoot and we’re trying to understand what to do about it! We are not fish who exist in a single, steady environment. As we proceed through life, we need to consider that the specialized conditions under which we previously operated may have changed, so our presumptions may no longer be valid. Let me ask you this: given that things are changing in your life, do you really need to hold onto X? Do you think everyone would agree that X is as important as you believe it is? What does this tell you?

 

Were we to inspect our personal U-Haul, we may spy them there—our fixed assumptions, flopping about on the grungy floor, unable to survive beyond the world we’re leaving—it may make us a bit sad or regretful or wondering if we’ve made the right move, but the truck is packed and we’ve selected our route. It might be time to let them go.

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Realistically Speaking…

February 25, 2014

As re-booters we are forging new ground for ourselves—this is not easy work. There is lots of rocky soil to till, boulders to overcome, and demands for new irrigation. Re-booting demands an enormous amount of blood, sweat, and tears and the entire time, we are highly susceptible to questioning ourselves and our choices. Such notions are most dangerous when we receive the (jealous) “wisdom” of others.

 

With any sort of change, there are those who will feel threatened or even repudiated by our efforts to move in another direction. They will resort to many a desperate tactic to dissuade us from our new path, and, occasionally, this deterrence or criticism will come from those we trust.

 

It’s difficult to know how to balance our aspirations with pragmatism and the hard won wisdom of those we go to for guidance. They may listen and fold their arms, punctuating our monologue of dreams with the occasional frown or chuckle, and then, they tell us what they really think. “Uh, oh’” we worry to ourselves, “they think we’re crazy or wildly impractical to head in this new direction,” given my age…the already saturated marketplace…the experiences of prior advice seekers…what have you. We worry that we’re delusionally arrogant to imagine trying this. If we probe further as to the basis for their opinion, sometimes they get angry. “Oh,” we privately cringe, “my chances are even worse than I imagined.”

 

But, the fact of the matter is, it’s just as likely that what we’re trying to achieve in our lives triggers all sorts of personal discomforts for them. Maybe they want to escape their current reality and become a fly fisherman or an arbitration expert or sell their art work. Instead of encouraging us, they tell us how hard it is to make it, or how our temperament and outsized ambition make it unlikely we’ll succeed–how there’s no market for what we’re peddling. “I’m just being honest,” they shrug.

 

The challenge for re-booters is that we’re already nervous and doubtful about our chances. We already torture ourselves with questions about our sanity and arrogance. We’re nervous nellies who understand that what we want is elusive—but we act out of hope. So then, how do we balance our goals and dreams against the discouraging advice of others? Can we benefit from their cautionary wisdom without being deterred? Can we make sense of what people who seem to know more than we do when they tell us we’re overreaching?

 

How?

 

In many respects, I feel like Lab Rat A in this experiment. For over the past two years, as I’ve uprooted my life and reversed course in my career, I’ve been blindly stumbling along a foggy path where I’m not 100% sure of where I’m going or what I’m doing. I’ve launched a blog where I share these adventures and observations, but who knows if it’s had any impact at all. I read articles about the exponentially diminishing prospects of the long term unemployed. The world is a hive of activity and I’m stuck in a beaker, looking out. So, what do I do? I do what I can. I do what’s in front of me. I follow conventional wisdom about what I “should” be doing, but add in my own private efforts for the parts that really interest me. And I only selectively listen to those who tell me they’re being honest about my chances.

 

And then, I hope.

 

What about you?

Our Only Option: Changing Ourself

February 20, 2014

So much of being a re-booter requires us to take action. Such actions include changing the way we respond to others, changing our interpretations of past events, or questioning our fixed ideas. In order to move closer to what we want, Re-booters take steps to shift our circumstances which then leads to more and greater change. In short, it can feel like a merry-go-round where we’re the only gerbils on the wheel. And, in many respects, this is true. We can only change ourselves—there is often little we can do to change our immediate circumstances and next to nothing we can do about the people around us.

 

But, despite all this, just changing ourselves accomplishes quite a lot because it transforms our experience. This, my friends, is the key. Because if I change my perspective on what’s important to me—if, for instance, your approval is no longer something I seek–then there is a domino effect for what happens next. I no longer am cowed by your threat of anger or disapproval. Thus, I may decide to do something entirely different from what I’ve done before. Do you see how this works? It’s really quite liberating!

 

I know that for me, in my life, I have chased after approval from various figures. I hungered for it, blossoming when granted and despairing if withheld. And, only when my Seuss-like world got so topsy-turvy and crazy making that I knew it was impacting me in a very negative and serious way, did I finally start to question if turning myself into a psychotic pretzel in order to win that praise was worth it. (Not totally dissimilar to an addict chasing after their next high from a drug dealer.) But, once I shifted my perspective on the situation and people involved, everything changed for me. I couldn’t change them or the circumstances, but I could change me. In the immediate aftermath, this caused a lot of problems, but, ultimately, this shift was my salvation.

 

And your point is?

 

My point is two-fold: 1) oftentimes, it doesn’t even occur to us that our life needs changing until circumstances get so atrocious that we despair, wondering what in the world went wrong, and 2) the spur for change can be anger. In fact, it most often is. Why would we change if we’re content?

 

I have always been taught to fear anger—the anger in me and anger in others. And, overall, I believe anger is a negative and dangerous force, but it can serve to propel us forward if used appropriately. If we have the skills to channel it. When a child is angry they hit: this is bad. When a re-booter uses their anger to recognize a problem and then decides to alter something in their life in order to eliminate or resolve it: this is good. But, what’s even more promising is what happens after you’ve made the change because now is the time to reflect and be grateful for what happened. It’s the chance to forgive and release the originator of the angering actions; if it weren’t for them, you wouldn’t be in this better, stronger, more knowledgeable place now.

 

One of the things we re-booters have in common is that we’ve all had our share of bumps in the road. We’ve struggled, we’ve been hurt, and we’ve made mistakes. Welcome to humanity. But, what distinguishes us from everyone else is that we recognize the power of change and we understand that the only person we can change is ourself. It’s a heady, sometimes lonely feeling concept, but it’s also non-negotiable: we are the only thing we can change. We can’t change our spouses or bosses or friends or the guy down the street. And they’re not gonna change for us. Our bruises and scars serve as reminders of where we’ve been and just how far we’ve come, but they won’t fully heal if we keep poking at ‘em. What prompts our need to change can come from a variety of directions, but whatever the source—even if it is anger—we need to respect this inner voice telling us something is seriously amiss. Our need for change doesn’t go away. We may bury it. We may be so fearful that we pretend it’s not there. We may blame others for the problem. But none of our rationalizations will make that pull subside.

 

What’s pulling at you?


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