Scarlett’s Letter January 20, 2014

A Lesson on Shortcuts.

There are none.

Shortcuts are rarely shortcuts.
Shortcuts are rarely shortcuts.

Do you remember, as a kid, having to walk places? To school, to a friend’s house, to a playground? No matter how near or far, we always looked for a shortcut. More often than not, that shortcut was more trouble than it was worth.

There was a ravine in my backyard and a ranch behind it. I lived in a curb and gutter, cookie cutter house neighborhood. Still do, as a matter of fact. Many of my friends lived in the same neighborhood, some on the same creek. Other friends lived in other neighborhoods on the other side of the creek, beyond the ranch. There were many times we used the creek as a “shortcut” from one house to another, from one neighborhood to another and even to the elementary school. It was a “shortcut”. Not.

When we walked the creek one of several things were likely to happen, if not all of those several things; we ‘d get caught for trespassing and get yelled at, and, if we were caught on the rancher’s property, we might get shot at with rock salt from his pellet gun. We might get poison oak. Correction, other kids might get poison oak, I GOT poison oak. We might get scared by a snake, or by something else. I remember one time, finding a dead animal that had had its fur burned off. My friend told me “the devil” did that kind of stuff. I was terrified to go anywhere near there for years. It was possible we’d lose our footing on the steep banks and end up falling into the large masses of thorny blackberry bushes. By the time we were all about eleven years old, we figured out the sidewalk was a much better, far less risky and way more direct route to almost anywhere we wanted to go.

Shortcuts are rarely shortcuts.
Shortcuts are rarely shortcuts.

But, the lesson wasn’t complete.

As an adult, as a driver, I prefer to keep moving. I live in California, keeping moving is sometimes a tremendous challenge. I have been known to “shortcut” on surface streets to avoid traffic on the highway. I get to keep moving, but rarely, rarely, rarely, do I get to my destination any quicker than I would had I stuck it out on the highway. When I drive home from Sacramento to Napa, I take Highway 12 between Interstate 80 and Highway 29. Unless the traffic gods are smiling down on me in an unusual manner, I’m going to be moving much slower than I’d like on Highway 12 through “the canyon”. Wine country tourist traffic and lots of road construction lately just exacerbates the situation. A half-mile before the intersection of Highways 12 and 29 is a “shortcut”, North Kelly Rd. It sneaks around behind the business park and pops out onto Highway 29 a mile up. I always, always, always take this “shortcut”, thinking, as a “local”, no one knows about it. I’ve done this for over thirty years with the same result. I’m usually one of about five cars that sneak off to the right down this route. Nine times out of ten, I pop out onto Highway 29 a mile or so up, immediately behind the car I’d been behind through “the canyon” on Highway 12. But, still, I take my “shortcut.” My sanity may be questioned at this point.

There are other shortcuts we all favor. There are shortcuts for tasks at work, for losing weight, for cooking, for cleaning, for gaining wealth, and knowledge. Remember Cliff Notes? They never served me well. Ever. When will it occur to us all that shortcuts are never shortcuts, and usually result in taking more time and effort later on? Am I right?

Today I was working on a project for a client. It is a tedious, tiresome task and for some reason, I told my client I’d just “finish it up” for them rather than sending the project to them to complete at the end of our eight hour consulting session like I’m supposed to do. I figured it would take me an hour or two to finish, and, based on the number of emails and phone calls I’d had from them before the consulting session with questions that numbered far greater than any of my other clients, heck, more than all of my other clients, combined. I rationalized that it would ultimately take me less time to “just do it” than it would to have to walk them through it over the course of two weeks via hundreds of emails and conference calls.

I opened up the task at hand on my computer this morning knowing exactly what had to be done. I cringed at the tedium and tried to mastermind a “better way”. A shortcut. While I procrastinated, I mean, made my coffee, I had a fantastic idea! A shortcut! Why hadn’t I thought of it before? I ran upstairs to my office, coffee sloshing in my travel coffee press slash mug I got for Christmas from my mom. I sat down at my desk and began my new, improved, better way, the shortcut to the long, tedious task before me. You know, the one I said would only take an hour or two. Two hours later, I wasn’t even a quarter of the way done. Fortunately, I was wise enough to only employ the “better way” on the first of four sections of the project.

On the second section, I reverted to the “old way”, the long route, and an hour later I was done with the second section. I procrastinated at the half way point, I mean, I went for a run over my lunch break, then ate lunch because I was ravenous, then took a shower because I smelled beastly, and dried and curled my hair, and carefully applied makeup, because I might go somewhere this afternoon if I ever get my work done, and finally, I sat down at my desk to finish up the task. Two hours later, I’d completed the last two sections. The shortcut in the morning ended up costing me over an hour of time I could have put to so much better use. The shortcut wasn’t a shortcut at all. This morning’s shortcut cost me in other ways. Because the first section, the one I “shortcut” took so awfully long, I ended up taking a break, needing a break, at the half way point. Perhaps if I’d just done it the way I knew would work, the way that has always worked, the way we teach other people to do the task, I’d have finished the whole project before lunch and could’ve used my afternoon for other, more important work. That more important work just got sloughed off onto tomorrow’s to-do list.

We just gotta realize that a shortcut, though it usually seems like a great idea, no matter what the task at hand may be, will almost always result in more time, more effort, and often, abandonment of the task, especially when we’re talking about fitness, wealth, weight loss, and health. You’re not likely to get poison oak, see a snake or fall into blackberry bushes, but I’m pretty sure you’re going to end up spending more time and more effort than you bargained for by trying to shortcut that which just takes time. Just keep to the highway.

You Have to Play to Win

My cousin visited a couple of weeks ago and she, my mom and I went out to lunch. On the way to the restaurant, we somehow got onto the subject of winning the lottery. What would you do if you won a large jackpot? Some people say they would save the money, invest it wisely and live off the interest, others say they would spend it all fast and furiously. My cousin was of the latter mindset, she said she has it all planned out and that she would pretty much just enjoy it while it lasted. Which is what most big jackpot winners do, spend it all and then return to their previous lives with nothing but great memories and some awesome stories to tell.  Fair enough. I’d buy shoes. And maybe a castle to keep them in. But you have to play to win.

I used to play the Lotto religiously. I’d purchase twenty draws in advance, the same numbers, and then, I’d never check the numbers to see if I won. I probably won the big jackpot, maybe even several of them, and never knew it. I stopped playing. You have to play to win.

I played in Indiana and New York. I may have won. I don't know. I never checked. So, I don't play this game anymore. I'll focus my efforts elsewhere.
I played in Indiana and New York. I may have won. I don’t know. I never checked. So, I don’t play this game anymore. I’ll focus my efforts elsewhere.

During my cousin’s visit, we also had a discussion about buying things you don’t necessarily need. On impulse. My aunt, my cousin’s mom, had these two large, beautiful rooster figurines. When she passed, I somehow came into possession of these roosters. At that point in time, I lived in a small suburb of Sacramento, Fair Oaks, in “the Village”, where chickens roamed the streets and most residents had chickens as “pets”. We had chickens as pets. And my house was decorated inside and out with chickens, including these two roosters. That was over fifteen years ago and I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve moved since then. No more chickens, real or decorative. But, these two roosters have made move after move. Now, I really don’t have room for them, and, quite frankly, I’m sick to death of dusting them. So, my cousin, the garage sale genius that she is, came by to pick up some of our discards to sell at her next sale. Chickens included. My mom asked my cousin if she knew where my aunt had purchased the roosters. Of course, my cousin didn’t know, it was decades after she’d grown, left home and raised her own family, and decorated her own home. My mom has a way of asking (a lot) of questions that no one could possibly know the answers to. Often in rapid fire succession. Sometimes almost inquisition style. It’s her gift. We all agreed, knowing my aunt, that the roosters were probably an impulse purchase and we all had a good idea how my uncle probably reacted. On impulse purchases, my cousin mentioned that in her travels, she’d seen a doormat she wanted to buy for her mom that said “Ed, please leave the check under the mat.” She didn’t buy it, thinking she’d stop back by and do so, but never did. My aunt never got the doormat, so Ed didn’t leave her the winning check. I’m not sure my aunt even entered the Publishers Clearing House drawing, I’ll bet she did. You have to play to win.

My aunt had to buy buy this rooster statue! Now it's mine, but it's time for it to go bye bye, for someone else to buy buy!
My aunt had to buy buy this rooster statue! Now it’s mine, but it’s time for it to go bye bye, for someone else to buy buy!
My aunt had to buy buy this rooster statue! Now it's mine, but it's time for it to go bye bye, for someone else to buy buy!
My aunt had to buy buy this rooster statue! Now it’s mine, but it’s time for it to go bye bye, for someone else to buy buy!

Speaking of Ed and the Publishers Clearing House Drawing prize checks, Mom and I were having breakfast this morning when her phone rang. Her phone rings all the time. Actually, I swear there are twelve phones in the house, all with the ringer turned up as loud as possible. When someone calls, I swear the windows are going to shatter. I have my own “land line”, for work. The number is unlisted and the ringer is turned off. I don’t even know what my phone sounds like, but I’m sure I’d hate it. I haven’t given my “land line” number to anyone, ever, at all, so I know without a doubt that no one I would ever want to speak with will ever call me on that line. When my cell phone rings, and it is on silent all the time, too, so I’d have to actually see the incoming call, I look at the number and decide if a) its someone I want to speak with and b) if I want to speak with them right now, or if I might prefer calling them back at a more convenient time, for me. If it’s important, they’ll leave a message and I can decide if and when I’ll return the call. Mom answers almost every call. Except for the one that occurs every morning, like clock work, at breakfast time. When she has answered it in the past, it has been some recorded message trying to sell her new windows, siding, roofing, solar panels, and appliances, all financed by the utility company. Even if she understood the whole thing, she really isn’t in the market for any of that stuff. She has asked, on numerous occasions, to be removed from their call list, but to no avail. I’ve registered her number on the “do not call” registry, but we all know that’s only as good as the ability to enforce it. Which is zero. So, this morning, like every morning, the call comes. Mom picked up the phone, glanced at the incoming number, hit the answer button followed immediately by the end button. Then she remarked, jokingly, “that was probably Ed with my winnings for the Publishers Clearing House drawing.” I asked, a little sarcastically, “Did you enter?” No. Well, you have to play to win.

I’m not proposing you should play the lottery or enter drawings and contests, I’m saying that you have to play to win. That applies to whatever you want to happen in your life. If you want to be fit, you’ll have to play to win; work out hard, regularly, eat right, commit to a fit, clean lifestyle. Forever. No pill, no shake, no two-week celebrity diet, no celebrity doctor endorsed super food suggestion is ever going to make you thin, fit or healthy. It is a lifestyle. You can’t wish yourself fit just like you can’t expect the next visitor at the door to be Ed with a big fat check if you didn’t enter the drawing. You absolutely have to play to win.

If you want to find love and companionship, you can’t sit home and wish for it to happen. Fabio isn’t going to crawl off the cover of your Harlequin Romance novel and pull you into his arms. You’ll have to play to win. You need to go out, participate in your community, be visible and active and mingle. You need to increase your exposure to a lot of people to find the one. The Powerball jackpot won’t ever be yours unless you’ve bought a ticket or two. You’ll probably have to go out into the world and meet a few folks before you find your soul mate. Must play to win.

You have to play to win at love.
You have to play to win at love.

Perhaps you’re hankering for increased success financially. Unless you take active measures to increase your income and decrease your spending, it probably won’t happen. Unless you DO play the Lotto and you DO win, but, my friend, in case no one else has told you, the odds aren’t good. No one is going to just give you gobs of money for no reason. Chances are you don’t have a long, lost, rich uncle who died and left you his fortune. You have to play to win. You need to carefully plan, budget and commit to both if you want to begin to accumulate money.

Your next raise is likely to not quite match the rate of inflation unless you’ve played to win in your career, too. But you can’t rest on your career marketability laurels and hope to be offered more rewarding opportunities. You have to play to win. I am hard-pressed to think of a single career field that hasn’t changed dramatically as a result of computers and advances in technology. We, too, must evolve, change, adapt in order to remain relevant, let alone advance. We need to meet or match the same pace of technological advances in order to remain relevant in our careers. It is an ongoing and almost frenzied activity to keep abreast of technological advances, but you must, in order to be marketable. My (former) husband was, for a long time, in software sales, support and customization. He had his own business and did well for a number of years. During that time, Microsoft Windows came out, and for a very, very long time, he resisted. He stuck with DOS and recommended his clients do so as well. Until it was no longer viable, supported or an option. Once he finally migrated to Windows, kicking and screaming, he stuck with the oldest version supported and upgraded only when absolutely necessary. This was not a very sound practice for someone in the software industry. Better to move forward, embrace the new, and make well-informed and educated recommendations to clients than to stubbornly cling to the old, comfortable version of the software, missing out on the enhancements and the benefits and opportunities for efficiency and effectiveness in the new version. There is a popular ad campaign for teeth whitening products, “if you aren’t whitening, you’re yellowing”. I think this can be perfectly applied to doing what needs to be done to remain marketable in your career field. If you aren’t advancing with your field and with the technology within your field, you’re becoming irrelevant and unmarketable. You have to be in the game to score. You have to play to win.

No matter what it is in life you are making an effort to evolve in, you have to make the effort to obtain the result, without exception. You have to be invested. And, the more invested you are, the better your odds for success. I advise “all in” for everything in life you’d like to win, except the Lotto and other games of chance, of course, here, a dollar will do. But you do have to play to win.

Scarlett’s Letter July 16, 2013

Today, I worked fourteen hours. The end.

 
Ever have one of those days? This relates to an article I wrote on the fallacy of “balance” in life. We all assume we want “balance”, but balance, trying to keep everything equally attended to actually results in mediocrity in everything we attempt. Great things are done only by applying a great amount of energy to the related tasks, the trick comes in applying energy, in great amounts, to the right things, at the right time, so as to achieve excellence in all areas that require your attention. Herein lies another trick, determining which areas in your life require your attention, and which ones you really shouldn’t bother with. So many tricks. I recommend “The ONE Thing: The Surprisingly Simple Truth Behind Extraordinary Results ”, a book by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan.

Today, my only focus was work. I was scheduled to train for eight hours, and when that was done, having just returned from a two week vacation, I had six hours of very important administrative work to attend to, namely, my expense reimbursement reports. After eight hours on the phone with a client, and six hours of tedium entering expenses, scanning receipts, and all that, I. Am. Done. Wine.

There will be no effort or energy applied to any other area of my life; fitness, reading, studying, organizing, minimalizing, etc. Yes, I will eat, likely a frozen pizza I happen to have in the freezer, the last morsel of food I own, but I will not go grocery shopping. Not tonight. Other than that, a phone call to my Sweetie and this very short article. My energy for the day has been applied and none is left for any other important areas of my life.

Tomorrow will be a different story.

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.

Take Away

I went to a yoga class last night at my new gym, the first in several months with my recent move and all. I love yoga, I love the peaceful environment, the focus, the time away from busy stuff; the busier part of my day, my busy life, even the busier part of the gym. Yoga time is me time, I can concentrate on how I’m feeling, stretch, think, relax, and build strength, both physical and emotional. At one point, last night, the instructor had us all in shavasana, a position where we are lying on our backs, on our mats on the floor, eyes closed, relaxed. I have almost drifted off to sleep in this pose on more than one occasion. After quietly contemplating things from this perspective for a few minutes, the instructor broke the silence and asked us to begin to come back to awareness. She asked us to consider our awareness of self; how is it we landed on the floor, the position of our feet, of our legs, our arms, our hands. She asked us to consider how we landed there, on the floor in that room, at that gym, in that town. My internal response was “that’s a long story!”

How did I land here? On this floor, in this gym, in this town? It certainly was not my intention, not part of my “grand plan”, but did become my intention at some point, more recently.

Life changes, in ways we expect and definitely in ways we never expected or could even imagine. When life changes, one way or the other, often our lifestyle shifts. When our lifestyle shifts we have to consider two things, possibly a paradigm shift and an effort to identify what our purpose is in the situation we have found ourselves in.

A paradigm shift is a change in our ruling assumptions. When life changes, or shifts, our lifestyle often changes, or shifts, as a result. The ruling assumptions that once applied may need to be altered, or shifted, to match, to be relevant. For example, a few years ago, my kids were living at home, attending high school. They had many extracurricular activities. I worked nearly full time in a nearby community and managed work, a home and their activities. We owned a ranch and a second home; we had mortgages and lots of ranch chores and home maintenance and all that goes with that. My ruling assumptions were all grounded in that lifestyle. Now, I no longer have the ranch, the second home, my kids are living in other cities, attending college, I have a different job that requires a great deal of travel. My ruling assumptions are completely different than they were just a few years ago. I have had to shift my paradigm to accommodate my new lifestyle.

Everything that happens to us happens by design, ours. Everything happens as a result of all of our thoughts, actions, and deeds preceding this very moment. It may seem outlandish to assume that we’ve landed where we are because we wished for it, or desired it, or wanted it. But every thought, action and deed has paved the roadway to where we are. Now, it is time to identify and serve our purpose, then pave our way, with intention, to where we want to be. If you have landed somewhere you didn’t intend to, or in a place or situation you really don’t want to be in, it may be difficult to accept responsibility for the fact that you got yourself into this spot. But you did. If you wish to be elsewhere, only you can get yourself there. You are solely responsible for the change you want to happen, and this is done, in part, through identifying your ruling assumptions and shifting those paradigms. It is not something many of us are aware of or even know how to do, but a little bit of knowledge and awareness will help you gain control over the direction of things in your life.

I have moved several times in as many years, all as a result of the circumstances that unfolded in my life, both desired and undesired. Each of these moves has required reevaluation of my ruling assumptions and a related paradigm shift. My most recent move has been one of the hardest, admittedly. I have moved in with my mom; elderly, recently widowed and in declining health. Being the only child and in a position where it is impractical for me to own my own home, it just makes sense. I travel a great deal for work and would have a difficult time maintaining a dwelling and attached yard on my own. She is old and frail and is having a hard time maintaining a dwelling and attached yard on her own. Here we are. I am able to reorganize my finances and save some money and assist her. Before this, I was living with my college-aged son, helping him with rent after his roommates all transferred to other colleges. Can you imagine the shift in ruling assumptions when you move from a house with an active, twenty one year old man to living with an elderly, frail lifelong authority figure? I am in serious need of a paradigm shift! One of the most important factors in my personal evolution, one of my most valuable guiding principles, is freedom, independence, and autonomy. This is not something I am willing to compromise, so I need to shift my paradigm to accommodate this guiding principle and be able to function in this new dynamic. Of course, there has been some frustration, on my part, and I’m sure on my mom’s part, as we work through these shifts. But that’s exactly how it goes; you take stock of the changes, the situation, your guiding principles, the environment you’re in, and you make a plan. That is how you affect a paradigm shift. One way or another, this is a temporary situation and a stepping-stone, a necessary one, for where I ultimately want to be. And where I ultimately want to be is always subject to change, too! That. Is. Life.

With or without change, there comes frustration. It is a normal part of our daily life. When we are reassessing our ruling assumptions and shifting our paradigm, and frustration happens, the best thing to do, and I am still perfecting this, believe me; pause, take a deep breath, and ask, “Why am I here at this moment in time, experiencing this event?” Just like my yoga instructor asked us as we were prone on the floor in shavasana, “how is it you landed on the floor, in this room, in this gym, in this town?” When we pause for a moment and take stock of where we are, why we are here, and where we are ultimately headed, we can shift our paradigm and act accordingly, with attention and with intention. Socrates is quoted as saying “the unexamined life is not worth living.” We need to occasionally examine our lives, where we are, think about where we want to be, identify our ruling assumptions, shift our paradigm and evolve. Everything we experience, the good, the bad, the frustrating, all happens for a reason. There has to be a reason, a lesson, something to be learned, something to be given. Nothing happens without a reason, and while we are in complete control of our lives, our situations and our happiness, we are put into situations and exposed to circumstances and events designed to teach us, prompt us to grow to evolve. If we’ll make the effort.

A popular business concept these days is “what’s the take away?” It’s the new version of “what’s the bottom line” or “cut to the chase”. Show me the value, what am I supposed to be getting out of whatever it is you are providing. In my current job, part of what we do is design training courses. Now everyone wants to know, wants to us to emphasize what the “take away” will be. So, basically, we restate our “objectives”, calling them “take aways” and the review them at the end to confirm they are “taking those things away” with them. Our daily life should be approached in the same manner. In our daily life with friends, family, at social gatherings, stop for a moment and determine what the take away is. In everything we do, look for the take away. There is value, a lesson, something that fits into or compliments “where we have landed”. Examine your life, each situation and setting you find yourself in and find the take aways. Put them to use in furthering your evolution, in utilizing your guiding principles, your ruling assumptions and in shifting your paradigm, if necessary.

What’s your take away right now, from whatever you’re doing, wherever you are? What’s your biggest take away today? What’s your take away from life as a whole? Are you getting from it what you want? Or are you hoping for something else, something more? It is vital to stop and ask yourself these questions, daily even. Or to keep a running journal on them. You can shape and form your life, you can evolve, with effort, so you are taking away from your experiences, from your life, the things that are going to matter, to make a difference, to fulfill you and your dreams, your goals, serve your values, in a meaningful and lasting manner. This is an examined life and you make it worth living.

To accomplish this in our loud, busy lives; be thoughtful, be meditative, be reflective. Discern, listen, observe, note, and think, think, think. Journal, write your thoughts down, if not daily, frequently. Glancing back on these notes on occasion helps you note the progress you’ve made. Meditating daily is a great practice for clarifying your ruling assumptions, your paradigm, for examining your life. If you’re not good at “formal” meditation, consider yoga. If you’ve never tried yoga, don’t be afraid, don’t be intimidated. Yoga people are the most happy, peaceful, thoughtful, understanding, forgiving and compassionate people ever. There are people of all ages and abilities, so being new is not a big deal. In my class last night, at the tender age of forty-nine and a half, I was the youngest one there. There was one guy in the class who just remained in shavasana the whole time, lying on the floor on his back. And that was perfectly okay. There was a lady who couldn’t even bend to touch her knees. And that was perfectly okay. There was a woman there who was practically a contortionist. And that was okay. Yoga is a practice and it is to each individual what that individual needs and wants it to be. The thing with yoga is that it is meditative without having to sit still and deliberately try to empty your mind. It is a peaceful and soothing environment and you’ll find you are centered and calm and able to think more clearly as you practice. If not journaling, or meditation, or yoga, consider walking by yourself each day. Something, some quiet, contemplative time where you can be alone with your thoughts and examine your life, define your ruling assumptions and shift your paradigm to set you on the path to your personal evolution.

From my yoga class last night, I had two major take aways; the first was to just give pause and consider how I landed here, wherever I am. The second was based on a story the instructor had about the pigeon pose. This is a pose that requires quite a bit of flexibility in the hip flexors and groin area, which many people don’t have. Most people hate the pigeon pose. I actually quite like it. When the instructor was attending a class to learn how to become a yoga instructor, they practiced and practiced and practiced the pigeon pose. She hated it and would ask herself why she was there, in that class, in that horrible pose, pursuing being a yoga instructor. Finally, as she sat in pigeon pose, she just broke down and cried, not from pain or discomfort, she had this complete and total emotional release. From that moment on, she was more physically able to do the pigeon pose. It is often the reflection of why we are doing what we’re doing, why we are where we are, that allows whatever release to occur to illuminate our path to what we want to become.

So, pigeon pose, or not, examine your life to make it worth living, define your ruling assumptions and whether they fit where you are, shift your paradigm if necessary, find the release and illuminate the path to what you want to become. That’s the take away!