Tag Archives: renewal

I will remember you

 I met a man once who said he wanted to get rich enough to sustain a fund that would enable his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and so on to be able to go to Disney World once a year.  He felt that they would enjoy themselves and remember him fondly.  I wasn’t very optimistic.  I thought a generation or so down, people would not remember him, but remember that there was some relative who had created a hopefully fun experience for them.  They would perhaps, enjoy the thought of him at best.

Do we remember John Wayne or Steve Jobs?  We remember what they left for us.  We enjoy their achievements.  But who were they as individuals?   Most of us never knew them, and so to miss them seems peculiar to say.  Is it enough to be remembered for what we did?  Or does it matter who we did it for?

Earlier this summer my father in law passed away.  Russell was not quite 93.  He fortunately had not been sick for very long and I believe was ready when his time came.  His two youngest children, one of which is my husband, were with him when he died.   It was evident by his last words that he knew they were with him and I believe he took great comfort in that knowing.

My in laws were not special, but they were as extraordinary as I understand the word to be.  They were ordinary, somewhat simply lived people, but they did everything to their fullest capacity.  They were kind.  At my mother in law’s memorial a couple of years ago, so many people shared stories of how Russ and Marge had helped them over the years.  They fixed things, baked things, drove people where they needed to go, lent them a dollar or two and even housed people who needed housing on occasion.   Upon Russ’s death, grandkids posted stories on Facebook about their memories.  These included fishing, hunting for mushrooms, sewing, cooking, making S’mores and watering the pecan trees at the farm. 

The elder Young’s will not be remembered by millions or thousands.  They might not be remembered beyond another generation.  I wear my grandmother’s engagement ring.  My children never knew her and were young enough that they barely remember my own mother.  But remembering and knowing are two different things.

My children know their great grandmother because so many of her qualities still reside within me.  My love for cooking undoubtedly was passed on by her to me.  I can still remember how she taught me to bake bread when I was only seven or eight years old.  And I share my love of cooking and baking with my family, not just as something I do, but something that is at my core.

My husband has so many fine qualities that are linked to his father.  I see many of the same traits in our oldest son as well.  Our youngest son sometimes has his grandfather’s laugh.  Likewise, my husband’s five sisters all possess some of the same gifts as did my mother in law.  And I see many of these traits passed on to their daughters as well.  They are crafty and creative just as she was, but each in their own way.

I suppose what I’m really trying to convey here is that our lives are less about our own stories and more about seeing them as chapters in a larger book.  Once the chapter closes, the book continues to build upon what was just conveyed.  The value in our lives is perhaps more contingent upon the simplicity of the subtleties we leave behind in the people we love rather than the notable achievement others who do not know us will attach to our name.   If that is accurate, then living well, being extraordinary and nurturing the growth of those around us, are our best hopes for immortality. 

 

The young, the old and the truth

Last weekend we went to visit my father in law who is now in an assisted living facility.   Our son Andrew took along his cello and played a mini concert for the residents just before their lunch.  Now that my father in law has been living  there a few months, my sister in law Cristie has become a staple in their community as well.  She introduced us to all of the other residents, clearly knowing them each by name and story.

In Tuesday’s with Morrie, there is a point in which Morrie realizing his condition has deteriorated to the stage where he now needs help in the bathroom to wipe himself.  He says to Mitch that we come into the world needing help wiping and we go out the same way.  The only difference in between is that we have the illusion that we don’t need the help.  The point is we all need relationships including those where we are vulnerable.

Morrie’s wisdom came back to me again this weekend as I watched the residents.  While I’m a proud mother, I realize objectively that Andrew is not playing at the level that should have garnered the excitement and praise he received from the residents.  But like little children excited about someone dressed up in a dinosaur costume, the residents were delighted by Andrew’s performance.  And I don’t think it’s because they are losing their faculties and lost the ability to discern.  It’s because they are now not encumbered with all of the gazillion tasks that those of us in between childhood and aging call life.  We are focused on getting the dog to the vet, cleaning the house, mowing the grass, getting our nails done and working to support all of those privileges.  So often, we prioritize these tasks over relationship.  And more often, we complete them to show we are competent, and sufficient without the help of others.

Younger people see old people as a group different from themselves.  Older people see themselves as the same as they always were.  They know their bodies have aged and they may perhaps even feel a bit wiser, and possibly more content.  But they don’t see themselves as “old”.  More specifically, they include an identity of the young men or women who hung out with friends, danced at parties, liked a particular kind of music.  They reminisce about the things they once did not as something long ago forgotten, but as a part of themselves they still know, and more importantly part of themselves they still want to know. 

I watched the residents form into social groups over the course of the visit and remember similar observations from when my own mother was in a nursing home.  The women still group together in little clicks.  They talk about relationships, updating each other on who is who and what “who” is doing now.  The men are more likely to couple of in pairs or remain single.  They watch TV or read.  But if you look at the same gender distribution of a gathering of younger people, you would probably see similar patterns. 

A little later in the weekend Bens father asked my brother in law about a recent handy man project they had previously discussed.  My father in law wanted to know where his bucket of tools was so he could join right in.  The reality is that his bucket has been gone for some time; it was sold with his house.  But in his mind, he still sees himself as capable, ready to grab a screwdriver and do what he has always done when the need arose.  He wanted to put into motion the feeling he has in his mind’s eye.  He sees himself not as a man hanging out in a “home” until he dies.  He sees himself as productive, useful and resourceful and still important to his son in law.

Children make a picture with their hands and they too feel productive.  And most of the time, we encourage these feelings through our praise.  We hang the picture on our refrigerator and say good job. 

But in the middle of our lives we have the illusion that we have only so much time to “get it right or get it done”.  We rarely stop to recognize that we are the same as we were as children.   We need the same encouragement and permission to allow relationships to take precedence over accomplishment.   We ignore this fact out of fear that our significance will fade into old age where we will be relegated to the home of productive lives passed.  We defend against the fear that our vulnerability might be exposed.

Perhaps the alternative lies in seeing ourselves less as separate entities that shift from one stage to the next measured by our achievements and milestones.  Perhaps there is value in retaining the child and younger parts of ourselves in our current states.  Doing so would surely increase our vulnerabilities, but it would also afford us a proportionate amount of authenticity.

Floating in a sea of insecurity

Sixteen years ago I became a mother for the first time.  I was 2 months shy of my own 40th birthday.  Obviously I am a late bloomer.  And 13 years ago I became a mother for the second time.  And so I have enjoyed saying that I am the mom of two kids for quite some time.  But on Friday my youngest son Andrew will turn 13, meaning I will for the last time, be the mother of children and will instead become the mother of teenagers. 

I would be lying if I said it was not bittersweet.  On the one hand I am delighted to watch my boys grow and become people in their own right.  It is fun to have the freedom that comes with the untangling of childhood needs and demands.  We have the luxury of not attending to their every need.  And I miss soft skin; baby smells (the good kinds) and coos.  Even though these have actually been gone for quite some time, there is still a way of defining one’s self that changes with an official transition of stages.  It’s neither cool or welcomed to remind a teenager of the things he did when he was a toddler.

But perhaps more than rearranging the child memories out of the forefront of my brain is the awareness that my own identity is once again cast out onto the open seas, unmoored from the dock of supposed security where I had been storing it for a time.  This is what we do as a people.  We link our identity to some safe haven so that we might know ourselves and have a way of introducing ourselves to others.  The dilemma is, of course, when we delude ourselves into thinking that our identity claim is anything more than arbitrary and or temporary.  I chose the identity of mother of children; some choose more exotic names like executive or entrepreneur, while others go for more personal descriptions like thin or beautiful.  In the end, they are all mere snapshots of who we are, and fleeting.  The only thing constant about our lives is that they change.

I am continuing to learn that genuine peace comes not from finding a more solid identity defined by my current circumstances, but rather increasing my awareness that who “I” am, is in fact, none of these adjectives or roles.  I am “I” who has participated in many of these over the course of my years and will hopefully continue to participate in more still to come.  I am “I” when I was not a mother of any children just as I am “I” today.  “I” is a solid and constant, and is the only thing that is solid and constant.  The lesson is to not get too attached to the ways I try to box “I” in.  It is not the boxing in per se that is the problem, but rather the attachment to the limitations of that box.  In other words, if I only feel present and solid because I am the mother of children, then once they become teens, it will be hard to know how and what to be the next day.  It will also be hard to know what they are the next day as well.  This is the case with folks who experience “empty nest” and depression from other kinds of life transitions like divorce, loss of a job etc.

This is deep, philosophical convoluted and truncated for the sake of space in a way that might not make it very clear.  If you want to do more reading “The Untethered Soul” by Michael Singer is a good primer.   This is predicated on the strategy of engaging in more eastern rather than western thinking.  In particular, it means to be mindful of not becoming attached to culturally or familial definitions of our self and using those definitions to insist on their legitimacy.  Failing to do so means we forfeit the right to choose anything not on our predefined path, and we require everyone around us to support our identity through their behavior as well.  Unfortunately, they usually don’t receive the script in advance and they keep mixing up the lines.  And when they do, it is us who falters.  We don’t receive the right cues, we get agitated and we become the director who now focuses on everyone around us to get their lines right as we want them performed.   

Nobody wants to work with a diva.  Not in show business, not in life.  No one wants to alter their behavior or their life trajectory so that we can feel safer in our comfortably created little identities.  The alternative is to let ourselves drift as the fleeting souls we actually are and enjoy the waves as they come along.  It means accepting that some will be gentle and some not but neither condition is ours to control or claim.

Life in the fishbowl

I read what was for me, a rather moving book last week.  Though, as much as I loved it, I recommend it with quite a bit of trepidation.  I listened to the book on Audible and I must say until the last two hours, it was pretty dull.  There was a lot of philosophical rambling.  I nearly quit, but I held on and I was well rewarded by the gems contained within.  I don’t know how well these will come through without the context of the book, and I have to be somewhat cryptic in order to not spoil the story in the event you might wish to read it for yourself.  The book is titled “The Elegance of the Hedgehog”.

There are two concepts that I want to share here that do not give away the story.  The first is the idea of the fishbowl.  This theory is put forward by 12 year old Paloma, an intellectually gifted French girl who lives with her family.  At the start of the story, Paloma is working out her plan to commit suicide on her 13th birthday.  As an intelligent child, she deduces that life is nothing more than the struggle to fulfill a great lie that our parents have thrust upon us and therefore, not worth the effort once you know the truth:

“Apparently now and again adults take the time to sit down and contemplate what a disaster their life is.  They complain without understanding and, like flies constantly banging against the same old windowpane, they buzz around, suffer, waste away, get depressed then wonder how they got caught up in this spiral that is taking them where they don’t want to go…And yet there’s nothing to understand… “Life has no meaning and we grown-ups know what is” is the universal lie that everyone is supposed to believe.  Once you become an adult and you realize that’s not true, it’s too late…. People aim for the stars, and they end up like a goldfish in a bowl”.

Thus, her planning suicide is to suck out what few joyful moments might lie ahead and then save herself the agony of ending up in the fishbowl.

The second thread I want to share is something that Paloma learns at the end of the book.  While we all use the word “never” quite freely, it is something that none of us truly understands until we are faced with a condition in which we experience no ability to transcend a limit regardless of our means and abilities.  A real never occurs when the illusion of our control is shattered beyond repair. Everything becomes clearly defined without the fantasy of “if only or when this, then that”.

The irony however, is that in the midst of Paloma’s “never” experience (I must be vague here to keep from spoiling the book), she experiences a moment in which time as she knows it to be in its linear form gets “interrupted” for lack of a better word.  In her words:

“I have concluded, maybe that’s what life is about:  there’s a lot of despair, but also the odd moment of beauty, where time is no longer the same.  It’s as if those strains of music created a sort of interlude in time, something suspended, an elsewhere that has come to us, an always within never”.

In short, life is filled with so much beyond our control.  The idea that we can and should do X Y and Z and we will be guaranteed the magic answer and life without sorrow, is in fact a lie perpetuated upon us by our parents and our culture.  Most of all it is perpetuated by our childlike naiveté and wish to have a perfect life with a happy ending.

Paloma begins with the understanding that the wish is a lie and attempts to resolve it by quitting the game.  Despite her advanced intelligence, her immaturity and surroundings prevents her from knowing that there is an alternative to both wrestling to live the lie or dying to avoid trying.

That alternative is also known as life.  But it is life that willingly accepts our limitations without shame, fear, denial and insistence that we and others transcend them.  It is life that is open to the moments of beauty that allow us to step out of the Never of time for brief moments and to allow those moments to nourish us and hold us until the next one comes along and to let them go as naturally as they came to us.  It is life that sees its end, not as a failing to hold on and thus succumbing to the fishbowl, but rather the transformation from this existence into something else, even if that something else cannot be definitively determined by the human mind.  And most of all to be open to those moments of beauty in a variety of forms rather than to predetermine allowable examples conjured up by our own ego.

 

 

It started with a penny and turned into a fortune of wealth

 

I met my husband through a personal ad.  Yep,  honest.  Our first face to face meeting was at the St. Louis Science Center.  We met there to watch the movie Everest at the OmniMax.

After enjoying the movie,we walked around a bit and talked.  Okay okay, since it was 17 years ago this month, I can say we walked around and began the process of falling in love.  But while we were there Ben walked over to the squished penny machine and purchased a commemorative Penny.  (Big spender right?).

The next smashed penny we purchased together was at our wedding in Sedona, Arizona.  He made me close my eyes and he guided me over to the machine that he had previously spied.  And since that time we have made a habit of getting a smashed penny on pretty much every adventure.    I don’t know how much money we have spent on smashed penny’s as each one costs .51 cents.  But it’s  been a very wise investment.  Each serves as a reminder not only of the event where we make the purchase, but of the way it all started.  The way building our fortune began.

So let me tell you about our fortune.  Shortly after I had our first son, I was ambivalent about going back to work.  I was concerned that it would be problematic financially if I stayed off for an extended period.  Ben told me at that time in response to my worrying “Mary, we are the wealthiest people I know.”  He was referring of course, to the immense joy that had just come into our lives- a healthy beautiful baby.  We were both healthy, we had a roof over our heads and not much to complain about.  He was right.

Our fortune has continued to grow- both with our second son, and our lives in general.  We have relationships we value, the opportunity to laugh often, and Ben and I are both lucky enough to have work that we both feel passionate about.  Are we lucky?  Sure we are.  And we work at it; somedays more than others.  But more than the presence of any of these gifts, or the absence of any significant tragedy, is the presence of an attitude we both work towards embracing as often as we can.

Whatever is or isn’t we have control only over that, which we think and conclude about, what is and isn’t in our lives.  Every event that occurs is subject to interpretation.  You can feel victimized by events or blessed by them.  It’s always a choice.

Easy to do when the good stuff is happening.  Harder to do when its not.  But growth occurs in BOTH circumstances, and again, good and bad are relative terms, often arbitrarily determined by our own personal filters.  Bad is determined by “I’m not getting things to happen the way I want them to”.  But when we let go of insisting that life result in very precise circumstances as we deem appropriate, we position ourselves to just open up to whatever life actually is.  By removing the pre-determined outcome, we need not be thwarted because something didn’t turn out the way we planned.

This post is redundant if you’ve been reading for a while.  It’s not that I don’t have other things to write about, but rather this is an idea that I feel we all need frequent reminding.  The world is bombarding us minute by minute with the opposite message and so this one is easy to ignore.  Unfortunately, doing so results in our ignoring the tools for creating our own contentment.

I don’t always like Ben and he doesn’t always like me.  The house is often messy, something breaks, I lose my keys.  The kids fight with each other and skip out on their homework.  I don’t think anyone wants to make a reality TV show about us.  We aren’t that interesting.  That said, we are still, as Ben declared “The wealthiest people we know” and it began with one penny.

Happy Holidays

This is my last entry for the year.  I’ll be back the first week of January.  I just want to wish everyone a joyful holiday season, whatever your faith, including a hopeful new year.

The world is in a precarious state these days.  There is a daily barrage of bad news, potential threats, and looming concerns.  There is also joy, hope, and reasons for gratitude.  Sometimes in the wake of the former, it is difficult to find or focus on the latter.  Regardless of the difficulty, the choice remains ours.

To make the choice in favor of a more pleasant view of life however, is not to try and create a Norman Rockwell painting of upcoming events.  Rather, it means to simply focus on and appreciate what works, rather than to dwell on what does not. 

In his book “Conversations with God”, Neale Donald Walsh explains that we choose relationships based on what part of ourselves we wish to experience.  I would extend that thought as a statement about our lives in general.  What part of ourselves are we wanting to experience when we encircle ourselves with drama, chaos and hardship.  Is it a desire to feel punished, incompetent or inferior?  Is it a desire to see ourselves as a great rescuer?

And by the same token, when we surround ourselves with joy and plenty, are we bringing our self that is capable of richness and connection to God into the mix?  Neither of these questions is a simple yes or no, but are worthy of self-reflection.  What better time to do that than over this holiday season.

Once again, I want you to know how much I appreciate your dedication to reading, and value your feedback more than I can express.

Whatever you choose for this holiday season and the year ahead, I hope that you gain from it the knowledge you seek to make your life the best for you.

 

Happy Holidays

how will you Fall

This is an excerpt from the lyrics of “bring him home” from Les Miserables:

The summers die One by one How soon they fly On and on

I heard this the other day and it seems appropriate for this week’s blog. The kids are back in school (although one could doubt that if you note the plethora of TV commercials advocating the purchase of supplies). The pool is closing and college football begins this weekend. All that remains missing is, a nip in the air to set the tone. But even with the anticipated heat this week, it is undeniable that summer 2015 is ready for the memory book.

How did you spend it? Will you remember anything that stands out positively or negatively or will it blur into the stream of “summer memories” that meld into one vague feeling?

If the latter is true, then this is the perfect opportunity to think about welcoming in fall and the holidays ahead. Why not consider doing so with your eyes wide open and your heart ready to experience the days ahead, rather than to endure or conquer them with a checkmark of completion.

Digital cameras have become so prolific that we often take a million images never to look at them again. I’ve been guilty of hoping a photo will save the memory for me instead of taking the time to actually enjoy the experience in the moment. Try going on a family or personal adventure without taking photos. Consider instead imprinting the memory in your mind. Gather all the surrounding stimulus, sights, sound and smells to help cement a vivid film for future retrieval.

Make it a goal to try something outside your normal activities. Break a routine, check out a new path or route. You might consider taking on a new hobby or more importantly, ending some old practices that no longer serve you, but instead nibble away at all of your time. Facebook anyone? Last week a blog reader commented on the time wasted on funny cat videos. A few days later I caught myself watching a loop of something stupid, remembered his comment and immediately stopped myself. Thank you!

Another suggestion is to think about the company you keep. Are you spending the bulk of your time with the people you would most like to have in your life?  The people that you say are important to you? If not, what is keeping you from that fulfillment? Work, play? Other people? This is a great time to take inventory and reflect.

And last, but not least, is your health, or lack thereof, preventing you from truly enjoying your life at this time? Physically or mentally are you either disconnected from your body or your needs that you remain numb, or overwhelmed to the extent that it preoccupies your every waking thought? This would be a great time to awaken to the life that is yours and begin with one single step at a time to make changes towards greater fulfillment.

Here are two more line from the song that I’d like to share. They follow those listed in my opening:

And I am old And will be gone

So before you are, consider putting forth the effort so you will not only know you were here, but will have enjoyed the ride.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Break out the sparklers

It’s been such an odd weather year in St. Louis (and elsewhere), that it hardly seems that summer has begun. Yet, the fourth of July is nearly upon us. Hopefully the rain will enable a few safe celebrations ahead with family and friends for all.

The fourth of July is a time to celebrate the freedom in our country. The freedom that so many of us, myself first on the list, often take for granted.

We are a free nation. And while fifty percent of us disagree with whoever is in political office, we are still free to exercise our voice. I met a young woman from Bulgaria over the weekend who told me she had yearned to attend the camp she and my son were enjoying this year, but had not been able to obtain a visa for the two years prior. To send my son Andrew, all I had to do was write a check.

To camp or not camp is hardly worth dying for. But it is one of the many decisions, from how to educate our children to whether we can or will own property which, we have the right to decide, primarily because someone did die for our choice. Take an extra moment this weekend to thank those who have served and continue to serve for us.

There are many organizations that send cards to active service men. Others that send care packages to troops. These are easily accessible, and help let service men and women know that someone is thinking about them.  Consider passing out small gift cards, even in 5.00 increments at the airport or restaurants to those you see in uniform. At very least, openly express your thanks. Each time I do this (which is not often enough); I’m met with enormous gratitude. It should be the other way around. Whether or not you agree with wars we fight, it is always appropriate to appreciate those who are putting their lives on the line. They are the ones making a sacrifice to fulfill decisions made by the politicians you may or may not agree with.

And how about internal freedom? Are you living a life free to enjoy who and what is around you? Or have you bound yourself by arbitrary rules that keep you confined to a routine, a rut, an outdated self- perception of yourself? Worse still, are you condemned by an outdated perception that you believe someone else decided for you?

How about lighting a sparkler or two this year and taking a moment to celebrate with gratitude the life that is yours? Even if you are not living exactly as you hope to at this moment, consider gratitude for the fact that you have the option to hope, dream and make changes to get you to where you would like to be. Happy Independence Day.

 

 

and More Spring Cleaning

In my last blog I talked about spring cleaning. Hopefully you had a chance to either get started, or at least think about things that you hold on to for perhaps less productive reasons than is useful. In that same vein, I’d like you to take this thought process a step further and think about the clutter more broadly. Cleaning out closets is useful in making more room, either to find stuff, or for different stuff. I’d like to propose that there are other ways that our lives can get significantly cluttered and could use attention. The two that come to mind most quickly for me (from personal and professional experience) are time wasters and unproductive relationships.

The easy bandwagon to jump on is electronic drains. Whether it’s a night lost to Facebook, Pinterest, others social networks, video games or merely web surfing, people can lose a lot of time and receive little if anything back for their time. But those are obvious. What is more subtle, yet equally if not more insidious, are the things we spend time on that, fail to add real value to our lives, and rather, suck away precious time. What makes these items harder to identify is that it usually isn’t the “task” that identifies it as a problem, but rather the way we feel about the task. For example, if I made pasta from scratch because I loved doing so, I was putting healthier options on my table, saving money, my family felt valued when I did so, or any one of these reasons, then it might be time consuming, but there is a payoff. If on the other hand, I made fresh pasta from scratch for my toddler, who was going to eat 3 bites, and my husband could care less about the quality difference, then I should question whether or not this was a good use of time and energy. I’m not sure this is the best example, but I’m pretty sure that we all engage in some pretty questionable activities, and often they have a smell of “perfectionism” to them.

The other category of relationships is something near and dear to my heart. I’ve noticed that a number of my relationships have changed over the past few years and it has largely been my own doing. I’m not feeling angry, but rather more willing to let people go then I once was. That at times, has also included some pretty terrific people. But at the end of the day I’ve had to come to terms with the reality that every day is limited by time, as is the entirety of my life. Out of that awareness, I accept the responsibility and the opportunity to make the most of what is available to me. So, terrific or not, I’m more willing to let people go in favor of spending the time with either other people or activities that are helping me to create the best experience of this thing I call my life.

Personally, I would tell you that if someone had said the paragraph above to me 10 years ago, I would have thought that person to be cold, friendless and void of the capacity to have meaningful relationships. So please, don’t think as a result of one reading, I would expect anyone to make such a radical change. It has been a work in progress and still continues for me. But that said, I find that the quality of relationships I do keep, continues to improve, because I come to them more available, more willing to honor the work of maintaining them. It’s because I know they are mutual, and with less resentment. In turn, I feel more rewarded and valued by the people in those relationships, as well.

I hope you’ll take another look at clutter in your life and see if there are mental closets that need a little combing through as well.

 

Happy New Year

Well look what the cat dragged in….. I’m back!

I took a break from blogging but I am hopefully back to stay. I’m still working on some of the behind the scene changes so please bear with me while I continue to work out some of the bugs. However,  I absolutely welcome questions, comments or observations about changes.  Thank you so much for hanging with me throughout the year, and a special welcome to my new readers.  I am truly grateful for your time.

For starter, I’m uncertain of my timing. For now, I am committing to one entry per week. There may be more, but I hope not less. With that, I’d like to plunge in.

 

Happy New Year.

Even though today is January 7 and not January 1, today is New Year’s Day, meaning, today is the start of a year that is 1 year newer than the same Jan 7 of 2014. Tomorrow will be a new year starting one year ahead of January 8, 2014 and so on. This isn’t an attempt to be silly. I’m dead serious, so let me try to explain.

New Year’s Day is associated for many with New Year’s resolutions. In reality, these are usually not resolutions, or things one is resolved about, but rather New Year’s “wishes”. They are often things we wish would happen, hope will happen, would be happy if the desired action came about. But sadly, they are actions which, more often than not, fail to mature into consistent or lasting change. Some will fail within a week or two. Others may last a couple of months. A study from the University of Scranton found that only about 8% of the 40% of Americans who make New Year’s resolutions, actually achieve their goals. So, if by January 7 you have given up on your goals, you are clearly not alone.

There are two points I’d like to elaborate my thoughts on with regards to this topic.

First, If we drop the ball on January 7, or even February 7, why do we have to wait until January 1 of the following year to start again? As my opening paragraph suggests, every day is the start of a new year for us. We can choose to start fresh from where we are at any given moment. There is nothing more magical about 8:00 a.m. January 1 then there is about 8:00 a.m. on March 10th. The time to start is right now.   Start at the moment that you recognize you have the desire for a change in your life. Delaying until another time marking significance, is arbitrary and only means you are willing to live with the unwanted behavior a lot longer than you need to.

And that leads me to the second point.

There is a difference between resolutions and desires, wishes, hopes. A resolution to lose weight doesn’t mean starting a diet. A resolution to improve your relationships doesn’t mean scheduling a date night. A resolution to find a job you like is more than simply dusting off the old resume.

 

Here are some definitions for the word resolve:

Verb: to find a solution, to determine a course of action

Noun: Firm determination to do something.

 

If you want to achieve the goals above, chances are you have tried some of the solutions I listed above before New Year’s Day. Most likely, they weren’t met with lasting success, which is why they resurface year to year as a resolution for the next year ahead.

 

To make goals more than just a wish or desire, they require resolve. Resolve involves figuring out how you will get to the gym when you haven’t gone before. Resolve means finding ways to anticipate your pitfalls and have a “firm determination to do something” by having reliable support, structures and accountabilities in place to help you stay focused on your goals. Resolve means to search your heart and answer yourself truthfully about what has immobilized your efforts in the past towards these goals.

 

Resolutions are about what are you WILLING to make happen in your life. What are you willing to change, to give up, to work harder towards? Who or what are you willing to let go of in your life? What are you willing to stand up for, to be aware of and mostly to be vigilant about?

 

A posture of resolve takes thought and planning. It also takes dedication and perseverance. So, if you can’t get it all done by January 1, the good news is there are 364 other days in the year that you get to try again.

 

As always, I appreciate your comments and feedback! Until next time… take good care!

Games people play

 

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Games people play

I heard someone talking about their life recently making it sound like a constant series of fires needing to be extinguished. Since I often think in pictures or imagery in my head, I started picturing the game of “Wac-a Mole”. If you aren’t familiar with this game, you get a mallet to hit moles that pop up quickly in a random pattern on a little motorized wheel of sorts. The goal is to hit one and push it down before it retreats on its own. Sometimes more than one mole pops up at a time.

It got me thinking about other familiar games to describe one’s life. I’m going to just list them out here and you can decide if any of them describe you or anyone you know.

Monopoly—This is a person who spends their time and energy trying to collect the best real estate. I don’t mean literally houses, but things they think have worth. Their primary pursuit is the acquisition of status and this is often prioritized over relationships. In fact, in the actual game of Monopoly, the goal is to use one’s assets to weaken the rest of the people in the game. While monopoly players in this metaphor might not have the intention of hurting others deliberately, that is often an outcome when acquisition is their driving force.

Twister: In the musical “Oklahoma”, Connie sings “I’m just a girl who can’t say no”. Twister people have undefinable boundaries. They are there for everyone all the time. Pick up the dry cleaners, watch the neighbors kids, volunteer for the PTO, work overtime. You name it, they are there. There is a saying ,” If you want something done, ask a busy person- they know how to get things done.” Yes they do, but at what cost? Twister is a game where you place a part of yourself on the mat that the spinner selects for you. It doesn’t take a lot of spins to have yourself so sprawled out that, you collapse on yourself or another.

 

Jenga The goal of Jenga is to lay the blocks one on top of the other to see how high you can build things. Similar to monopoly, the goal is to get higher than the next guy, but you aren’t as protected as you are in Monopoly. With jenga every acquisition puts you closer to a potential crash. Jenga livers are people who take risks without regard for the potential consequences. They push the limits again and again. There is little time to enjoy any single accomplishment because each is only a stepping stone to the next.

 

 

Candyland. Part of me envies the Candyland players. Except I have to remember that as delightful as it looks, the win is really not sweet and yummy; its only an illusion.   Candyland promises that, while there are a few setbacks here and there, for the most part everything is good and delicious, as it should be. And if you just hang in there long enough, you are guaranteed the promise of more at the end. Perhaps the electronic game Candy Crush, (which I’m ashamed to admit I got hooked on for a while and fortunately ultimately escaped) is a better choice. At least with Candy Crush, it becomes apparent at some point, that in fact, there is no end point. Life’s achievements always give way to the opportunity to grow towards something else until the day you die.

 

Pictionary- This game is less about a life strategy metaphor, and more about a communication style. I think of Pictionary players as the people who seem to find it difficult to speak about what they want or need from you in clear language. Instead, they give you hints, sometimes not clear ones, and then it’s your job to guess correctly so everyone can win. And when you don’t, it’s your fault.

 

 

Trivial Pursuit. These are the folks whose lives are consumed with everything trivial at the expense of never getting to where they would like to be. I’d like to change jobs, but I can’t get my resume done because I have to clean the house, change the kitty litter, water the garden, cut down some wood and make paper from the pulp in order to print the resume on before I can think of what I would say. They may be very talented, but few people will ever learn that about them.

 

What game best describes your life? Are you having fun playing it?

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Justin Bieber gets religion?

 

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I heard recently that, Justin has reportedly found God, is doing bible study and trying to use that avenue to turn his life around. The skeptic in me thinks Justin is trying to turn his plummeting stardom and likability ratings around- but who am I to judge. And frankly, I hope the skeptic is wrong. Not because of a religious conviction, but because at the end of the day I do firmly believe that the path to change always begins with the decision to do so followed by a single step in a different direction.

This morning I received a text from an old client I haven’t seen in a while. He told me he had been thinking of coming in for a while. I said I was looking forward to seeing him and we set up an appointment. He said I shouldn’t be too excited, because he wasn’t feeling very proud of himself. I don’t know what we have ahead to work on. Frankly, it doesn’t change how I’m feeling. I’m fairly confident that regardless of what he has to present, the fact that he already has an internal feeling that he knows he is behaving in ways he doesn’t feel good about, and is willing to talk about this, is justification for my optimism.

I am often asked if I think people change. My answer is yes. And it’s based on more than the PolyAnna optimism I’ve been charged with at times. While many people don’t change, I believe more often than not, people are capable of change. However, it is unlikely to happen unless there is something more compelling to go towards, or something compelling enough to motivate them to move away from. What qualifies as compelling varies from person to person.

 

From the outside looking in, we tend to view the need for someone else to change as pretty straight forward. Woman beaten by husband- leave him. Husband using alcohol with poor health- Don’t drink. Wife disappearing in emaciation- just eat. Employee losing wife due to overworking- just set boundaries.

I think the important thing to remember is that people don’t develop problematic behaviors in a vacuum because they are attractive or fun. Behavior is meaningful. It serves a purpose. The woman may tolerate the beatings because she is financially or emotionally dependent. The husband may be using alcohol to self-medicate other issues. The emaciated woman may use her body as a way to set boundaries between herself and others that she has been unsuccessful doing any other way and so on. I do not offer these as excuses, but as explanations or as a small glimpse of what might lie under the surface that we do not see in others when we judge.

That said, dysfunctional or maladaptive behavior needs to be addressed. But change in my opinion is a process that occurs over time, not an event from a short term burst of enlightenment. People can have an “aha” moment, feel the heal, and seal it by singing a little Kumbaya during a group hug. But chances are when they return to the mundane routine of their everyday world, the very factors that led to their choice of behavior will still be waiting for them. Real change involves learning how to be different internally even though the environment hasn’t changed.

Change takes work. It requires introspection, objectivity and honesty. It also requires a willingness to tolerate the uneasiness of stepping out of your comfort zone while you wait for something better to grow in its place. It also requires a willingness to fail and start again, sometimes over and over again.

I think I’ll wrap this one up with a little humor with a joke that although corny, does make the point.

How many psychiatrists does it take to change a light bulb?

Only one- but the light bulb has to really really want to change.

 

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Dont shoot purple cows

 

 

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Please don’t shoot the purple cows

I have to say my last post inspired ME. I hope it did you as well.

I started to think about what purple cows really look like and how would I recognize them if they were only a dim shade of lavender in the process of becoming deep purple.

My son Andrew likes to mix his ketchup and ranch dressing together for dipping French fries. I’ve criticized him for doing that in the past. It’s not normal.

I wonder if the mother of the kid who invented honey mustard was more flexible and said to her son “great idea… run with it”.

My son Alex is constantly creating large scale contraptions out of old junk. I often tell him to get the mess out of the way.

I wonder if Walt Disney’s mom told him to stop wasting so much time in his imaginary world. Or did she say,  “Wow those are such creative ideas. I bet millions of other kids would love your stories as well.”

My husband the inventor uses the microwave in increments like 33,  44 seconds rather than 30 or 40. He says it’s more efficient because it requires the hand to search for other keys.

I originally told him I thought that was the laziest thing I had ever heard. Then I realized (with much reaction from him) that this is the mindset behind process improvement in manufacturing something he knows a thing or two about. Significant manufacturing dollars are recouped with sometimes even microseconds of improvement in efficiency.

How does one become a purple cow? Some are born that way. And if they are lucky, they don’t have someone like me who talks them out of it before it flourishes and takes root.

But for those who aren’t born purple it looks a little differently. Someone asked me yesterday if you decide or become and then decide. My reply was “Once you decide, you have already become.” Let me explain.

If I take two clay pots of dirt and plant the seed for a daisy in one and a geranium in another and set them on the windowsill, anyone passing by will see only 2 clay pots with dirt in them. But at the point of deciding, and planting the seeds, they are in fact already a daisy and a geranium. They are uniquely different from each other, even though no one can see that yet. Each day as they start to make their way to the surface they take on more and more of the qualities that let’s others recognize them.

So once you plant yourself, you have made the decision to grow in a particular direction. You can water and nurture that growth and become either a vibrant daisy or a sickly one. So similarly, if you want to be a purple cow, or a purple daisy, you need first to decide what variety, plant, and then start growing. Unless of course, you are one of the lucky natural born purples. If that is the case, your work is largely the sum of not hiding your purple. And, it is a good idea to seek out and nurture other purple cows to preserve the species and protect them from extermination from people who don’t understand the benefits of purpleness, or that lavender can lead to purple.

Think about posting a metaphoric “no hunting purple cows” sign in your household or business environment. If they are wandering around, they may just be the person who comes up with the next great idea. And think about hanging one in your own brain. Eliminating the energy expenditure to mute yourself into the “normal” bubble, may just free up the creative energy you needed to accomplish something really important to you.

Thanks for reading. If you find this helpful, I hope you’ll pass it on to someone else and suggest they subscribe. If you aren’t a subscriber, please take a moment to enter your email so you won’t miss a post. Until next time take good care.

 

 

 

The Money Pit

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…I’ve realized that loss creates an opening in our lives.  We can fill that space with fear, panic and anxiety.  Or we can let it be open for creating something new, something that didn’t exist before.  It can lead to something far better.  To experience something new, we have to let go of what’s old.  We have to remain calm in the face of setbacks.—art of being unmistakable

 

The house my husband and I owned prior to the one we currently live in was a house I really loved.  It had an open floor plan, a huge kitchen and a pantry, so large that when our oldest son was a toddler, he called it the “food room”.  There was an abundance of cabinets– so many that I could be careless about the space, never really filling them to their capacity.

It also had a Jacuzzi tub in the master bath that could easily be operated with a little button on the top of the tub and a sizable walk in closet.  It wasn’t perfect.  The lot was TINY and the next door neighbor had two GINORMOUS dogs that frequently rushed the fence in a threatening way whenever we went in our back yard.  And, it was in St. Peters.; a fact that did not please my husband.

One day he came home announcing that he would like to have a little more room to use for his business.  He wanted an out building or perhaps enough land to add a building.  And then, as if someone magically waved a wand, about 10 weeks later, we were living in the house where we still remain today.

I don’t exactly mean it happened by magic.  But rather that, it happened incredibly quickly.  We looked at houses for a couple of weeks, saw the one we wanted and bought.  We went home and put our house up for sale, and moved the closing to about 3-4 weeks out.  It wasn’t as if I wasn’t an active participant.  In fact, on a couple of the days, I went out with the realtor on my own and saw houses my husband did not.  When we walked into our final pick, I fell in love with a staircase.  I imagined it decorated for the holidays.  My kids fell in love with a pool.  My husband fell in love with 3 acres at the end of the lane.  Everybody had something to love….

Until we moved in.

Day one of the move I went to work.  I returned home to find my refrigerator in my new kitchen.  Only it wasn’t where refrigerators normally go.  It was stuck in the middle of the kitchen more or less.  It seemed it was a little too large to fit in the spot where it was supposed to go.

Not to worry my husband said “we’ll buy a new one.”  The only problem however, was that the spot for a fridge was made for a size that apparently no stores in St. Louis carried.  No problem my husband said.  ” I’ll cut the above cabinet out a bit and have it cut down.”  The only problem however, was that when the former owners retiled the kitchen, they grouted the cabinet stabilizer into the floor.  No problem my husband said.  I’ll cut it away and the top cabinet will come out with the stabilizer.”  The only problem however, is that once the cabinet was removed, it showed a large hole that had been caused by an obviously leaking shower from the bathroom above.  A hole that appeared to have started growing mold.

No problem he said, and I began to feel like Goldie Hawn in  “the money pit”, just not as cute.

My response was to cry.  And cry I did.  I cried that day, the next one and pretty much most of the ones after that for about 3 months.  And when I cried I said “what have we done to our lives?

the furniture didn’t fit

I had no idea what living with a well and sewer “off the grid” meant

deer ate everything and anything that resembled a flower

there were bugs everywhere since we live in woods, not to mention a snake or two

the sprinkler system groaned at night as if a dying body was living under the front porch

frogs croaked so loudly outside the window it was hard to sleep

the jacuzzi tub was small and to operate it, you have to get out of the tub to turn on the switch

the pool heater broke

every room was painted with sponge painting

and….. did I mention it has a really pretty staircase?

My poor husband was beside himself. He tried everything he could think of- short of decorating the staircase for Christmas in August, to make the house seem more enjoyable to me. But what finally came to me was the realization that I was comparing the new house constantly to the old house. Everything had happened so quickly, that I hadn’t really had time to process leaving the old one behind. And as a result, I felt not ready for the new one. I didn’t yet “live” there.

That insight provided a huge relief for my situation.

I started to realize finally that I needed to say goodbye to my old house. It’s where we lived when we had our second son. It’s the first house we bought together and several other important memories. But at the end of the day it was a house, not our home. Our home was where we lived as a family, and that place was now no longer in St. Peters. I began to allow myself to enter the process of saying goodbye. And gradually over a few days, maybe longer, I began to open myself up to appreciating what the new house had to offer our family.

We painted. We disconnected the sprinkler. We had the hole over the fridge fixed. And we got a dog. Our beloved Snickers, who loves running in the woods around our house and chasing every rodent she can find. We met new people; some wonderful people.   We have a life here now and although we probably we won’t live here forever, it gives me great joy for now. My children are growing up here. They will most likely always think of this as the house they call their childhood home. And every Christmas, decorating the staircase still remains my favorite activity.

It’s very hard to enjoy the life you are in if a significant part of your emotional self remains living somewhere else. Are there places or people that you’ve had difficulty saying goodbye? Are there opportunities in your future that you have not yet created space for by letting go?

 

 

Butterflies are Free

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I often say that you just never know when and where guidance will come from. But I never expected it to come from Ashton Kutcher. Well, actually Ashton was the messenger, but the real wisdom comes from Steve Jobs. Let me clarify.

A couple of months ago Ashton quoted a little piece from his movie in which he plays the role of Steve Jobs. So, Kutcher was accepting an award and he offered advice to his young audience he attributed to Steve Jobs.   By the way, The Jobs movie is surprisingly worth watching, but if you want the short cut version of Kutcher’s speech, this link will take you there.

 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fT-jbMHbiwk

“When you grow up you tend to get told that the world is the way it is and you’re life is just to live your life inside the world. Try not to bash into the walls too much. Try to have a nice family life, have fun, save a little money. That’s a very limited life. Life can be much broader once you discover one simple fact: Everything around you that you call life was made up by people that were no smarter than you. And you can change it, you can influence it… Once you learn that, you’ll never be the same again.”

 

It prompts these kinds of thoughts for me.

How much depression is caused by the exhaustion of holding all of your potential locked inside? Or from trying to fit into a life that someone else decided the rules for?

How did the guy who decided to make a bunch of money picking up dog poop in other people’s yards deal with all the people that laughed at him when he came up with the idea?

Who stands to lose the most if you stop following all of the rules inside your head?

How would we be traveling today if Henry Ford, the Wright Brothers and others followed the status quo and did things the way they were familiar with? The ways people understood. The way people before them told them it was supposed to be.

What is the price you are willing to pay to color outside the lines and take a path or a project that no one else has thought of?

These are not questions to run through quickly. They require time to let you mull them around. But if you were willing to let yourself do something that doesn’t already exist, how might you change the world?

Changing the world doesn’t have to mean the whole world. It doesn’t mean your city, your neighborhood, or even your whole family. It just has to begin with you.

Have you heard of the Butterfly effect? I’m not talking about the movie, which ironically stars Ashton Kutcher. I am talking about a concept in chaos theory that took its name originally from a short story written in 1952 by Ray Bradbury. It’s called “A Sound of Thunder”. I won’t detail that story here because you can find it pretty easily online, or let me know if you can’t.   But the bottom line is that changing one small thing can have dramatic impact on much larger systems.

 

Translated it means making a change in the way you are “supposed to live as defined by others” to living in a way fueled by your own unleashed creativity can change things for years to come.

Admittedly, the world probably won’t be changed on its axis because you paint the walls in your house purple instead of white.

But someone one day, someone sounding crazy said “hey, I think we can talk to people all over the world instantaneously through electronic mediums. “ Another crazy sounding person said we could send a space ship to the moon.

Do you have some “crazy” ideas that you need to unleash?

So the next time you see a butterfly, remember it can change the world. And you are free to as well.

 

 

 

Love me tender

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If you have been in a relationship for a while, this one is for you. If you are newly in a relationship, this one’s for you. And if you are not in a relationship but hope to be at some point, this one’s for you.

Boy meets girl. Boy is excited about girl. He thinks about calling her and imagines her on the other end of the line happy to hear from him. He feels good. They go out, have some fun. He goes home, thinks about her and feels good a while longer. Repeat, repeat, repeat.   He picks a daisy for her and brings it to her. She smiles. He feels good.   He leaves a little origami bird on her windshield. He tells her things he hasn’t told other people. He is a happy camper.

Girl meets boy. Girl is excited about boy. She waits hoping he will call, thinking about everything they talked about. He calls and she is happy. They go out, have some fun. Repeat Repeat repeat. She gets to know his preferences. She cooks a meal for him. He likes it. She is happy. She knits him a sweater, thinking with every stitch how happy she is to have found him.

Boy and girl get married. Its good. They have kids. Its better. And then… its not. He has more demands at work. Boy comes to girl looking for relief from the outside world. Girl has been taking care of kids all day. Taking care of boy is not the next thing on her agenda. She wishes he would notice her workload and help out. Frustrated, she zones out, maybe a glass of wine, and a couple of hours of bad TV. After a bit, he stops looking towards her and instead gets lost in hours of internet surfacing to relieve his stress. She wakes up from her numb and sees only that he ignores her every evening.

Inevitable? I don’t think so. Maybe they didn’t have a good foundation. Maybe they weren’t ready to get married. Maybe a bunch of things.

Or maybe something much more simple. When I work with couples, I frequently use an exercise that I borrow from Harville Hendrix who wrote “getting the love you want”. It goes simply like this:

This week do something nice for your partner. Even if you don’t like your partner very much. Do something that you know would make them happy.

Often people will initially resist because they don’t feel warm and fuzzy about the other guy (or gal). But the real target of the exercise is the doer-not the receiver. Because it works like this: when we think on our own about doing something for someone that we know is going to make him or her happy, we have a good feeling about OURSELVES during the anticipating. We like ourselves because we feel powerful and/or effective in knowing that we have the ability or creativity to impact another person in a meaningful way. We fast forward our mind to anticipate the other person enjoying our efforts. We make our selves feel good.

Unfortunately, many of us get settled into a relationship and we stop thinking about how we can make the other person feel good, and instead begin expecting them to meet our needs, usually leaving us disappointed, or even disillusioned. But the real tragedy is that we lose a vital part of ourselves in the process. It is the part of us that we ignited to make our own self feel good and effective. We blame the sense of loss on a shortfall of the other person. Some partners confuse “completing a checklist of tasks assigned by our partner to avoid getting in trouble” as trying to make the other happy. While that may avoid an argument, it does little to make us feel good about ourselves, because there is no “original thought from within to promote feeling good about our own nature—- except compliance which doesn’t have much gusto.

Let me make the argument another way. When we have a new baby (or a puppy), we love it immediately. It hasn’t yet done anything to deserve that love except show up. We don’t really know its personality or potential yet, but we bestow good feelings on to it. We voluntarily make a huge deposit into an emotional bank account that, has their name on the title, and see them as rich—- even though its with our emotional money.

So, if you are a boy, or a girl who isn’t feeling quite so yummy about your relationship, I want to challenge you. When is the last time that you made a deposit in the bank of your partner? Not for his or her benefit, but so that you can feel rich yourself? That’s what you did in the beginning. When our boy made the origami bird, he imagined himself as effective and it felt good. When our girl knitted the sweater she felt significant to another person, long before he knew the sweater existed, or she saw it worn. They weren’t waiting for the thank you certificate to arrive before the feeling good started. We have the capacity within us to feel good about ourselves and our connection to another, long before the receiver of our efforts acknowledges them. In fact, their acknowledgment is only icing on the cake. Don’t make it the cake or the reason to do something.

If you are still new in a relationship or aren’t yet in one, then consider this for future reference. There is a saying “a smart man knows that the things it took to get a woman, are the same ones needed to keep her”. I would suggest that smart partners know that the part of yourself you engaged and enjoyed when you begin a meaningful relationship needs to be nurtured by you throughout the relationship if you want to continue feeling satisfied. That responsibility remains with you, not your partner.

 

 

 

 

Happy Easter

Easter

What does it mean to you? Perhaps it is a time of great religious contemplation or absolutely nothing- When I was a kid I remember that my mother often bought each of us a solid chocolate rabbit.  She worked in restaurants and was able to purchase these from a wholesaler making them more affordable.  It would literally take us months to consume them and it often became a kind of game between my  brothers and me.  I’ve eaten my ears… My head is completely gone… and so the race to finish would carry on.

When my own children were small Easter looked like hiding plastic eggs around the yard or going to a Community Easter egg hunt.  The giant and imposing rabbit walking around usually scared my son’s,  and they were consoled only by the colorful plastic ovals filled with candy.

Whether or not you have a religious attachment to the day, Easter is still a day embedded with message of promise yet to come.  Whether it’s unwrapping a chocolate bunny, opening a surprise filled egg or the blossoming of redbuds and spring flowers, there is something of jubilance on the horizon.  Whatever is yet to bloom for you, I hope it is filled with joy, happiness and child-like wonder.