Correction

On balance.

I have written about balance, how we crave it, how to get closer to it. I have always admired my boyfriend for the balance he has in his life. I am always seeking more balance in mine. So, imagine my surprise when I started a new book today that says balance is a lie. Well, I stand corrected.

I started a book called “The ONE Thing” by Gary Keller and Jay Papsan and in the very first chapter it goes into very convincing detail about how “balance” is a lie. It makes total and complete sense. What is balance?

bal·ance

/ˈbaləns/

Noun

An even distribution of weight enabling someone or something to remain upright and steady.

Verb

Keep or put (something) in a steady position so that it does not fall: “a mug that she balanced on her knee”.

Synonyms

noun.  scales – equilibrium – equipoise – poise – scale

verb.  poise – weigh – equilibrate

When we speak of balance in life we are eluding to the balance of how we devote energies to things in life we consider important; work, family, health, friends, religion, politics, hobbies, etc. So, in it’s modified application, balance, as it pertains to life, would be, perhaps, “an even distribution of energy between activities in life to maintain equality”. Balance, then, in this sense would mean we would devote an equal amount of energy to everything in life we consider valuable. Is that practical? Is that even possible? So, you’re at work and you are given an assignment or project and you apply on a certain amount of energy to it so as to keep all else equal? How long will you keep your job with that mindset? Likewise, you are caring for your family, there are two soccer games, a Girl Scout meeting later and some help required on math homework. Do you just stop the car between the Girl Scout meeting and the soccer game because you’ve exhausted the allotted amount of energy on family for the day? Of course not. In life, things need to be done, some things before others, and we will have to apply enough energy to complete the task or activity to satisfaction. In other words, we prioritize tasks and activities and apply the appropriate amount of energy to get to the desired point of completion of each within a certain period of time. Make sense? This will require uneven amounts of energy to different activities, on a regular basis. So, we really don’t want balance, nor is it even desirable.

The trick is to know your limits; how much energy to apply to each facet of your life. This, again, is called prioritization and is a skill that takes a great deal of thought, planning and constant adjustment. The book suggests, convincingly, that we do not excel at much unless we devote a great deal of energy to it. If we devote equal amounts of energy to everything in life, we will achieve mediocrity in all we do. Think of those big assignments in school, or studying for final exams, a great deal of energy was applied and without it, a mediocre result was achieved. It was a temporary application of a great deal of energy, and once completed, the energy could be focused in another area. We have similar experiences with work. And with family. And friends. And everything else worthwhile in life.

I was in a yoga class yesterday and we assumed the “tree pose”, one of my favorites because, frankly, I’m quite good at it. In the tree pose, you stand on one foot and lift the other so that it is off the ground and, if you can, place the flat of your foot against the inner thigh of the supporting leg. Most would say you “balance” to maintain the position, but even that is untrue. Balance; put or kept in a steady position so as not to fall. Balance assumes no movement, think of a scale that is balanced, both sides are so equal that movement ceases. In a yoga pose, the tree pose especially, you are moving all over the place, even if you are capable of maintaining the position so well you appear motionless. In fact, there are probably very few muscles that aren’t moving, adjusting, correcting. This is true in dance, too, the dancers appear to be “balanced”, when in fact many fine muscles in the supporting legs and in the core of the body are moving, constantly, to maintain that position. That’s what my muscles did yesterday so I could maintain tree pose, they shifted and twitched and flexed and tightened. So, rather than balancing, my muscles were correcting my position, constantly, so it could be maintained.

In life, in order to accomplish what needs to be done, beyond mediocrity, we need to devote unequal amounts of energy to given activities. We need to make corrections, constantly, so we can shift our energies from one activity to another, to the satisfaction of that activity. We need to identify and apply priorities to our activities to know just how much correction, or energy, is required.

In “The ONE Thing”, the author quoted a passage from a James Patterson book “Suzanne’s Diary for Nicholas”. In the passage the author suggests you should imagine life as a game where you are juggling five balls; work, family, health, friends and integrity. Work is a ball made of rubber and will bounce back if dropped. The remaining four balls are made of glass and will likely break if dropped. And, in life, hopefully, we learn this lesson before we have spent too much energy on work and not enough on the other, more fragile things in life.

Even in love we are never in balance, we are always adjusting and making corrections. In a relationship, there is always change. It is impossible to expect two people to progress, in the same direction, at the same rate. In new relationships, we begin thinking we have much in common. As time passes, we usually find that we have significant differences, if not incompatibilities. Perhaps there is fear, insecurity, distrust or hurt from past experiences as a catalyst, or different goals, or different timelines. This does not necessarily doom the relationship. Necessarily. If the parties involved are able, and willing, little adjustments, or corrections, can be made and things can continue to progress. Established relationships are no different, they’ve just made it through the neophyte phase. There will be changes, differences and even incompatibilities. Again, making adjustments or corrections will be the key to long-term success. It is not a matter of balance, but of corrections. No relationship, new or old, will ever be balanced; kept or put in a steady position so it does not fall. The key is making those adjustments, those corrections, to maintain the desired position – the happy relationship.

What applies to love applies to any other relationship; friendships, family, even relationships with your dog, or your horse. All will require adjustments and corrections as the relationship changes, for whatever reason.

Is this not true for driving? I had a blissful drive today, between Napa and Sacramento. Once on Interstate 80, especially when traffic is light, I like to think of my drive as “high speed therapy”. Let’s just say I like to push the limit a bit. I like to drive fast. And not get caught. And, like the tree pose, I am quite good at it. But, I did see two CHP officers as I was hurtling along at not quite twenty miles an hour over the posted limit. What did I do? I adjusted, I corrected. I applied a little less energy to my activity. In driving, we are constantly monitoring other cars, subtle changes in the road; curves, inclines, declines, bumps in the road, police officers, and for each of these, we will adjust many things, how much we accelerate, whether we need to apply the brakes, change lanes, turn or even swerve. All the while, though, we are trying to maintain a fairly constant rate of speed, whether faster or slower than the posted limit, which is the “balance” we are trying to maintain. I have a large digital speedometer on my dash and it is very easy to see (even from passing cars) what speed I am traveling at. I am not a fan of cruise control and without it, though I maintain an average speed, the actual speed fluctuates a great deal. It is not balance, not a steady rate, but a series of tiny adjustments or corrections based on a number of variables and activities.

So, in seeking a better balance in life, might I suggest you begin by making a correction? Balance is not attainable, but a series of adjustments to how you apply your time, your passion, your energy to those worthy interests in life is what will help you achieve that which you seek, that which you crave, that which you may find elusive. Make the correction.

 

Disappointment

Disappointment

dis·ap·point·ment

/ˌdisəˈpointmənt/

Noun

The feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations.

Synonyms

letdown – frustration – chagrin – disillusionment

Ever feel that way? Ever not feel that way?

Disappointment, I’m afraid, is just part of life. I just had a phone conversation with my son who is trying to secure additional student loan funding for a summer course and a planned transfer to another school. Unfortunately, due to many prior disappointments in life, the funding was denied and he is extremely disappointed. His “Plan A” is just not going to be possible. We talked for a while about alternate plans, other possible scenarios for summer and fall and for completing his college education. And we talked about disappointment.

Sometimes it’s pretty hard to believe that our natural state is one of happiness. How are we to be happy all the time if we constantly face disappointment? Disappointment is, really, nearly a daily occurrence, in one way or another. And the very definition of disappointment is “a feeling of sadness”, in direct contradiction with happiness, our supposed natural state. It’s all rather disappointing, isn’t it?

We need to separate disappointment, the feeling of sadness, from happiness, our natural state. Though seemingly related, as feelings or emotions, and in direct opposition, truly, one does not negate the possibility of the other. If you are, generally, very happy, it is perfectly natural, ordinary and commonplace to have some disappointment. If we are disappointed for one reason or another, it does not in any way prevent us from experiencing happiness overall.

Disappointment, again, by definition, is caused by the nonfulfillment of one’s hopes or expectations. Disappointment is not defined as the removal of happiness from your life. If your hopes or expectations are not fulfilled you just need to regroup and focus on a different hope or expectation, if not a different method to attain the original. Nonfulfillment of a hope or an expectation is rarely permanent.  Disappointment is temporary. Disappointment doesn’t erase your hope or your expectation; it just means you’ll have to find another way to fulfill it. Disappointment, if you get creative with it, is a catalyst for, well, creativity. So, if “plan A” doesn’t work and you are disappointed, use that energy to draft another couple of plans that may move you in the same general direction as the original plan.

As to happiness, our natural state; happiness is permanent, it is organic, and it is easily accessible to anyone. Happiness is nothing more than living in the present. Now. Period. If it is so simple to have permanent, lasting happiness, why does the world seem filled with misery? Because no one lives in the present. Now. Period. Don’t dwell on the past, don’t fret over the future, live each and every moment focusing on the present. That’s not to say you shouldn’t have hopes and expectations, but that you should not be so focused on the future that you are missing the opportunities, in the present, to take action and move forward towards the future, towards your hopes and expectations.

We must have goals. We must have goals that align with our values. Goals that align with our values provide us with guiding principles. Guiding principles are what we use, in the present, to move us towards our goals without being totally myopic about the future. Simple.

So, when disappointment strikes, how do we cope? Again, keep in mind that disappointment, the nonfulfillment of hopes and expectations, is related to the course of action, or plan, that failed. The hopes and expectations are still there. Using your goals, aligned with your values, following your guiding principles, take one step in the direction of your hope or expectation, right now. If that one step is creating a new plan, a new timeline, a new budget, identifying a new resource, it is an action, taken in the present, that may advance you towards the eventual fulfillment of your hopes or expectations. Make sense?

As to the timeline we apply to our hopes and expectations; has anyone, ever, been able to control time? Never. We only ever hope to learn to manage it. As a general guide, a timeline is nice, but in a world of infinite variables, a hard and fast timeline for every goal is never practical and has us doing what? Focusing on points in the future, with stress and anxiety, rather than focusing on the present with peace and clarity.

There is a bit of a trick, though, when your hopes or expectations involve others. Disappointment due to the actions or inactions of other people are completely out of our control. And this comes down to your goals, your values, your guiding principles and living in the present. If your hope or expectation is to have a lasting, loving relationship with a specific person, you are attaching your hopes and expectations to a person you have no way of controlling. And, to make matters worse, seeking to control that person is more likely to cause the relationship to fail than not. This is true for just about anything where your hopes or expectations rely on the performance of another person or people. Adjust for it. Instead of stating your goal “I want so and so to love me forever, to be faithful and true, passionate and caring, for as long as we live” you might just state your goal as “I am lovable, I am loved, I am loving”. The specifics will follow in a more natural and fulfilling manner once you achieve the very general. You cannot control the “who”, you cannot always control the “when” or the “how” but you can control the “what”, and it should all be based on the appropriate “why”.

Have you ever heard someone say “be careful what you pray for?” Sometimes in praying or asking for very specific things, with energy and intent, we get them, and all their hidden or undesired consequences. For my whole life, I wanted a ranch. When a rare but risky opportunity presented itself, I prayed and prayed and prayed to somehow, some way, be able to “get the ranch”. Not “a ranch”, but “that ranch”. Through miracles and very creative mortgage financing, my hopes and expectations came true. With a change in the economy and the deterioration of my husband’s already lacking work ethic and motivation, the dream ranch became impossible to sustain on only my income. It became a nightmare, not the dream. And eventually, it was lost. The pain and the lesson all reinforced in my mind the fact that you need to be very careful in what you pray for. General is better than specific. Take steps towards it in the present and make sure it aligns with your goals, values and guiding principles. Creative mortgage financing, in hindsight, was not in alignment with my goals, values and guiding principles.

For my son, the hope or expectation that he was going to obtain financing, today, requiring a willing and qualified co-signer, in order to attend a specific summer course in his field of study, at a specific time, so he can then move before the fall term to another state, to advance his studies in order to affect a transfer to yet another school that would provide him leverage on admission to the graduate program of his dreams, all may have been a little to specific. The goal is to attend the graduate program of his dreams and that hasn’t changed. The timeline, the budget and the path have. The nonfulfillment is temporary, the goal has permanence.

The means to an end. Is it the means that matter, or the end? Are there not a million ways to reach the end? More than one mean? Of course. With the happiness of living in the present as our energy, fueled by meaningful goals, aligned with our values, creating our guiding principles, we can venture down as many paths as are necessary to fulfill our hopes or expectations. Furthermore, each path we venture down will also broaden our experiences, an added benefit.

So my son and I talked about disappointment today. I said, “if everyone got their “plan A”, we’d all be ….” and I struggled for the right words to express my thought. My son completed my thought perfectly, he said “we’d be weak.” In disappointment, we have the opportunity to find the strength and the means, and often, the very strength and means required to fulfill our hopes and expectations.

Goals. Values. Guiding principles. Now. Period.

 

 

I Rock

Stability. We need stability. We need stable ground to walk on, we need stable ground to build our homes on, solid footing to set the foundation upon. We need stability in our lives, too. We are all looking for something in our life, as solid as the earth, to root into. Something solid to build from. Even those of us who crave excitement, experiences and spontaneity require stability in our lives as an anchor point. When a bird takes flight, supported only by the current of the air, they light upon something that will support them. When a bird builds a nest, it chooses a place it is certain will support the weight of the nest, the nesting partner, the eggs, and, eventually, the fledglings. We are no different, we need something supportive to light upon, to nest upon, something we are certain is secure, stable and sound, and this is in a metaphorical sense as much as a tangible sense.

Do you recall the 6.9 magnitude Loma Prieta earthquake near San Francisco in October 1989? Perhaps not. But I felt that earthquake over eighty miles away in Sacramento. So much more destruction occurred to buildings in one area than in others, not because of the magnitude of the quake, but because that area of the city was developed on fill, on ground that was not as solid as it would seem. The very ground that supported the buildings in that area of destruction pretty much just turned to Jell-O. The buildings that were constructed on actual earth fared much better. An illustration of how important it is to have a solid base before you build, whether building buildings or building a life

The mistake people tend to make, the mistake most people make without exception, is that we try to anchor to something, or someone, that cannot or will not offer us the stability we desire. None of us are immune from this shortcoming, myself included. And I know better, I know so much better, and yet, here I am.

Sometimes, to understand stability, we have to have the rug pulled out from beneath us. In the past five years I have lost my home. Two, actually. I’ve ended my marriage of over twenty years. Both of my children have grown and left home. My father passed away. My life, still, is extremely uncertain and lacks any sense of permanence in almost every respect.  And with nearly every conversation I’ve had in the past week with family, friends and those I allow close to me, permanence seems even more illusive. And I am fine. Through all of this, I have learned that you need to find an inner strength as your anchor, to provide you with stability, because no one and no thing will ever provide you the solid ground you need to support yourself through life. Everything in your life can, and likely will, change, and not always for the better. And I’m a glass half full type of girl, but this is reality. The inner strength you draw from may be the only solid ground, the only rock, you can ever light upon after having to take flight. I am my own rock.

So, you need to find, within yourself, your own rock to cling to, to land upon, to build from. No matter what happens, then, you have that solid footing, and no one can take it from you. And still, we tend to want to find other rocks, rocks outside of ourselves. Knowing this, and having done, I think, an exemplary job drawing from my inner strength through it all, I still find myself groping for other rocks in an attempt to secure stability. This is a facet of human nature, and of self, that I struggle to understand, that I vow I will never again fall victim to, and, yet, here I am again. But I am my own rock.

Have you ever crossed a fast running, cold mountain stream during snowmelt? You seek to leave the solid pathway on which you stand and find a way across a tumultuous stream on uncertain footing before finally reaching solid ground on the other side. Perhaps there is a felled tree or a log fashioned into a bridge. It may be narrow, or wet and slippery, or not anchored well on one side or the other, but it provides something solid by which you may be able to cross the cold, rushing water. If not a log crossing, there may be a series of boulders in the water that you can use as stepping-stones to cross the raging waters. Personally, I prefer rock crossings to log crossings, any day. But even rock crossings are not without peril, often the rocks themselves are not solidly anchored in the streambed and wobble and topple when you put your weight on them. You learn to stand on the shore, from the highest vantage point your can find, and look for rocks that are large enough and solid enough to support your weight for a period of time, until you can progress to the next rock. You learn to step, apply some weight to ascertain the stability of the rock, then, if satisfied, you shift your entire weight onto it, landing safely for a moment, before identifying the next rock to step to, again, testing it first.

And, so it is with life. We may have that solid rock within from which we derive the strength and the power to get us through the challenges life will present us. Think of the challenges life presents like crossing a stream, having to step away from the solid ground, your internal rock of strength, and venture across a carefully chosen and perilous path, before you are again able to stand upon your own, solid rock. Some of us seek to cross these streams, some raging rivers, some babbling brooks. Others of us find our path in life puts us in a position where we have to cross the creek. Either way, the water must be crossed in order to continue on. Look for the right rocks to provide you a safe crossing, back to your own, strong internal rock of strength. Be your own rock.

What is your rock, your internal rock of strength? The type of rock that will anchor you in the worst of storms, one you can cling to when the waves are crashing hard and fast, one you can sit on as the flood waters rise, one you can use as a wind break in a storm, one you can bask in the sun on after a cold night. Your internal rock is made up of many things; things you can draw from in your journey through life. Your internal rock is made up of things you use for strength; your values, your guiding principles, your faith, your hope, your independence, your integrity, your commitment to self, your self-confidence, your motivation. You decide, but at a minimum, at the core of your rock, you need to know your values and your guiding principles, the rest will follow, the rest will just make your rock larger, providing you more solid ground to stand on. Be your own rock.

With such a formidable base to stand on, then, why do we seek to cling to other rocks? Again, a facet of human nature, or self, that I wish I understood. I have just caught myself jumping onto wobbly rocks in a perilous stream and wondering why I felt so off balance. Now that I have tested the rocks in the center of the stream, and I know they are not solid, I must decide whether to continue across this stream, or retreat to safety where I will cling, again, to my core, the solid rock within. I am my own rock.

What are your wobbly rocks? Have you identified them, or perhaps they will take you by surprise. Relationships? Career? Material possessions? Any of these can seem to provide you with the security and stability, the strength you need, and without warning, each and every one of these may wobble and spill you into the stream.

Relationships. How many friends have I heard tell me the same story? It’s like reading a book written by a very popular and prolific fiction author, it’s basically the same plot, the same story line, with a different geographical setting and slightly different characters. The story remains the same, like a template or a boilerplate.  “He cheated on me.” “She came home one day, handed me divorce papers and said it was over.” “I do love you, I’m just not sure I can do this.” “You’re great, it’s just me. “I just suck at relationships.” Sometimes after a month, or maybe thirty years, and we are always taken by surprise. Or are we? We didn’t see it coming. Or did we? The rock wobbled and ploink, in the cold water we go, to be swept downstream by the current, looking for something else, or someone else to grab on to. I’m not saying we should go through life lonely, that we should not dare to enter relationships, for there is much joy that comes from the loving another. But, in relationships, never anchor yourself to that other person to the point where you rely on them to fulfill you, to make you happy, or to support you. Don’t cling to that other person because you can’t imagine life without them, because you may have to some day. Be your own rock.

Career. Layoffs, downsizing, bankruptcy, consolidations and other business failures, rapidly advancing technologies, regulatory requirements.  In my career as an auditor I have to assess the risk of any or all of these, and a million more, as they pertain to the businesses I am auditing. If you think your position within a company is going to provide you with the strength and stability you require throughout life, you have been very, very, very lucky, and perhaps a bit ignorant, up to this point. Your career should be rewarding and fulfilling, but it should never be your cornerstone, your bedrock, because one little conference call, one little form letter, one little pink piece of paper and the rock has toppled and ploink, you’re in the cold, cold stream sputtering for breath. Be your own rock.

Material possessions. No matter how large or small, expensive or affordable, material possessions can never, ever provide us with the security we require. A turn in events, in the economy for example, can put you in peril of losing that which we most often identify as our most solid base; our house. Perhaps you seek self-expression and identity with the car you drive, or the clothes and shoes you wear, the boat, the motorcycle, the RV, the vacation home. All are great, but certainly are not the foundation on which your life should be based. One poorly timed lane merge, one freakish storm, one shorted wire can find you flailing your arms as you slip from that rock and ploink, into the river, swimming against the current to the shore for safety. Be your own rock.

Do you remember the story of the three little pigs? They had to go out into the world and build their own homes. The first pig built their home out of straw, the second out of sticks and the third from bricks, or stone. The first two pigs looked for the easiest building materials they could find, materials that would require the least amount of effort, and in both cases, their houses toppled. The third pig was very selective in his building material and applied considerably more effort in erecting his house. And it withstood. Build your house from stone. Be your own rock. And like the little pigs, when the unthinkable happens, you are safe and secure and you may even be able to provide strength and stability, temporarily, to those you know who are in need.

I was an Assistant Scoutmaster for a Boy Scout troop for many years, the only woman leader for most of the time. I was on a backpacking trek with a group of boys and men in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. We were training for an upcoming ten-day trek in New Mexico. I was new to backpacking, though I had hiked for many years. I was managing quite well though I had packed more in my pack than I needed, weighing it down much more than necessary, and I, myself, weighed about forty pounds more than I do now. I was able to keep up with the boys, the men were hiking behind me a good quarter mile, so I was pleased. It wasn’t cardio or endurance that was my issue, it was balance. We found a flat piece of ground to sleep on our second night out, it was across a stream and there was not a makeshift bridge made of a log, nor were there any rocks to use as stepping stones in order to cross. We were going to have to leap across the stream. The boys all bounded across without any trouble, leaping off of a large boulder on one side and landing on the bank on the other. My turn came. I stepped up onto the boulder and my full and over-packed pack shifted ever so slightly. In slow, slow, slow motion, I lost my balance. I was in a war with gravity for what seemed a full minute, I could feel the pack pulling me backwards and no matter how I tried to correct myself, I could feel myself tip further and further off center. In a second that seemed to last for hours, I was on my back, on my backpack, wedged helplessly between two boulders. Three men pulled me, and my pack, upright. I suffered no injuries other than a sound blow to my pride. I was relieved of my backpack and easily leapt across the creek, my pack was tossed across safely thereafter. I laughed the whole thing off, of course, and from this I started “the turtle club”, an exclusive club that only awarded membership to people who fell in some unceremonious and embarrassing manner. We ended up with several members over the course of the months that followed. So, I guess the lesson here is to be very careful when you select a rock to leap from, make sure you are well balanced, perhaps lighten your load, and be certain you aren’t overestimating your ability to land safely on the other side. Be your own rock.

I was also a Girl Scout leader for many, many years. My girls did not just sell cookies and burden their parents’ refrigerators with tacky arts and crafts projects, my girls hiked and biked and snowboarded and rode roller coasters and camped. And rock climbed. Some of the girls were attending the local council’s rock climbing camp and one of the activities was going to be rappelling into a cavern, which was a little troubling to a couple of girls, my daughter included. We were fortunate enough to have a very experienced rock climber among the group of parents involved with the troop and he volunteered to teach us to rappel down a cliff in a remote canyon in the Sierra Nevada foothills. I have always been a little nervous about heights and took advantage of this opportunity to confront my trepidation. If you have never rappelled off of a cliff, you should, with the proper instruction, supervision and equipment, of course. There is nothing quite like taking that first step off the ledge, walking backwards, focusing on the rope, the knot and the anchor as you descend. Will it hold? In rappelling, you hold your own rope, you lower yourself down at your own pace, you hold your fate in your own hands. And, really, life is no different. You hold your fate in your own hands and every day, you are stepping backwards off the cliff, rope in hand. And as you step bravely off that ledge, remember, your feet are solidly planted on rock, it is stable, and that’s all we want, that’s all we need. Be your own rock.

Let’s rock and roll, then. You absolutely need to build your own solid core, your internal rock, consisting of your core values and your guiding principles. Spend some time identifying these, like the third of the three little pigs and his wise and careful selection of building materials. Read books on the topic if you need guidance, but identifying your core values and guiding principles is the first, most critical step. In identifying your core values you are likely to determine that certain traits or characteristics are important to you, for example, health, fitness, independence, self-confidence. Add these to your rock, embody them, and draw from the strength they provide. Once you have your solid internal rock, nurture it, never let it crumble against the tide, against the current. That rock, that base, becomes your vantage point for identifying stones to test, to step upon, to cross any streams you may encounter.

Once we have identified our core values and our guiding principles, once we have that solid rock deep within, we are more capable of handling whatever the world throws at us. That rock, that base, will always be there. With a solid base, our own touchstone, if you will, we can actually explore options in life that we may never have had the courage or confidence to attempt before. Remember, that with every new experience, every new adventure, every fear faced, we become stronger, wiser and more confident. Our rock is fortified. I am my own rock. I rock. Be your own rock. Rock on.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’m Special

Have you ever felt taken for granted by loved ones in your life? Have you ever had one of those days where you just don’t feel very special? Where people you know love, cherish and adore you are indifferent, distant or distracted? Feels terrible, doesn’t it?

So you’re not being treated like you’re special from someone you think should be treating you like you’re special. Do you let it get to you? Like it’s all about you and it’s up to them to make you feel special? That’s the problem, there, not whether you are special or deserving, but that you are relying on someone else to make you feel that way. That is hard work, impossible work, and is unfair to ask of anyone.

Feeling special, just like everything else, is up to you. When you think you’re pretty special, the world will fall in line. Feeling special is an expression of confidence and self-worth, both of which come from within. True, people can acknowledge your specialness, in some way, but that in itself does not make you special. Neither does someone’s temporary lapse of acknowledgement of your specialness make you any less special. Confidence, self-worth, feeling special; it’s an energy, and like all energy, it attracts a corresponding energy. Feeling special is just like being likable; if you don’t like yourself much, it’s pretty silly to expect others to like you, too.

If you want to feel special, you need to develop that feeling about yourself, first. You need to decide what it is that you think is special about you. Make a list. I’m not kidding, sit down and make a list of all the special things about you. Pretty hard, isn’t it? If you’ve never taken time to document your special qualities, if you aren’t aware of your special qualities, then who the hell are you to think someone else is duty bound to make that list and remind you of the contents of that list, regularly, to your satisfaction?

Think about it. What makes you special, contemplate, deliberate, consider and then, write it down. Once you have a list, leave it in a handy place, you’re likely to think of more reasons why you are special, and those reasons should be added to your list, too. Keep a running list for however long it takes for you to figure out all your special qualities. Once your list is fairly complete, keep it close at hand, read it over, often. Daily, even. If you journal or repeat affirmations each day, add your special list to your daily practice, lest we ever forget what makes us so special. This practice, more than any other, will instill in you the confidence and the self-worth you need to feel special, all by yourself, without external reinforcement.

Are there special qualities you lack? When you made your list, are there some items you think should be on the list that aren’t? Here is a magic trick; add them to your list, too. Affirm them, acknowledge the desired qualities in your life as though they were true, and you will embody them, they will become true. By the power of suggestion, through persistent belief and affirmation, you can adopt the qualities you lack, the qualities you desire. Magic.

The wonderful thing about self-sufficient, self-sustained “specialness” is you never have to rely on anyone to supply you with it, to fill that void. Your belief in yourself, your own special qualities, can never be taken from you. You are the keeper, your special qualities are yours, you’ve discovered them, you’ve recognized them, they are yours, all yours. Cherish them. Foster them. Believe them. Become them. The confidence and self-worth that springs from this will carry you through life with more happiness and bliss than you’ve ever known. Trust me.

There is another little trick with feeling special, the golden rule applies. Exponentially. Congratulations, first of all, on finally figuring out that you’re special in so many ways. Have you noticed the people in your life? Aren’t they special, too? Oh. My. Are you taking them for granted? Or are you just indifferent, distant or distracted? True, it is up to them to fill their own specialness void, but there is certainly no harm in being attentive, caring or heedful. Truly, one of the special qualities you develop should be attentiveness, caring, heedfulness, and these traits will foster good relationships with the people in your life. To feel extra special, treat the people in your life special and they will likely reciprocate.

Strive to be attentive to everyone in your life; friends, family, lovers, co-workers, superiors at work, those you oversee at work, acquaintances, strangers on the street. Being attentive requires no special skill, just a general awareness and thoughtfulness. In a world where random acts of kindness are notable, and sadly, are treated like extraordinary acts, seek to adopt random kindness as one of your qualities. The Girl Scouts and the Boy Scouts, two completely separate, autonomous organizations, share a slogan; “do a good turn daily”. Have you done a good turn today? And, is there a rule by which you can only do ONE good turn daily? Be attentive, make yourself special by becoming attentive to everyone you encounter.

Being attentive to your lover is particularly important. Make them feel as special today as you did when your love was new. Everyday. It is so easy to slip into a complacent pattern where you know you love each other, but the time has passed where you feel the need to “prove” your love, to have to remind the other of your love. Once the love is assumed without much expression, lovers begin to feel under-appreciated, taken for granted. Lovers begin to feel that the spark is dwindling, or, worse, gone. If there is love, the spark is there, no matter how long it has been, even if doubt and bitterness have crept in, there is still a spark that can usually be reignited. You’re special, remember? And there must be something you find special about your lover, or you wouldn’t have fallen in love in the first place. Remember. And become attentive to those special qualities. Acknowledge them, praise them. Be thoughtful, caring and heedful and what you have between you will become more special, again.

Life is special. If you’re alive, you possess life. Simply being in possession of life puts you in possession of something special. Foster your special qualities and your life will become more and more special. With the confidence and self-worth you uncover, your life will blossom into something greater, people in your life will regard you in a new manner, and you will make the world a better place by sharing your special qualities, by being attentive, thoughtful, careful and heedful. It is a cycle. The more special you believe you are, the more special your life becomes. You become special by believing you are special. Believe. I’m special. So are you.

 

 

Small Change

You see a penny on the ground, do you pick it up? What if it were a nickel, dime or quarter? At what point is it worth it to you to pick up a coin? Are you more inclined to pick up a coin from the ground if no one is around to observe you?

I learned from my children that you only pick the penny up if it’s heads up, they’re lucky if they’re heads up. If it’s tails up, it’s not lucky and should be left as is. Funny, even though my kids are all grown up, I still exercise this behavior, but only if no one is watching, otherwise, I let the coin lie. A few years ago, my daughter and I started turning the tails up pennies over so the other could then pick up the heads up penny for good luck. My dad was a believer in “lucky coins”, too, he’d pick up any coin he found on the ground, because it was good fortune, and put it in his pocket. My dad had a certain amount of nervous energy, as do I. He would fidget a bit if he were impatient or anxious to get going. Usually when he fidgeted, he jingled all the lucky coins in his pocket.

When I was growing up, my father had a bicycle shop. During college I worked as a bicycle mechanic on the weekends and over the summers. I would commute to the shop with my dad early every morning. After we arrived at the shop, I’d begin assembling new bicycles and my dad would take his leaf blower and clean off the sidewalk in front of the shop, blowing any leaves that may have dared fall upon the sidewalk into the gutter. There was a bar a couple of doors down from the shop and sometimes there was litter left over from the nightlife that probably ended just a few hours before our arrival. One morning, as my dad was cleaning up the sidewalk he saw a dollar bill in the gutter. When he stooped to pick it up, he discovered it was a twenty-dollar bill. He picked it up, pocketed it and continued cleaning up the sidewalk. When he came in the store a few minutes later he gave me the twenty bucks and sent me to the bakery down the street to buy pastries for the rest of the crew to enjoy. The next Saturday, Dad sent me to the bakery, again, for pastries, this time spending his own twenty dollars. The following Saturday I was sent to the bakery once more for pastries. This became a weekly tradition that lasted for years until he finally retired. The twenty-dollar bill my dad found in the gutter one Saturday morning probably ended up costing him many hundreds of dollars over time, but a happy tradition was born of it.

My son and his girlfriend used to dump their coins into a large jar, though I don’t ever recall seeing the jar more than a quarter full, ever. Last Fourth of July I was invited to go to a local celebration and fireworks display with them. We were all a bit short on cash and we decided to count up the small accumulation of coins in the jar to see what we had. We spilled them out onto the coffee table and organized them into several stacks, each totaling a dollar. Once everything was piled up and counted, we found we had enough money for parking, admission for the three of us, and even part of our meal. We had a fun day together and all for pocket change.

Small Change
Small Change

I usually just collect whatever change I am given in a coin purse and use it up at some point on small purchases, or to make exact change when shopping. Sometimes my coin purse is quite heavy, burdened and bulging with many coins. When I can stand it no more, I’ll use it all up on a purchase to relieve myself of the weight in my already heavy purse. The love of my life manages his change a little differently. He empties his pocket change into a can and allows it to accumulate for a very long time, then takes it to the bank and has it all counted up and converted into bills which he will devote to a long desired purchase or project. A few weeks ago he carted his change to the bank and had accumulated $453, enough to buy building materials to finish the roof on his garage. Small change adds up, those few coins in your pocket or in your purse, when allowed to accumulate, can really add up to a significant amount, yet most of us just disregard it, use it up on insignificant purchases.

I was in Reno, Nevada for work a couple of weeks ago. The training center I was teaching at was directly across the street from a large casino and hotel, so it made sense to book my lodging there. Every morning I would exit from the elevator, headed for the training center, and even at 7:45 AM, there were many, many people parked on stools in front of slot machines in the casino, pumping coins into the machine, mindlessly, hour after hour. Coin after coin after coin. Some would win a jackpot, eventually, after spending some untold amount. Most would not. Those that won, often, would just pump their winnings right back into the machine. As an accountant, this is hard for me to watch, and even harder for me to do. I have never been much of a gambler. I’d much rather waste my money on clothes, shoes and electronics, I at least have something definite and tangible at the end of my transaction. The one time I did play slot machines, I played the nickel slots. I had one roll of nickels, so two dollars. That was my limit, once it was gone, I planned to leave. About a buck fifty in, I hit a jackpot. Nickels spilled out and spilled out some more. I collected them all into one of those paper buckets and took my winnings to the window to be counted up and exchanged into bills. I made sixty-five dollars. I left. I decided I’d much rather buy dinner and a tank of gasoline with my winnings than pump it all back into the slot machine inside the dark, smoky casino.

In money, small change can really add up if we allow it to accumulate for a period. In life, small changes can also add up to something significant if we allow them to. We can either make small changes every day, allow them to accumulate and become something great, or we can waste our change, pumping them into a metaphorical slot machine and ultimately lose it all. What is your slot machine in life? Where are you wasting your small change? Do you invest a little time and energy every day towards furthering your goals or do you waste your extra time and energy on pointless ventures?

If you want to make a difference in your life, if you want to improve yourself in some way, your health, your fitness, your eating habits, your relationships, your career, your knowledge, your general happiness and well-being, you are going to want to make small changes over time. It is impossible to just flick a switch and make a momentous change to your life, to your lifestyle. You can’t just take the coins that have collected at the bottom of your purse and hope to make a large purchase, but you can save up all those coins over a period of time and have far more to spend on something you really want. Changes to our behavior, our outlook on life, our attitude are exactly the same, collect them over time to become something we really want to be.

Both in saving coins and in making changes in life, it is best to have some sort of goal, some sort of plan. With a goal in mind it is much easier to allow those coins, that small change, to accumulate for a larger purchase, rather than spending it on a coffee at Starbucks or a pack of gum at the store. With a goal in mind, an overall plan, it will, likewise, be much easier to make small changes on a daily basis towards that goal. You can’t just wake up one morning and shed twenty pounds, though that would be really nice! Instead, you have to alter what you eat, how much you eat and your activity level or a period of time to reach that goal.

To sum it all up, no pun intended, we need to allow small change to accumulate until we reach our ultimate goal. No day should go by that we don’t take stock of our change and put it in a safe place to grown into something significant. This will take thought, this will take discipline and, of course, time. The larger the goal, the longer we will have to accumulate our change, the more diligent we will have to be to not waste it. Anything is possible if we are committed. Many wealthy people come from extremely poor and humble beginnings, but their ability to amass small change into large fortunes sets them apart from the average person. The same is true for people who are able to make enormous change in their lives, they have the wisdom and tenacity to accumulate small changes into something grandiose. Begin by picking up that first lucky coin, real or metaphorical, placing it in your pocket, taking it home and putting in the coffee can in your closet. Do this daily. Change your world.

Serial Killers

What if I told you there was a gang of serial killers out there, they are extremely dangerous, bloodthirsty and kill daily? Would you be a little worried?

There is. There is a gang of serial killers, they attack, each on their own, they attack as a merciless gang. They lurk in the darkened alley ways of the city, they wander the lonely roads in the country, they sneak into homes, office buildings, job sites, and campuses, no place is safe, really. They are always looking for, and finding new victims. They will revisit those they have victimized before. You have already been victimized, perhaps, targeted, at least. I’m quite certain they know exactly where you are and they are patiently waiting for the opportune moment to strike.

These serial killers will never be caught by the police, they will never be tried or imprisoned for their heinous crimes, they have a certain impunity. They are so present in our society, in our daily lives, they are latent and awaiting the moment to execute. Most violent crime is committed by those we know than by strangers. These killers are no different, we usually open the door and invite them right in without even a thought. Our actions, or inactions, make it very easy for them to become a part of our lives, to become familiar, to become intimate. Then they kill.

They will destroy you if you let them, but you will not actually die. You will be tortured and the pain could be worse than anything you’ve ever experienced. It’s possible, very possible, that they will return, again and again, to victimize you over and over. You need to know who they are, you need to know how to identify them, and, most importantly, you need to know what to do when you meet them in a dark hallway, because chances are, you will. You may already be battling them and you just don’t realize their lethalness.

This gang of killers are inattentiveness, indifference, indecisiveness, disinterest and they are responsible for killing ambition, motivation, relationships, friendships, careers, goals, and any chance for personal growth, success or evolution. If you just let out a big sigh of relief, that was probably the wrong reaction. While these killers will not actually take your life, they will destroy it, if you let them. Do you care?

Allow me to introduce you the each of them so you’ll know how to recognize them.

Inattentiveness
adj.
Exhibiting a lack of attention; not attentive.

This silent killer sneaks up on us so stealthily we rarely notice until it has a grip on us we can’t break free of. Think of a once vibrant, loving relationship where great attention was paid. The lovers took delight in conversation with one another, listened actively in order to learn more about each other. Every touch was a thrill and they touched often. Great consideration was given to the need for affection, for comfort. As the relationship ages and the lovers have learned all there is to know about their beloved, their conversations become less involved, less frequent, less meaningful. Because nothing interesting is being shared, just the gripes and complaints and trivial happenings of the passing days, active listening becomes the first victim. Since active listening often involves looking intently at one another, in offering empathy, comfort, and affection, these benefits disappear, leaving the lovers to feel unappreciated, uninteresting, unimportant, and lonely. Not worthy of attention. A lack of caring. Lovers become more aware of their differences, of petty annoyances and disregard the feelings, thoughts and ideals they once shared in common. This creates a feeling of loss, of frustration, of abandonment between the lovers, which most certainly does not strengthen the relationship and more often, becomes the impetus for the deliberate destruction of the relationship.

Inattentiveness can also attack a friendship in a very similar manner. Friends who have lost interest in one another, like lovers, will drift apart and become more identified with their differences than with what they share.

Inattentiveness is present in our vocations, as well, whether in our careers or in our studies. We are usually enthusiastic with new endeavors, with new pursuits, they interest us and we devote a great deal of focused, positive energy to them in both thought and deed, usually resulting in high performance and recognition or reward. Once our new vocation becomes routine, we often begin to pay less attention to the details, the energy dwindles, our performance begins to falter. The recognition and reward we once enjoyed is less frequent, has become totally absent, or perhaps, has been replaced with reprimand.

Inattentiveness is tricky to combat because it is so tricky to detect and thwart before the damage occurs. Whether in a relationship, a friendship or with a vocation, it is important to always bare in mind the details that should be attended to on a regular basis. This can be done in a number of ways; making a meditative effort to pay attention through affirmations or a regular exercise in paying gratitude. Making attentiveness part of your daily routine, for example, a revolving “to do” list on your work or study calendar, or, making a routine, concerted effort to call or visit your friends, to share experiences with them regularly that will become something in common that you share, can remember and reminisce about in future conversations. Likewise with lovers, devote a time each day, perhaps during a meal, to actively listen and actively share, make a habit of doing things together, like preparing meals, doing dishes or other chores, just sharing quiet, active time, working side by side can be a lot more attentive than it sounds. Be sure to also make a routine habit of sharing new experiences, walking in a new park, taking in a play by a local theater company, anything, really, that can become something you share in common, fodder for conversations and fond memories. Always take that extra moment, everyday, to say “I hope you have a great day today” and “I’m glad you’re home (here), I missed you”.

Inattentiveness, though very lethal and very powerful, can be easily avoided altogether by developing the behaviors that thwart it into daily or routine habits. Remember, habits are behaviors that have become ingrained, that have become so much a part of what we do, we feel we can’t function without them. Attentiveness is the obvious antidote to the destructive effects of inattentiveness. Foster attentiveness, always, make it a habit and avoid the pain, loss and misery of inattentiveness.

Indifference
n
1. the fact or state of being indifferent; lack of care or concern
2. lack of quality; mediocrity
3. lack of importance; insignificance

Indifference is similar to inattentiveness in that it will kill a relationship, a friendship or sabotage your vocation. Indifference does not behave in the same manner as inattentiveness. Inattentiveness usually attacks after the passage of time. Indifference is already there, from the beginning, just lying in wait. Indifference is a reaction to something that is said or to a task to be undertaken, and it basically translates to “I don’t care.” Stop and repeat those words “I don’t care.” How damaging they can be. Think of things your lover or your friends say to you that you really don’t care about a great deal. Can you imagine how they would feel if you said, out loud, “I don’t care about what you’re saying at all.” It would be crushing. Can you imagine what your supervisor at work or your teacher at school would do if you said “I don’t care about this task or assignment at all.” If we vocalized our lack of care or concern, indicated the lack of significance or importance we assigned to all we considered of lesser importance we would definitely find ourselves out of love, out of friends and out of work in a short spell. Keep in mind, that vocalization is not the only method of communicating. Your actions, or inactions, though unspoken, speak volumes. A shrug, an irritated sigh, an eye roll. Forgetting to perform a favor or a task because it doesn’t matter as much to you as it does to the other party, hurriedly completing tasks because you’ve waited until the last minute to start them because of the insignificance you’ve assigned to them. Saying you’ll get to something without the actual intent to do so or pawning the task off on someone else. Whether any of these happen within a relationship or at work, they will communicate indifference, they will say, loud and clear, “I don’t care.”

In a relationship or a friendship, we are, or should be, vested. We should care because the other party cares. If anything is of significance or importance to the other party, it should, for that reason alone, be significant or important to you. Care enough to care because it does make a difference, the difference being a lasting, thriving relationship, the reward of a job well done, a small investment for a lasting benefit.

Indecisiveness
adj.
1. Prone to or characterized by indecision; irresolute
2. Inconclusive
3. Not clearly defined; indefinite

Indecisiveness is an interesting creature, and a quiet killer. Indecisiveness is characterized by the inability, or unwillingness, to make a decision. It demonstrates a lack of commitment, a lack of caring.

In a relationship or a friendship, indecisiveness often results when one party asks another to make a choice, a decision, or state a preference. Usually, the inquiring party poses the question as a means of involving the other party in an action, an activity, or a decision that he or she thinks is important. The inquiry can be made in an effort to share an experience or an activity, task, or decision of interest or magnitude. Indecision translates to “I don’t want to be involved,” or “it doesn’t matter.” True, some indecision comes out of concern over choosing incorrectly, a lack of knowledge required to make the decision, or ignorance, but they all communicate the same result.

Indecision in our vocation represents an unwillingness to participate in a process or action we have been assigned or in which we are expected to participate. Indecision often translates, or in fact becomes, inaction, a lack of performance. We are expected to perform in exchange for some compensation; pay for a job, grades for studies. Lack of performance will usually result in diminished pay (or pay increase) or diminished grades.

Indifference is a lazy killer, it is inherent and lurks, it just sneaks in in response, without thought or deliberation. To destroy indecision, make the decision to be involved, when asked. If someone cares enough to want to involve you in the decision making process, if you are expected to take action and make a decision, in both cases, the only respectful thing to do is to decide. If you lack the information, the knowledge, the facts or the courage to make the decision, ask for some guidance. This act, alone, demonstrates respect and your willingness to be involved, to participate. Simply saying “what do I need to know to make a decision?” or “how best to decide?” demonstrates your willingness and your respect, it engages the other party actively, the decision is made collectively, and everyone is pleased.

Disinterest
noun
1. Apathy, lack of interest, disregard, detachment, absence of feeling

Disinterest is the deadliest and usually will work closely with inattentiveness, indifference and indecisiveness. Disinterest is always nearby, always hiding, always ready to attack. In relationships and friendships, in our vocation, disinterest is common and disinterest is hurtful. Disinterest is natural, but its expression is detrimental. To express disinterest is to diminish the importance, or the joy, even, that is held by the other party, whether a lover, a friend, an employer or an instructor. To harbor disinterest will destroy any kind of relationship.

It is not an expectation that we will all find an equal measure of importance or joy in that which interests those we interact with. To be less interested, or uninterested, is normal. But, out of respect, to be interested enough to listen, to consult, advise, to care will mitigate the harm. To disregard the interest is extremely hurtful in a relationship or friendship, and in our vocation demonstrates our unwillingness to participate in the process or action we are expected to participate in.

When we become detached from a topic or subject, we are creating a separation or distance with those who find interest. It may be a small fissure, at first, but continued detachment or disregard will create a division that may become impossible to span, at some point, a large void, a chasm, an abyss.

When we feel a lack of interest in a topic or subject of someone we interact with, to defeat disinterest, we often just need to inquire, to seek further understanding, to implore. By seeking additional knowledge or understanding, interest is expressed, and often, a genuine interest ensues. Our lack of interest is usually a defense mechanism for a failure to fully understand or empathize. Whether in agreement, or not, with the topic or subject, once more enlightened, a more complete understanding will allow you to interact more fully, to demonstrate respect, empathy and caring, all critical in any type of personal relationship or professional or academic interaction.

Knowing just a little more about the dangers that lie in wait for us, for our relationships, our friendships and in our vocations, affords us the ability to defeat them. When we go out into the world, or assume safety in our homes, there are always dangers present, danger of victimization at the hands of criminals and those who seek to do us harm. The best defense to any of these dangers is being aware; being aware of the potential hazards, being aware of our surroundings, being aware of where to seek safety, if necessary. Protecting ourselves from the serial killers we identified above; inattentiveness, indifference, indecisiveness, disinterest, is no different. We need to know, first, that they exist and what threat the pose. We need to be vigilantly aware of their presence and how to avoid them, where to seek safety from their actions should we encounter them. Pay careful attention. Care full. Care.

Red Light Green Light

I have often wondered just how much of my life has been spent stopped at red traffic lights. I was driving to the airport very early the other morning, long before any traffic was on the road, and yet, I managed to get stopped at every red light I came upon. I remember as I approached the last light before entering the interstate, thinking, at last, the very last red light.

I’m in Fairbanks, Alaska for a little vacation right now, visiting my love. He lives outside of Fairbanks a distance but has a business in town. When we are in town we are stopped at red lights for what seems unnecessarily long amounts of time for the amount of cars in this town. As we head towards the remote area we live in, he expresses his relief at finally passing the last red light. So, I am not the only one who pays close attention to impediments to progress along the roadway.

I know, red lights are necessary, but annoying. Stopping at a red light, losing momentum and having to come to a complete stop represents such a waste of energy. Having to accelerate back up to cruising speed repeatedly while driving in town massacres your fuel economy. As we know, this is why the difference in mileage can differ so between city and highway driving.

Not stopping at a red light is not really an option; there is both peril and penalty associated with it. I remember back in high school, driving around with my friends very late at night, we thought it was hilarious to stop at green lights and cruise slowly through red lights. It is a wonder we survived our youth when I think back to our various antics. Of course, we lived in a rather sleepy little town, even sleepier then than it is now, especially in the wee hours of the morning. Now, like many other municipalities, Napa has the photo-enforced red lights. They just got them a year or so ago. It was big news and still warrants quite a bit of excited discussion, like the weather or the newest restaurant to open somewhere in town, a nearly daily occurrence, much like the weather, and red lights. I’ve been dealing with photo-enforced traffic signals in Sacramento for many, many years. I know the drill; stop, or else. Or else to the tune of $450. That’s the penalty, the peril is a whole different story. In smaller municipalities, lights are often controlled by a sensor, when a car triggers the sensor, the light will change shortly thereafter. In larger cities, traffic flow is a high science and lights are strategically timed and in harmony with other lights along the route to ensure the most efficient flow of thousands of cars, day and night.

What do you do at red lights? We all use, or waste, the time in our own fashion. Some people, and I have borne witness to this, use the time to pick their noses, others to lapse into deep thought, or discipline the children, pet the dog, stare ahead without thought, drum their fingers impatiently while staring at the red light with an attitude of pissed off impatience. I usually try to accomplish something; answer a text, change the Pandora station I’m listening to, update my shopping list in my notes section of my iPhone, buy the songs I bookmarked from iTunes, reorganize my purse. I mean, I pay attention to the light, I am usually the first one “off the line” when the light turns green. I am just not one of those that can let those seconds go by without having something to show for it. Perhaps it’s a compulsion, I can’t help it.

When I was a kid I loved to roller skate. I still do. Growing up in Napa we had an old skating rink in town until I was in junior high. I used to spend as many weekends there as I could, skating and skating and skating. They would have free skate sessions, broken up every so often with a game, like the hokey pokey or limbo, or, one of my favorites, red light green light. With red light green light, the skaters would all line up against the back wall. The announcer would call out green light and we’d all skate forward. When the announcer called “red light”, we’d all have to come to a complete and instant stop. If you were caught moving after the call was made, you were disqualified from the game. First of all, it was really hard to stop, instantly, with four wheels on the bottom of each foot, but once you stopped, it was even harder to get going again. The object of the game, of course, was to not be disqualified, but also, to be the first across the finish line. Since it was a race, getting back up to speed after being stopped was the real trick. The stakes were high, a free item from the snack bar!

There are many aspects of life that are no different than red lights, and green lights. Relationships, careers or school, health, lifestyle; they are all as de-energized by having to stop, by red lights, as are cars or roller skaters. And how fast they get back up to speed, or the direction in which they head when the light turns green again will vary.

In a relationship, especially a new one, things may be progressing quite nicely, both parties are excited and are devoting a lot of energy to the new romance. If there aren’t expectations of how things should progress, there are, at least hopes of how the relationship will continue at the same momentum. However, as a relationship matures, it is completely impossible for the same energy, enthusiasm and momentum to continue once the novelty has worn off. While not a red light, there is usually a yellow light, a period of caution. Each relationship time line will differ based on about a million different factors, but, once the newness has worn off and the parties involved have become fairly comfortable with one another, but before they’ve really become a team or a solid partnership, that’s when the light turns yellow. It is natural, it is really the only expectation you should have of a relationship, that there will be a point in time, somewhere between “new” and “long-term” where you go “I just don’t know”. Some relationships will hit a red light at this point and fail, out of confusion, fear or just a realization that it wasn’t meant to be. When the light turns green, one party turns right, the other turns left and they venture off on their own. Other relationships will wait out the red light, both parties taking stock of everything, and when the light turns green, they venture down the highway together. Again, it may take a little while to gain momentum again, and it will likely be at a different speed and velocity than “in the beginning”, but having taken advantage of that caution period, and the pause at the red light, to really think things through, the relationship flourishes, the parties have experience in handling those occasional bumps, potholes and, yes, even red lights, as they are bound to happen again and again throughout the course of the partnership.

With careers or school, we often take off at full throttle in our chosen field of employment or study. We’ve likely spent a great deal of resources to get where we are; considerable time in school up to this point, a considerable monetary investment, no doubt, and a lot of energy. Often, again, once the “honeymoon period” has elapsed, we usually hit a red light and wonder, is this really what I want to do for a living for the rest of my life, is this really the field of employment, the field of study I want to devote all of these resources to. And again, when the light turns green, hopefully you’ve taken advantage of that pause to seriously consider all the options, all the factors and make a sound decision to continue straight down the road, or to turn another direction. Just like a relationship, it is best to continue straight through the intersection on the green light only if you are still feeling committed love, because divorcing a career is not much easier than divorcing someone you married out of folly.

There are a lot of people out there living less than healthy lifestyles. Really, I don’t think anyone the whole world over, is leading a 100% healthy lifestyle. In other words, there is always room for improvement. There is always new information available about the choices we can make that impact our health. Some folks endeavor to improve the healthfulness of their lifestyle, prompted by a medical development, or pressure from a partner or family member, or just because New Year’s came along, but without self-motivation, without intent, once they hit that first red light, their efforts falter and when the light turns green, they often do a U-turn and head right back where they came from. Replacing unhealthy habits with healthy habits is probably one of the hardest things a person can endeavor to do. I think it’s probably more difficult than leaving an ill-fated, long-term relationship. I’ve done both, I speak from experience, but that may just be the case for me. We all drive a different model of car on a different roadway, I suppose. Again, what you do at those red lights when they stop you in your tracks is what’s going to make the difference. Unlike the moment for discernment with a relationship or a career or field of study choice, with the adoption of a healthy lifestyle, the pause shouldn’t be where we consider whether we’ve made the right choice in making the journey, but whether we are taking the right route. We should instead be deciding how best to get there. Take a moment to read the travel guides, the maps, and figure out how to navigate there in a manner that will best suit our needs.

There are many things we can do to improve our lives other than just get healthier. We can, of course, make an effort to evolve in many, many ways; relationships, spirituality, creativity, self-confidence, success in school, work, entrepreneurship, or any other worthy goal or goals you strive for. Any time we are striving for achievement, for growth, for evolution, we are going to hit red lights, we are going to encounter a temporary immobilization where we are going to have to make the effort to get focused and get under way again, on the road to the goals we set. I guess, being the queen of analogies, I’d have to say, making the journey to a more self-improvement is all about the path your choose to get there. You should get there, no doubt, and once you begin your journey you should never stop your journey. It’s all about the coordinates you enter into your Tom Tom and the route you ultimately take. I know when I enter a destination into my Tom Tom and it attempts to take me down a road I’d rather not go, I’ll go the way I’d prefer and eventually, Tom Tom and I align paths. I didn’t make a U-turn, I kept going on a slightly altered path. Have you ever come upon a red light and decided to turn down a side street, or, yes, cut through the gas station to circumvent it? That’s what you should do when you hit a red light with healthy lifestyle changes; keep going, alter your path if it makes sense, but keep heading towards the destination!

So, as you sit at the next red light you hit, whether an actual traffic signal or a metaphorical red light, don’t pick your nose or stare off into space an drool, take a moment to seriously reflect on where you are, where you want to be, consider the direction you’re headed and where you ultimately want to be. Once that light turns green, whether you’ve decided to turn, circumvent traffic by changing your route or to stay the course, do so with intent and you’ll get to the destination you seek.

Might I Suggest

This is a phrase I use often to recommend a thought process or an action that I find useful or beneficial. There is a great deal of power in suggestion, you can convince others, and yourself, of many things. It is a tool, when used appropriately. Might I suggest you try it?

Today is my “travel” day. I worked in Baltimore this week and am in Denver, at the airport right now, waiting for my final flight home. I had an afternoon flight out of Baltimore, which gave me a free morning to explore Washington D.C., a city I’ve never had the opportunity to spend any free time in. I set my alarm for 4:00 AM this morning, I wanted to get an early start, avoid traffic into D.C., have time to see as much as possible and make my flight out of Baltimore. I managed to get to bed by about midnight, so I was a little short on sleep when the alarm on my iPhone awoke me. I showered, let my hair go crazy curly and selected an outfit, a pair of jeans and a tee shirt I bought a couple of years ago at Target. The tee shirt is one of my favorites, I wear it often and really don’t think about it, much. I just wear it. It fits in a cute manner and is comfortable and happened to be in my suitcase.

Washington D.C. was amazing! I am so glad I made the effort to see this city. I walked and walked and walked and saw most of the monuments and buildings of interest around Capitol Mall and the Federal Triangle. I’ll have to save the tours of the museums for another trip, or twelve. As I walked through the city, I was encountered by many people who all smiled at me. I’m a pretty smiley person, so this didn’t really seem so remarkable, except that a number of men also commented “beautiful”. So did one woman. Then it occurred to me, my tee shirt has big black letters that look like they’re painted onto the gray fabric:

BEA
UTI
FUL

Got it. But I don’t think people were just reading my shirt out loud, I was suggesting that I felt beautiful, perhaps. When you feel attractive, your attractiveness actually, visibly increases. And, besides, a few fellas said something like “your shirt sure doesn’t lie.” Aw, shucks. But, between the smiles, the positive comments, the sunshine and the beautiful city I got to experience, I did have a beautiful day. The message on the shirt was, perhaps, also a powerful suggestion for me, my attitude, my experience for the day.

I’m not necessarily suggesting you run out to Target and buy yourself a
BEA
UTI
FUL tee shirt. I am suggesting that you find ways to suggest to yourself, and those around you, that you are confident, that you like yourself and that you feel attractive. I think you’ll experience positive results almost immediately. You’ve seen those people, haven’t you? They are so attractive and charismatic, but when you really look closely, they are actually no more good looking than anyone else, it is all attitude, it is all suggested through their confidence and feeling of self-worth.

Before heading to the airport, after leaving Washington D.C., I grabbed lunch at a kabob place in Baltimore. It was excellent, if you’re ever in the area of the Baltimore Washington airport, and you like kabobs, might I suggest you try MaiWand Kabob! I had a little problem I needed to take care of before going through security; a partial bottle of wine. There was no way I could polish off the whole bottle last night, my suitcase already has an unopened bottle of wine in it that I’m bringing home (I always check my luggage) and my suitcase was already dangerously close to the fifty pound limit. I just needed to find time to enjoy a “glass” of wine between dropping off my rental car and going through security. So, at the kabob place, I secured a Coca Cola cup and filled it with ice water. Once I returned my car to the rental agency, I ducked into the restroom and dumped out the water and poured in the wine. I made sure no one saw me throw the empty wine bottle away. I can be pretty sneaky, like that. I put the plastic lid back on and stuck the straw in. Unless you were really close, you couldn’t really tell it was other than Coca Cola in the cup. The straw did have sort of a purple tint, but you’d have to be very, very close to notice it, and if anyone were THAT close, heck, they’d smell the wine. So, I enjoyed my wine during the bus ride to the terminal, while standing in line to check my bag and then took a seat on a bench until it was gone, then went through security, having nary a care for the long line and slow progress. By disguising my last bit of Hess Cabernet Sauvignon in a Coca Cola cup, I was simply “suggesting” to everyone in the vicinity that I was thirsty and sipping a soda. Right? So, perhaps, the power of suggestion can be somewhat dishonest, at times. Might I suggest you use the power of suggestion with discernment?

While I sat on the bench, near security, sipping my Coca Cabernet Cola Sauvignon, I was within earshot of three Southwest flight attendants, two ladies, one gentleman. In case you’ve never flown Southwest, the flight attendants are a breed apart from most flight attendants for other airlines, though United flight attendants are a close second, and not the recycled Continental ones, the actual United ones who worked for United before the merger. Southwest flight attendants are cheerful, funny, witty, happy, upbeat and really make the drudgery of air travel some measure better. Well, let me tell you, when they are not on duty, they are wholly different! My word! Apparently their chipper attitudes at 35,000 feet are a mere suggestion that they are cheerful, funny, witty, happy and upbeat because what I heard today really suggested they are not at all happy, with their jobs, with their co-workers, with their employer.

One woman said, “I hate everyone I have to work with, some more than others”, to which the man responded, “Oh, no, you have to just hate everyone equally.” They commiserated about company policies about socks, of all things, and the financial state of the airline, which I’ve always thought was one of the more sound airlines, until today. I was a bit shaken. I’m glad I had some wine before boarding the plane! And then, while we were waiting for everyone to board the plane, one of the flight attendants cracked the same joke a flight attendant on another flight earlier in the week made. OMG! This suggests that their material, their super funny, witty jokes, are unoriginal, scripted, perhaps. I don’t know. Here, the power of suggestion is used in disillusion. Anyone who has a job that they so clearly abhor is doing themselves a disservice in keeping it. We spend a considerable amount of our lives at toil, best be something we love or our chances for happiness are greatly diminished. As a customer, I too, am disillusioned. I know it’s important to perform your work with a good attitude, and I have suggested so on many occasion. But, when one discovers that the character of a company, as represented by its employees when they believe they are unheard, is in complete contradiction to everything you’ve been led to believe, it is a little disheartening.

I guess what I’m suggesting here, the moral of my article, because I always have one, is we should use the power of suggestion to improve our self-confidence, to improve our lives. By suggesting to ourselves, on a daily basis, that we are happy, healthy, confident and capable people, we will move towards becoming more happy, healthy, confident and capable. By affirming what we wish to be on a regular basis, and by monitoring and correcting limiting and self-destructive thoughts, we become able to adopt what we suggest as reality. Keeping in mind, that what we do for a living is very much a part of what will lead to our ultimate happiness, and to perhaps include in our suggestions to ourselves that we seek a vocation that will further our desire for happiness and fulfillment, rather than detract from it.

Limiting and self-destructive thought patterns sabotage every desire and every attempt at personal growth and happiness. Limiting and self-destructive thoughts are very powerful, sometimes latent, suggestions by a very trusted source, your own mind, that you are limited, that you’re not worthwhile or deserving of that you desire. Learning to identify and correct limiting and self-destructive thought patterns allow you to align the energy you have with the desires you hold. Once your power and your desires are united they become intent. Intent is extremely powerful, and necessary, in moving in the direction you wish to go. Intent is the power of suggestion driven by desire and agreement of deserving thoughts and attitudes.

Using the power of suggestion to positively affect our goals and desires is one of the most potent tools we have at our disposal. By developing this power we are just beginning to tap into your personal potential. Might I suggest you begin your journey towards fulfillment, towards that which you desire, might I suggest you begin your evolution into the person you wish to become by practicing the power of suggestion.

Extraordinary

Ex.traor.di.nar.y

Very unusual or remarkable, unusually great

Ex.tra

To a greater extent than usual.

Or.di.nar.y

What is commonplace or standard.

An evening stroll along Inner Harbor - Baltimore, MD
An evening stroll along Inner Harbor – Baltimore, MD

Life can be extra ordinary or life can be extraordinary. You choose.

Some folks desire an extra ordinary life; it is predictable, safe, known, routine. Others of us desire an extraordinary life; exciting, unpredictable, risky, varied. Personally, I cannot even begin to imagine wanting an ordinary life, let alone an extra ordinary life.

I was having breakfast with my mom the other day when this thought occurred to me. Despite our differences, my mom and I get along quite well. We do have some very fundamental differences, our desire for an extraordinary life, and an extra ordinary life, being a prime example.

My mom has always ever wanted to have a “normal” life, ordinary, extra ordinary, even. To her, this meant two incomes, a tract home in a homogenous neighborhood, purchased brand new, of course. A pristine lawn in the front and back, traditional furnishings in all of the rooms, two very ordinary, though newer and exceedingly practical cars in the driveway, a cat, a dog, and the same, basic meal rotation week in and week out. If company comes, then, a standing rib roast, baked potatoes, green salad, green beans and the type of super delicious sourdough bread you can only buy in the San Francisco Bay Area. To me, the sourdough is the only extraordinary thing about her chosen life. My mom’s ordinary life also dictates that you work, for as long as possible with the same employer and you work full-time until you are eligible for social security. Then you retire and watch the news on television. And clean house.

I have rebelled against most of this for as long as I can remember. I have always lusted for an extraordinary life, and while I have my full-time job in a well-established career and my newish, practical car, the rest is definitely not very ordinary. I don’t watch the news. I keep a clean house, I don’t clean the house, and if I must, I hire a housekeeper. True, some of my extraordinary tendencies in life have wound me up in all kinds of predicaments, I have always learned so much, and have grown, extraordinarily, from those experiences. I have lived on the edge of a canyon overlooking a wild, river valley, at the end of a dirt road. I have lived in an urban center with populated sidewalks and a constant flow of cars speeding past day and night. I have visited small, mountain towns without electricity, having a population that could be counted on your fingers. I have visited Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago and New York City, where the mere thought of the magnitude of humanity and the amount of electricity required for even a minute is mind-boggling. I have spent nights in luxury, resort hotels with marble floors, exquisite linens and mahogany furniture. I have slept under the stars on a thin mat, on the dirt, in the middle of the wilderness, so remote that seeing another person in any number of days was almost shocking. I have been in cities where arming yourself with a weapon is illegal. I have been in rural areas where it is expected that you will arm yourself and know what to do if you need to protect yourself. I have visited the famed jewelry stores in New York City; Tiffany’s, Cartier, Harry Winston, full of gold and diamonds. I have owned old, abandoned gold mines with tunnels, great caverns and ore cart tracks. I have been to the Grand Canyon, hiked and down into it; it was seventy degrees at the top, a hundred and twenty degrees six miles down. I like to eat a cupcake from Magnolia Bakery in Central Park on a regular basis. None of these experiences, alone, are unique or extraordinary. The sum of them, though, has made my life unique and extraordinary.

My mom’s ideal life is like a La-Z-Boy recliner, mine is like a high-speed roller coaster. My mom’s ups and downs in life encompass about two feet of travel and a fairly consistent view, mine, a climb, free-fall, twists, turns, tunnels, inversion, spirals, loops. My mom has lived in the same house for forty-six years. I’ve moved five times in five years. She can’t understand what I’m after, I can’t understand what she’s after. But that’s okay, to each their own.

What am I after? Besides an extraordinary life. Experiences. I believe experiences will provide me with the wisdom, the knowledge, the perspective to have an extraordinary life.

I believe in building your life around your values, your goals and your desire to have an extraordinary life, or, if you choose, and extra ordinary life. I have spent the past few years carefully reflecting and identifying my values, my goals and my desires for life experiences. No doubt, I want the more extraordinary life than the extra ordinary life. I don’t mind change, I don’t mind upheaval, I don’t mind uncertainty, I don’t mine spontaneity, in fact, I crave it.

So, how does one build the life they desire? I think I know. Very carefully and very deliberately.

I have been accused by both my mother and my boyfriend of being “too driven”. I don’t sit still for long, and when I do, I put my time to good use, working towards my goals, in support of my values. Like, now, for example. I worked all day, went sightseeing, went out to dinner, took a walk along Inner Harbor in Baltimore and now, because I want to write, I am writing. There are two televisions in my hotel room and neither of them is on. When I am finished writing, I will read something fortifying and go to sleep. Tomorrow morning, I will go explore Washington D.C. before catching my flight home. I could sleep in, as I am desperately short on sleep, but I have never seen Washington D.C, it is twenty five miles away, I have a “free” rental car with unlimited mileage and five hours to kill in the morning, if I leave here by 5:00 AM. So, maybe I am a little driven, but it ‘s just these types of experiences that help make my life more extraordinary. What’s extraordinary about sleeping in? I can do that next week, maybe, when I’m on vacation. Maybe. Probably not. I’ll be in Alaska.

My point is, building an extraordinary life isn’t going to come from doing the same thing you’ve always done. You have to identify what it is you want to see, want to do, want to experience, then seize it. You have to find the stones and place them one after the other to build the life you desire, whether it be extra ordinary or extraordinary. I think of the stones I use to build my extraordinary life more like paving stones on a garden pathway; I place one in the soil, identify the next, and place it in the soil just after the first. And so on, soon my path leads me in the direction I have chosen. I have chosen a meandering path. And I like it.

The building blocks of an extra ordinary life require, I think, even more, concerted and difficult labor. Stability and consistency require an incredibly strong foundation. A stable foundation, a sturdy, consistent, dependable lifestyle is going to require some very solid planning and construction; education, dedication of purpose to career, to financial planning and management of risks. Building an extra ordinary life, I would say, is much more like building a structure, vertical and tall. Some very solid, very strong stones are placed at the corners; values, goals, purpose, intent. On those cornerstones, more stones are carefully stacked on top, with a strong mortar in between to prevent them from tumbling down if things get momentarily unsteady, or shift gradually with the passage of time. With great deliberation, careful attention to detail, a sound blueprint and hard labor, your structure reaches the heights you desire. A sturdy building, a monument, is always an architectural feat, requiring a great deal of technical skill and expertise, it is drawn, it is engineered, blueprinted, a materials list is made. The materials are selected carefully and stockpiled, and only then is ground broken for the laying of the foundation. Then, for however long it takes, methodically, one stone then another, then another.

I have been traveling to New York City a few times a year for the past several years. Every time I approach Manhattan from the airport, I notice the progress of the buildings in place of the World Trade Center Twin Towers. Every few months, visible progress has been made. I have photographs spanning all the years I have visited the city, documenting, clearly, the rise of this monument. The progress seems painstakingly slow, and breathtakingly rapid all at the same time. This is how an extra ordinary life is built.

An extraordinary life requires as much purpose, as much work, but follows a different plan. One paving stone is laid, and then another. The ground slopes, there are roots and rocks, trees and flowers growing in the path that must be built around. The path takes shape, following a spontaneous, haphazard plan, one that is adjusted after the placement of each stone. The ultimate destination may be planned, but the course of the path leading there may vary tremendously as progress to the ultimate point is made. With each stone laid, a new, fantastic wonder may be discovered that is worth observing, worth savoring, and worth altering the path around, rather than paving over.

No matter which type of extra ordinary/extraordinary life you strive to build, there has to be the overall goal; how many stories tall, what style or architecture or the destination to which the meandering garden path will lead. This is the goal that is identified and worked towards over the long term. This is the sum of the efforts, the sum of the plan, the finished product. Once built, of course, an addition may be in order, a new structure, a new path. That is the way of a fulfilling life.

To make progress towards the ultimate goal, architectural feat of your desire, some kind of progress needs to be made daily. The World Trade Center building is worked on day and night, day after day, year after year, and still, it is not complete. How long did it take to construct the pyramids? The Taj Mahal? Any great, architectural wonder? They did not rise from the ground in a day, it took a continual, sustained effort. How long did it take early explorers to create a navigable trail from the east to the west, one that families could follow towards a life on the new frontier? How long did it take to build the Transcontinental Railroad? The modern interstate highway system? So, too, must your days be, no matter which you choose, the structure or the pathway, daily toil must be made, a daily effort, a daily investment, some measurable progress needs to happen or the goal fails to take shape, falters, crumbles and is lost in ruins.

I lived in a suburban area, once, where a home was being constructed on an empty lot. Great progress was made, to a point, then all progress ceased. For years, the shell of the house stood empty and forgotten on the lot. Nature began to reclaim the site and, years later, when work finally resumed, there was far more work in rehabilitating what had been abandoned than there would have been had the effort just been seen to completion. A continual, sustained effort is far more effortless than an effort that is halted and restarted, this we call inertia, momentum, simple movement itself carries us forward, momentum is the impetus gained by a moving object. Once inertia or momentum is halted, it takes a great deal of effort to resume movement again. This explains, quite simply, why you get better mileage on the highway than you do in the city where you are continually stopping at stop lights, losing momentum, completely, only to have to expend considerable energy to move forward again. And, so is anything we strive to accomplish in life.

So whether you choose to lay the foundation for your great structure, your extra ordinary life, or you choose to begin to cut the path to lay the first paver in your meandering, garden walkway, you must begin with your ultimate vision in mind. What will the structure look like, make the sketch, design the plan, secure the materials, lay the cornerstones, the foundation, and one solid brick after the next. Take your pick and ready the dirt for the first paver, but know where, ultimately the path will end up and let the journey take shape around the wonders you discover in the process. Identify your goals, know your values and begin gathering the experiences you’ll require for your desired life, be it extra ordinary or extraordinary. It is yours to build, one stone at a time.