I ran a ten-mile race last weekend. I didn’t win the race, but I did win.
I’m reasonably new to running, I started running at the age of 48, just four years ago. I’ve run a few half-marathons and one full marathon, so far. I didn’t win any of them. I’m registered for a couple of half-marathons and four full marathons over the next year. I won’t win any of them. But I still win.
Why run in races if you’re never going to win?
Running, for me, fulfills a couple of very primal needs I discovered I have rather late in life; it makes me feel free and it fulfills my competitive spirit. If I’m not in it to win it, how does it fulfill my competitive spirit? I compete with myself, I strive for continual improvement.
Fitness is a lifestyle I believe in, it is a lifestyle I foster, it is a lifestyle I create for myself. Let me clarify fitness and what it means to me:
Fitness is a lifestyle that facilitates good health, well-being, continual self-improvement, self-confidence, and self-worth. Joy.
Fitness is not getting skinny enough to wear that dress to the high school reunion. Fitness is not losing weight to look good, to catch that guy, to attract that girl, to get the engagement ring, to fit into the wedding dress. Fitness is not bulking up enough to win a body-building competition. Fitness is not racing once to prove it can be done. Fitness is not about doing it for someone else.
Fitness, your health, your well-being, are only ever about you. It is a choice and one you choose because it brings you joy.
I run as part of my fitness-focused lifestyle. It is hard, but it brings me joy and a great sense of accomplishment. I race because it’s fun, I enjoy the fanfare, I enjoy the people, I enjoy having a measure of my personal improvement.
In this past weekend’s race, there were 540 finishers. I came in 309th. Clearly, I didn’t win the race. I wasn’t even in the top 50%, but I’m still a winner. I finished. I ran ten miles. I did, however, run at a faster pace than any of my previous races, though this was the shortest race I ever ran.
I poured over the results, the results of others, knowing everyone runs, and races, for different reasons, for very personal and individual reasons. Some folks do run to compete, to win, to be the fastest. Others run for the sheer pleasure. Other folks run because they can. Sadly, some folks run to please someone else.
The fastest finishers, the winners of the race, the folks who took home the purse and the prizes, ran a full five minutes faster per mile than I. One such man was 72 years old. Winning. I reviewed the field of finishers near my finish time, I came in a couple of seconds behind a woman who was 74 years old.
I looked at the people who came in last, and these folks were, in my perception, the true winners of the race and should be awarded the highest purse, the biggest medal, and the most recognition. In the last ten finishers was a woman, 99 years old. Winning. Finisher 540 of 540; a woman of 83. Winning. How blessed to be of such good health at that age to complete a ten mile running race, and, judging from their pace, they were moving along fairly well. They eclipsed my rather ridiculous hiking pace. My rather ridiculous hiking pace elevates my heart rate to an aerobic level, it causes me to sweat profusely, it makes my muscles all wonderfully sore for the next couple of days. A 99 year old woman and an 83 year old woman and a smattering of other octogenarians maintained that pace for ten full miles. Think about it; many folks that age aren’t able to drive ten miles, or walk ten feet. When I grow up I want to be 99 years old and finish a ten mile running race! Run because you can.
I am speculating, but I’m pretty sure those elderly runners aren’t running that race for anyone but themselves. To live to be 99, or 83, is accomplishment in itself. To be able to run ten miles at that age obviates a commitment to fitness, a personal desire for a fit lifestyle. They aren’t running to get in shape to fit into that dress, to get the proposal, to find a date, to please someone else. They run because they can and because it is their choice, their lifestyle, and, I’m guessing it brings them an incredible amount of joy, confidence, self-respect, and self-worth.
And that, my friends, is truly winning.
I do it for me. Do it if you want, but do it for you.
I’ve been sliding down a slippery slope of deteriorating self-respect and climbing the mountain of self-destructive behaviors. I’ve been having fun, and, at the same time, feeling like shit in every imaginable way.
I’ve been overindulging and, in the process, undermining everything I’ve worked for and everything I value and believe in, leaving me to question, all over again, my self-worth.
Why do I feel so out of sorts, why do I feel so negative, why am I having feelings of self-loathing? I catch myself, several times a day, at every turn, thinking, or saying out loud, “I really don’t care.” What’s the difference, anyway?
Perhaps I’m being a little dramatic. Things aren’t that bad. I’m just heading down the wrong path.
I went hiking a week or so ago with a friend I met in Alaska. She recently relocated to Northern California, a couple of hours away from where I live, and we’ve been trying to stay connected. She has similar interests in hiking and outdoor pursuits as I do. Other than my kids, there are only a handful of folks I know who are willing to hike as hard, as long, or as far as I. She is one in that very small handful. She is also twenty years younger than I. As I often say, “there just aren’t any young people my age.”
We hiked about twelve miles on a very narrow, single track trail, in the hills east of the town of Calistoga, overlooking the Napa Valley. We encountered four snakes in our travels. I was in the lead and, being a Northern California girl, I am well-schooled in keeping an eye on the trail immediately in front of me, watching the ground exactly where my foot is going to land.
There are no snakes in Alaska, and my hiking partner’s only experience with snakes, while hiking, was in Peru, where the snakes tend to be overhead, dangling from tree limbs. Snakes on the path that resemble sticks across the trail were a whole new experience for her. We were both glad I lead. Three of the four snakes I spotted, politely exited the trail as we approached. The first we encountered, though, stubbornly stretched across the trail, with a steep incline to our right, masked in poison oak, and a steep drop to our left, also festooned with poison oak. I tossed a couple of pebbles at the snake, but it didn’t take the hint. We considered climbing up and around, or scrambling down and around, enduring the wrath of the rash over the possibility of a snakebite. Earlier in the week, on a solo hike, I encountered a snake that behaved in much the same manner. I ended up backing up a distance, sprinting and doing an Olympic long jump over the snake. Today’s trail really didn’t allow for such athletic feats. Ultimately, I found a stick nearby and gently lifted the snake off the trail, tossing the stick and the snake down into the ravine a few yards so we could safely pass.
Other than snakes, the only other trouble we encountered was losing the trail back to the car. After six hours and nearly ten miles of rugged trail, and having not eaten since breakfast, as late afternoon began to turn to evening, we found ourselves on a trail that just seemed to be heading in the wrong general direction. We retraced our steps a couple of times, tried to pick up an alternate trail, and reasoned that, perhaps, we were on the right path afterall, unfamiliar though it seemed. We’d encountered very few hikers during the course of our day, and none were about presently. As we retraced our steps a few times over, we remained calm, applied some reason, a bit of logic, and, surveyed the hills that rose around us several different times. There was a scar on a hill that appeared to either be the result of water runoff and erosion, or an unusually steep trail. We’d discounted the scarred patch of earth earlier, as it, too, seemed to head in a direction we weren’t entirely comfortable with, but, we decided to reconsider, as other options didn’t manifest. Upon reaching the scarred patch of earth, we could see it was littered with footprints, far more than the other trails we’d been picking up in our attempt to get back to the car. We followed the steep path up the hill, leaving, now, our own set of footprints, and, after cresting the hill found ourselves on the familiar, wide path leading directly back to the parking lot.
It was the wisdom we’d acquired through experience, and our ability to remain calm, apply reason, and logic, and our willingness to try several options, admit our error, and try more options, that ultimately led to our success. We tried different things and found the right path.
So, I recognize now, that I’m headed down the wrong path, metaphorically. The path is easy, like a straight, flat, paved sidewalk, but I know, it will lead to misery. I could stumble along, endlessly, effortlessly, still moving along, but really, just going through the motions. Or, I could stop, remain calm, apply some reason and logic, and change my course to reach greater heights, majestic views, journeying impressive distances and experiencing challenges, triumphs and adventures that few realize. This is the path I’ve always desired, this is the path I’ve travelled before. Before taking a wrong turn. I’m choosing the narrow, steep, serpent strewn trail less traveled, now, over the straight, paved, sidewalk. The adventure begins. The adventure continues. Today. If you want things to be different, then things have to be different.
Anyone out there old enough to remember the movie Urban Cowboy? Maybe some of you younger folks are into old, cheesy movies. But I’m guessing if you know the movie, or the song, it is now tragically stuck in your head for the rest of the day. I apologize.
I remember, once, seeing a cartoon of a cowboy looking under a horse’s tail, captioned, “Looking for love in all the wrong places.”
Where do you find love? Where do you look for it?
I know countless people who, despite heroic efforts, can’t find love. Maybe not countless in literal terms, but as I’ve never kept track, in that respect, countless. However many of these people I know, they are all on every online dating site, some even have consultants to assist and advise them on their dating site profiles. I have friends who are chronically single and others who are chronically miserable in the relationship they’re in. I even follow a blog written by a woman who writes of her efforts to find lasting love, which seems to elude her to an almost comic level. Every time she is “in love” again, her readers watch and wait, kind of like watching Jersey Shore or a car crash, we can’t not watch, as much as we’d like to. We all know in a week, or two, a month, tops, she will be single and on the hunt again. Which is tragic, except that she has an enviable following.
For the many I know who struggle with love, I know a few wise and blessed people who find lasting, fulfilling and joyful love. Sometimes with no effort whatsoever, they round a corner one day and BAM!! Love.
May I share with you my thoughts on this? Not that I am some well-published love guru, nor am I the ill-fated, love sick blogger with an enviable following and the “can’t not watch” antics.
I often kid around with my single and dateless friends, “If you want to meet guys you just need to go to bars, alone, and drink really dark beer, it guarantees getting noticed and almost certainly a conversation.” And that is where it all begins, with a conversation. If you aren’t having conversations, or aren’t available to converse, or are always with your pussy posse and so, unapproachable, how can you expect to have a conversation?
Conversation is required for a relationship to begin, but 99% of conversations are not for that intent. They are just conversations. It surprises me, though, in all my travels and in all my observations, how few people are really willing to converse with “strangers”. And, even among my chronically single friends, they “would never” just enter into a conversation in a coffee shop, bar, restaurant, or any other public setting, with a stranger. Question; how else does a stranger become an acquaintance? Am I missing something here?
Conversation or no conversation, there is much more to the story. Love may follow a friendship that develops from some initial conversation that begins in a coffee shop, a bar, the grocery store, an opera performance, or even an online dating sight. But love can only survive under the ideal circumstances, like a rare, exquisite and temperamental flower. We may be “looking for love” in all the usual places, bars, coffee shops, online dating sites, etc., and we may even have some promising, preliminary success, but, I’m here to tell you that’s not where you’re going to find true, meaningful, fulfilling and lasting love (and by “lasting” I mean of some undetermined, unguaranteed, duration, because, remember, love is impermanent, like life, like baseball season, summer, youth, and like rare, exquisite and temperamental flowers; a topic for another time).
The biggest problem with love, that I see, is that people expect it to happen to them. In other words, love comes from an external source, “he loves me, he loves me not, he loves me …” How often do we hear people make mention of the fact that people in their lives either love them, or don’t? Their kids, their lover, their parents, their relatives, their co-workers, spouses, friends of friends, acquaintances, exes, and so forth and so on? Does this, then, add or decrease their value as a person, to be loved, or not, by other people in the world? We are looking in the wrong place. Love does not happen to us, it isn’t something that is just bestowed upon us, from an external source, because we live and breathe and occupy space on this planet. There seems to be a false sense of entitlement here, and there, and everywhere. Don’t get me started on THAT topic, we’ll save it for later, as well.
Where, then, should we be looking for love, if not from those around us we wish would love us?
Love begins, exists and is always, for eternity, from within.
How often have you heard someone say, or how many times have you, yourself said, “I wish I could find someone who loved me for who I am. I wish I could find someone who loved me exactly the way i am.” Question; do you love you for who you are? Exactly the way you are? To be loved we must first be lovable. To be lovable, we must first love ourselves. We pretty much set the standard, our expectation of how others will regard us, like us, love us, by how we feel about ourselves. You remember those hapless people that round a corner, bump into a stranger, and find blissful love? Chances are, they are very lovable and that it all begins with how they feel about themselves.
Sound narcissistic? There is a different between narcissism and loving oneself. To love oneself means to have self-respect, to treat oneself with love in the way we think, speak and act towards ourselves. If we are self-loathing and self-destructive that is perceived, if only on a subconscious level, by others, as being unworthy of love, our own, first, and theirs, then, too.
When was the last time you picked a daisy and plucked the petals from it, one at a time, saying, “I love me, I love me not, I love me, I love me not, I love me!”?
Do you recall Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem, “How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count the Ways“? Perhaps we should recite it as “How do I love me? Let me count the ways.” We are, sadly, in the practice of counting the ways we don’t love ourselves; “I’m not pretty enough.” “I’m not thin enough.” “I’m not young enough.” “I’m not interesting enough.” “I’m not adventurous enough.” “I’m fat.” “I’m ugly.” “I’m boring.” “I’m stupid.” We constantly tell ourselves “I am not enough”, and so those in our midst, the world, the universe, if you will, hears “I am not enough.”
No matter our I.Q., our body type, our shape, size, hair color, job, hobbies, political view, religion, national origin, family history, or anything, we can be lovable. But we must begin with ourselves, it all begins inside our head, inside our own heart. When you feel deserving of your own affections and adoration, you become deserving of others’ affections and adoration. It shines like a beacon through the fog, ethereal and intangible, but real and palpable.
You know those people, friends, relatives, or complete strangers you may casually observe, they’ve just got “that quality”? People seem to notice them despite their relative physical attractiveness, or unattractiveness. That’s the quality; self-love, self-respect, self-worth. The beacon in the fog.
So if that’s the secret, how does one fall in love with one’s self?
It is a process. It is a practice. It is a daily, moment to moment, and lifelong chore. Loving oneself is not something we accomplish and then just check off our list. Loving oneself is something we work at daily, every day, for the rest of our lives. It’s a lot like getting fit and healthy; you can’t just go on a diet for three weeks and then stop. You can’t go to the gym for the month of January and then stop. Health and fitness are lasting only when our efforts are lasting. There is a sign in the yoga room at my gym that says “fitness is not a destination, it is a lifestyle”. Loving oneself is the same, it is a lifestyle and it takes the same level of commitment, sweat, exertion, and sometimes even pain, to maintain. Make no doubt.
Don’t be mistaken, though, I’m not saying it’s hard to love one’s self, I’m saying it’s hard to change the patterns we’ve developed and are enmeshed in. People, without making a conscious effort, are generally very self-loathing. Truthfully, even the most conceited, narcissistic, people you’ll ever meet are actually, usually, the ones that hate themselves the most. It is our tendency, as humans, and this tendency must be reversed. Volumes have been written on it and as I am not going to add to those volumes here, today, that is where I’m going to recommend you begin. Some of the books I’ve seen lately that I’ve found enjoyable to read and informative and enlightening are listed below.
Looking for love? Start in the right place, within. Learn how to love yourself and the world will follow. To get the dreadful Urban Cowboy song out of your mind, I’m going to give you another song from even further back in history! Remember the Coca Cola ad with the song “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing”? That’s a lot like what this self-love thing is all about. It begins with one little voice, (yours) a good message and a catchy tune. By the first chorus, others are singing along with you and by the end of the song, all of humanity has joined in. Cheers!
It never ceases to amaze me, even after all the airline miles I’ve accumulated; I awoke this morning in New York and had lunch in California. And I was even in Texas for a bit, today, too.
And, since all I did was sit on an airplane for three hours, run through an airport and get on another airplane for four more hours, I had a little time to just sit and think.
I am completely exhausted. Totally. And, by telling myself I am completely exhausted, I am, now, in fact, completely exhausted, whether I actually was to begin with or not. That’s how it works, in case you were wondering.
I believe, 100%, totally, completely and without exception, we are what we say we are. If we say we are tired, we are going to feel tired. If we say we feel sick, we are going to feel sick. If we say we cant’ do something, we have no reason to even try.
Have you ever had someone say horrible things to you? Mean things, about you? You’re not smart enough. You’re not athletic enough. You’re not strong enough. You’re too slow, you’re too out of shape, you’re too old, you’re too young, you don’t have enough time, you don’t have enough money, you don’t have enough patience, you don’t have enough education, you’re dumb, you’re fat, you’re ugly. Ever? Has anyone close to you ever said anything to you that was anything other than positive, respectful and supportive? I’m sure. I’m sure, and more than you realize. So, do you believe them? Perhaps, perhaps not.
Don’t you ever talk to me that way!
But if there were someone in your life that you were extremely close to, trusted more than anyone else in the whole world and they told you any of those things I listed above once, would you consider the possibility that it were true? What if they said it to you over and over and over, day after day after day? Do you think you’d eventually think they may be right? Would you eventually be convinced?
Did you ever fib, maybe just a little, as a kid? Perhaps in order to get out of something you knew you’d get in trouble for; breaking a vase or a window, trampling the new flowers in the flower bed, eating the last twelve Oreos? And did you ever continue to deny the incident vehemently and repeatedly, to the point where, eventually, you believed your own lie? It happens. Even to adults. We can convince ourselves of our own lies if we speak them often enough.
I know someone close to you that treats you badly, tells you horrible things about yourself, repeatedly, every single day. And you let them. And, you trust them, because they are closer to you than anyone you know. You believe them, without a doubt, you have been convinced, after years and years and years, a lifetime, of being told the same lies over and over and over.
That person is you.
We speak to ourselves in ways we’d likely never tolerate from others, no matter who they were to us. Think about it. How often do you tell yourself you can’t do something for one reason or another? How often do you look in a mirror, or at a photo of yourself and say something negative about your appearance? How often do you attempt something, make a little mistake and tell yourself you were right in knowing you couldn’t do it in the first place?
How do you suppose you’d feel about yourself if your parents or someone else equally close to you told you, on a daily basis, maybe even several times a day, that you were ugly, you had too strong of a chin, a fat belly, thin hair, an unsightly birthmark, hairy arms, that you were bowl legged, too tall, flat chested. Next time you walk past a mirror, catch what it is, exactly, you notice about yourself.
We are horrible to ourselves. Listen up! Listen to the things you say to yourself when you aren’t paying attention. I’m serious. Listen to your self speak, your self doubt. This is your self control, your negative self control. You control yourself by limiting yourself with every negative thing you think or say. You are standing between you and everything you need to reach your goals, your dreams and your potential. We truly are our own worst enemy. And, even worse, since we are so horrible to ourselves, often we allow those around us to act in kind. In fact, if we can’t treat ourselves with love and respect, doesn’t it seem a little unreasonable to expect others to rise above?
In fact, people will treat us in the manner they see us treat ourselves. We set the expectation, the precedent, with our own self-respect.
Let’s look at this from another angle. Do you know anyone who spends a great deal of time complaining about ailments, or being tired, or unhappy, broke, or how about people who respond, habitually, with “I can’t, because …”? Or all of the above? Do you like spending a lot of time with them? You know they are a lot more capable, well, smart, strong, healthy than they think they are and they just need to change their attitude and do it. You know it, in their case, but what about when you’re chatting with yourself. Well, pot, this is kettle, and you’re black.
Am I right?
What do we do about all this negativity? Stop it. Cold turkey.
Start making a concerted effort, listen to the voice in your head and how you speak to yourself. Make note of when you think or say things, to yourself, that are, in any way negative or derogatory. And correct it, right then and there. Whatever negative thing you catch yourself thinking or saying, correct it, out loud, if possible. This will take both practice and persistence, but it works. Begin to compliment yourself for the very things you used to criticize yourself for. Soon, you will find you feel more energetic, healthier, smarter, faster, stronger, more capable, more confident and, best of all, happier.
This practice, though, is much like building physical strength, endurance or stamina. You can’t just raise yourself off of the couch on January 1st and go run twenty miles if you’ve never run a significant distance before. You will have to work out, regularly. And, you’ll have to keep building those muscles, forever. Let’s say you work really hard, for several months, to be able to do 100 push ups. Once you achieve that goal, you can’t just stop doing push ups and continue to be able to do 100 push-ups. If you stop doing push ups regularly, you lose the ability to do so many. Developing a positive “self-speak” policy and a healthy self-confidence, like working out, requires regular practice to maintain. Daily, for the rest of your life.
Develop some kind of practice, or routine, that you can incorporate into your day to bolster a healthy conversational relationship with yourself. If you find you always criticize yourself when you catch your reflection in the mirror or when you see pictures of yourself, put up more mirrors and take more pictures. I’ve talked to you about “selfies” before! I believe in them! I always have!
I also find a great benefit in journaling every morning and every night. It doesn’t take a great deal of time and it sets the tone for my day before it begins and puts everything in perspective, again, before it ends. I actually write down all the positive things I would like to tell myself in order to evolve into the person I intend to become; stronger, healthier, more grateful, more tolerant, more forgiving, etc. And, then, at night, I revisit each of those points, again, and write down all the things I am grateful for. It is a great meditative, centering exercise and takes no more than ten minutes, morning and night. These practices work for me, find what works for you. What can you do to make sure you’re treating yourself with the respect you deserve? So, do it.
The first, at the airport. I am now part of the TSA Pre-Check program. I received an unsolicited email from United, my airline of choice, stating that I was enrolled in the program. I suppose, as often as I fly, and since I have not made an effort to blow up any airplanes, it is assumed I’ll have no desire to do so any time in the future. A safe assumption. So, I don’t have to remove my shoes, my 3-1-1 baggie, my scarf, my sweater or light jacket. I do not have to remove any of my computers from my bag. I just toss my bag on the belt and dash through the scanner. This reminds me of simpler times. Another loosening of the leash; upon boarding the plane, we were all told we no longer have to turn any of our small personal electronics off for take off and landing; my phones, my Kindle, my iPad, all can stay on, in non-transmitting mode. It’s like someone granted me a block of free time. I was unsure as to how I should busy myself as the plane door was closing. This time has always been devoted to frantically ensuring every device was completely off. This newfound liberation, this freedom, seems so foreign in a world that has been so up tight for so long. The TSA agents and flight attendants were near jubilant in their efforts to wave us through security, all smiles as they assured us we could leave our phones on during the entire flight. I haven’t seen such glee at the airport, on behalf of employees and travelers, alike, in a very long time.
While the plane door was closing, with my newfound block of free time, I opened up a black, hard covered book with gold letters on the cover. This, the other trip back in time, was a little less pleasant. This book I read today, moved me to tears. In public. On a fucking airplane. My dear, near lifelong friend, Clarissa, showed me the book when I visited her home last week. Clarissa Lynn Coupon. It was a book written, from the copyright, just a couple of years ago, but told of a time I recall well from nearly three decades ago. It was a self-published book, written for a group of long-time friends and distributed amongst some number of people. As books will, they have been circulating from family to family and from acquaintance to acquaintance. It is hard to say just how far and wide this story has travelled. I dare not hazard a guess.
The story is told from the perspective of a young man and spans a decade or so of his life, weaving the tales of his evolution from boy to adolescent to man, a story of drunkenness, debauchery, deceit, drugs, dishonesty, infidelity and God. The story revolves around friendships that developed and endured this period of time, and beyond. The story, I assume, was solely for the enjoyment of this misfit group of friends, sort of a 1980’s version of “Bro’s before Ho’s”. But, I am reminded, as I am currently in custody of this black, hard-bound book with gold lettering on the cover, that stories do travel, and sometimes their arrival in a particular reader’s hands is miscalculated and most definitely unanticipated.
The “hero” of our story is Stanly. Stanly had a healthy fear of God and an uncertainty about religion that he seemed to struggle with for most of the ample book. He suffered a certain amount of turmoil as his parents divorced and as he tried to find his way, painfully and pitifully, through the loss of his virginity, and any semblance of sobriety.
After high school, I’m sure to everyone’s relief, Stanly finally managed to lose his virginity, to a girl he used specifically and solely for that fait accomplit. Magically, and only with the assistance of his good friend Dan, Stanly hooked up with Wendy and for the next couple of pages, really liked her. Loved her even. But, pages later, Stanly was avoiding her and wishing for the company of other female companions and, in fact, cheating on her at every opportunity, which, he admitted, wasn’t often. For the next, oh, two years or so, Stanly continued to see Wendy, to use her, pretty much, as needed. I read on, which was painful. I got within thirty pages of the final page, page 547, and skipped toward the end to a chapter titled “Forsaken”. In this chapter Stanly finally did the honorable thing and broke up with Wendy.
I know, this does not seem like the type of book I would generally read. It isn’t. In fact, reading this book was, by far, one of the worst experiences of my life, because the story, you see, is a true story, I knew Stanly, well, I thought, because, I am Wendy. And of much of this, I had no idea. For four years. For the better part of four years, I was being used. A booty call, piece of ass, I guess, when nothing better panned out.
You know that feeling you get when you receive really horrible news? The edges of your vision turn fuzzy and white? Like all the blood just drained from your body and dumped, suddenly, and sickeningly, into your stomach? Yah. That happened pretty much, repeatedly, throughout the entire volume. Every time I flipped a page and saw the word “Wendy” on it, I gripped the arm of the chair and braced myself. Do you have any idea what it feels like to read about yourself in a story like that, where the entire cast of characters are real and they all know you’re just someone’s booty call, piece of ass? I still see these people, in real life. Nice, right?
I find myself in the weirdest position and one that has robbed me of some sleep, some self-respect, some self-confidence and a bit of my usual glee, for a few minutes, anyway. It is hard to describe a brand new, open and bleeding, thirty-year-old wound. How is it even possible to have a brand new, thirty-year-old wound? I am shaken, to the core, and reeling, and beating myself up for being shaken, to the core, and reeling. How asinine. Of me.
These questions floated through my mind as I feigned sleep, for a spell, last night:
Every man in my past, ever, has betrayed me, in some way, or in many ways, how will I ever trust anyone again?
I saw a quote the other day, by Ernest Hemingway, “The best way to find out if you can trust somebody is to trust them.” So, I shall. I do. I must.
Why do I care, thirty years later?
Because it hurt. I don’t really care, it just hurt. I’ll lick my wounds and I’ll be over it, or not. I only found myself Googling a list of therapists, once. The lessons I have gleaned from this and the ability to share those lessons is therapy enough. It’s all about the lessons we learn from our life experiences, whether ugly or utopian. And sharing those lessons in hopes they may help others in pain, guarantees bliss.
Is my self-respect in tact? To find out one has been so degraded, for such a long time, certainly must erode one’s self-respect.
Nope. Remember, we are solely responsible for our own self-respect, it is a reflection of us from within and has nothing to do with what other, lesser life forms, posing as people, inflict on us, for their own reward and benefit. Had Stanly been the least bit honest, or any more sloppy, had I known at any moment in time how I was truly regarded, I would have walked away, head held high. That this is a new, thirty-year-old wound diminishes my ability to walk away, head held high, none, whatsoever.
How, in the world, should I react?
Oh, I lost a wee bit of sleep fantasizing about public humiliation, via a Facebook wall post on Stanly’s wall, but what would that gain? Really, only further publicity and humiliation for me. And while it was mildly satisfying to talk of the tale here, I do so in fair anonymity, in a much less public venue, and with the careful passage of enough time to choose words carefully.
What have I learned?
Lots. That Ernest Hemingway is to be trusted on the topic of trust.
I am reminded, though I know, from the core, that self-respect, self-confidence and self-esteem come from within and are not the property of anyone but the bearer. No one can take our self-respect, our self-confidence or our self-esteem from us, no matter what. No one can diminish them in the least, we are solely in care, charge and custody of them and if they erode, even in the slightest, it is at our very own hands, solely, and only we can repair them. That alone is empowering beyond anything else.
I also learned that when someone you once respected, honored, trusted and admired, whether for three minutes, or three decades, shows their true colors, when honesty, integrity and even chivalry are replaced with selfishness, infidelity, dishonesty, deceit and disrespect, the only thing to do is to observe, acknowledge, accept and forgive.
In observing the true nature of the person, we realize they are completely separate from us, their actions are separate from us and lessen us in no way. In acknowledging that they are completely separate from us and that their actions are not for us to react to, we rise above them in honor and integrity and common, human decency. In accepting what has happened as something in the past, that can never be changed, we release it and relish, again, the only time in which we truly live, the present. And, the hardest part; in forgiving those who trespass against us, we are freed from the hurt, the pain, and any power our trespasser may feel they hold over us is diffused, forever.
It may seem odd to say, but I am grateful for having had the opportunity to read the black, hardbound book, with the gold lettering on the cover, dreadful as it was. The pain and the horror of the tale subside with each breath I draw and release, and I have had another rare opportunity to take a horrific situation and use it as a catapult to further evolve into the person I am destined to be; great today, greater, even, tomorrow. Thank you, Stanly.
Today marked a day that I really, truly, didn’t think would play out the way it did, which caused some self-reflection, but only after a few moments of self-pity.
I shall explain.
I’ve spoken of my cousin, the one I am so very grateful for, having looked out after my parents during my dad’s final months, and now, looks out for my mom when I am “twirling through the universe”, as her voicemail greeting goes. She is eccentric, an artist. I think the whole family, with the possible exception of my father, is eccentric. That’s where I get it. I’m eccentric. I will gladly admit it. I like to refer to it in a slightly more socially acceptable manner as “creative.” The women in this family tend to be outspoken and yet mysterious, passionate and yet reserved, intelligent, without a “yet” attached to it, creative, and prone to wear either dark colors, animal prints, unusual styles or, all of the above simultaneously. We rarely go unnoticed.
There is another cousin, older than the one I’ve spoken fondly of, by a few years. I do not know her as well, for a few reasons. One, she has no children my age, in fact, she has no children at all. Second, she twirled about the universe with her wealthy (from oil, I think), British husband for most of my childhood. Third, she usually was not present at family gatherings because she was at odds with someone for something or other. I failed to mention that we are all extremely sensitive. If there is a sensitivity gene, it is double dominant in this family.
While I have been out twirling about the universe, cousin one and cousin two, have, on occasion, been taking my mother out to lunch, with some unrelated party named Barbara, at Chez Panisse, you know, Chez Panisse of the Alice Waters, world famous chef, Chez Panisse. Chez Panisse as in in Berkeley Chez Panisse, and I was born in Berkeley, so have some God-given birthright to dine at Chez Panisse, Chez Panisse! I have never eaten at Chez Panisse and I am dying to go, as in, I would donate all my worldly possession for a meal at Chez Panisse. Okay, so all my worldly possessions would barely cover my lunch tab at Chez Panisse. But, still. I. Want. To. Go.
Today, my mom was to go to lunch with my cousins, and Barbara, to Chez Panisse. And I wasn’t traveling! I was here! I thought I could go. It seems I wasn’t invited. How could I not be invited? I’m a cousin! My mother even said, “You weren’t invited.” I was perplexed. I figured it was just an oversight. And Mom is way too awkward, socially, to navigate this kind of territory with any tact or acumen, so she was of little help and actually managed to make me feel worse. More than once. I got my social awkwardness gene from her. She tries, as do I, but we are just wired in a way that makes us come off as cute, but awkward, she, a bit more than me. At least in my opinion. She didn’t want to go, for all the same, lame excuse/reasons she offers for everything; my cane, getting in and out of the car, the stairs, walking, etc. She even said she didn’t want to go because her table manners have deteriorated with her age. As long as she doesn’t do that hiccup-burp thing she did at breakfast this morning, in pubic, she’ll be fine. I almost lost my granola. Anyway, she didn’t want to go. She even wanted me to call my older cousin, over the weekend, to tell her she wouldn’t go, because she was momentarily deaf. I procrastinated, didn’t call, and she kind of had to go. I’d gladly go to Chez Panisse, deaf, dumb, blind, and limbless. I can’t think of a good excuse to not go, other than not being invited.
I should have gone anyway, by myself. Damn! Why didn’t I think of that earlier?
My cousin, the one cousin, picked Mom up on her way to Chez Panisse, from Sonoma, where she lives. I’d actually planned on being somewhere else; out running, or at a coffee shop, working. Because I stayed up too late, I was still at home, only minutes from being ready to go. My ulterior motive was to be here, and ready, and to be invited lunch, because of the obvious oversight. So, yes, I was here, and ready, but was not invited. Damn. I really wasn’t invited. And this was the catalyst for a whole bunch of thought and self-reflection today.
I got left home like Cinderella on the night of the ball. And I don’t even have any fairy godmothers to make me a fab dress. Nor pet mice, for which I am grateful.
So, after Mom left, unwillingly, for her lunch at Chez Panisse, after I tied her scarlet red scarf, and all, I went to a different coffee shop, Ritual Coffee Roasters, at Oxbow Public Market in Napa, to work, to read, to people watch, to drink another decaf coffee concoction for four dollars of my hard earned money, plus tip, to write, and to reflect and try to pull myself out of my funk. Maybe, like Cinderella, a sparkly new pair of shoes were the ticket to better tidings. Or not.
Whatever. I may say it, I don’t’ live it. Sometimes I really wish I didn’t care. I do. I may act like it doesn’t matter. It does. I’ve got that sensitivity gene, remember?
Upon much thought, contemplation and discernment, I think I figured it out; older cousin is angry with me because I won’t find joy. I mean, Joy. Not joy as in elation, happiness, a desirable emotion or state, as in a half-sister I’ve never met.
This will also explain why it is my first cousins are that much older than me. My parents found each other later in life, after both being divorced from previous marriages. As a result of, or perhaps reason for, my dad’s first union, there was a daughter. Joy. And, for a time, my older cousin lived across the street from her, as a child, and was close with her.
Growing up as an only child, I wanted nothing more than to have siblings. I’d even ask Santa Claus for siblings for Christmas. At some point, I became aware of Joy and always assumed, naively, at some point, she’d be a part of my life. When my grandmother died, the cousins were allowed to walk through her apartment and take things we were most fond of. I acquired a picture of Joy, probably about age four or five years old. I was amazed by her long, blonde hair, which, in the picture, was worn in loose ringlet curls. My mystery sister.
After Joy’s birth, my dad enlisted and went to England during World War II, where he served, working on the instruments of B-24 Liberator aircraft. During his absence, so I’ve been told, his wife took up with another man, there was a divorce, and it was believed that Joy never knew my father was, in fact, her father. For my dad’s entire life, he thought, he hoped, that Joy would find out about him, search for him, find him and make contact. He didn’t want to initiate the contact, he wanted it to come from her.
A few years before Dad passed away, a letter arrived, from Joy. She said that her father, the man she believed to be her father, had passed away, and, that out of respect for him, she had waited to confirm what she always suspected, that my dad was her biological father. She had some questions and offered her phone number for a conversation. Dad called her. I wasn’t present, so I only know what I’ve been told, but it seems her only questions centered around whether he had heart disease, as her son had developed some issues that were thought to be hereditary. He, in fact, did. She asked if he’d had any other children, and so she learned of me, and the fact that I don’t have heart disease. When she found out I was about the same age as her son, she scoffed. Or so I was told. Whatever. As the conversation concluded, my dad asked, hopeful, whether she would like to meet sometime. She said “no”, and his heart was broken, again, or still.
When my father passed away, we held a small family service. My aunt and uncle and a couple of cousins from my mom’s side of the family were there, as were the cousins from my dad’s side of the family. All in one place, which was a first and had always seemed highly unlikely no matter the course of events that led to it. My dad’s side of the family I always thought of in one respect, truthfully, a rather dark respect, my mom’s side of the family, in another, more enlightened respect. My dad’s side of the family being of French descent, we are dark in color. But that is not the darkness of which I speak, there was often quarrelling and hurt feelings. As mentioned above. All of the family gatherings were held at my aunt and uncle’s house, which, itself was very dark and crowded and was situated in a crime-ridden and undesirable East Bay town. The family room had red and black shag carpet, heavy dark, red drapes and black faux leather furnishings, lending, I’m sure, more to the dark perception of the family and my memories more than the people and events, I’m certain. Gatherings consisted of some kind of meal and lots of alcohol, I’m sure, fueling a lot of the sensitivity and discord, and all consumed in the dungeon-like setting.
My mom’s side of the family, mostly fair-skinned, blonde, blue-eyed, always gathered at churches, parks, and brightly lit homes, usually in sunny and beautiful Colorado, or here, at my parents’ home. The perception of that family, therefore was always one of lightness and brightness, picnics and potlucks.
For these two families to meet was sort of a trip. I really didn’t quite know what to expect. It was, actually, all lovely, and as the aunt and uncle from the “dark side”, with the dark family room, have long since passed, some of the darkness, I hate to say, has subsided. But, as we rose to leave the restaurant, my older of the two first cousins came up to me and said, “I hope you’ll find joy.” I smiled and said, “Thank you, you, too.” I thought she wanted me to be happy, which I was, even in light of Dad’s passing. Her sentiment, I thought, was kind, a little strange, but kind. She departed, and, looking back on it, she had an odd expression on her face as she walked out. It was shortly thereafter that it occurred to me, she wanted me to find Joy, my half-sister, not a feeling of happiness. Oh. I think I’ll stick with the first joy and forgo the second Joy. For now, for many reasons, but mostly out of respect for my dad.
So, I wasn’t invited to lunch by my older first cousin, and I was really pretty bummed. Sad, actually. I didn’t really piece the likely cause together until after Mom left with the younger of my older cousins, the one that likes me. Whatever. So, I’m on the shit list and I’m not likely to remove myself from said list. So, I pouted for a while. I was being sensitive. When Mom returned home she began to regale me with every detail of every bite she took, every word that was said, which, honestly, I really didn’t want to hear. I wasn’t invited. I pouted some more. Then I drank some fantastic wine, finished up a couple of projects and talked to my Sweetie on the phone, all of which kind of cheered me up. Kind of. But I miss my Sweetie, and being a little down to begin with, it struck me more markedly today, so I got kind of sad again. But he made me laugh, my Prince Charming, and I had a second glass of wine, and headed off to bed for, hopefully, a decent night’s sleep. Before turning off the light, I spent some time reflecting on the reasons for my sadness and, as I routinely do, I jotted down all the things I am grateful for in my journal.
So, the thought for the day; is it okay to be sad? Certainly. Sadness is a real, human emotion. It is fine to be sad, on occasion, for a brief period, and really, probably isn’t something we can completely avoid or prevent from ever occurring, no matter how positive a mindset we have. But, chronic, long-term, and overwhelming sadness is not something we should be feeling and not something we should have to endure. If sadness is more than fleeting, as a co-worker of mine often says, “it’s a ‘you’ problem”. I know, it sounds harsh, but it is the truth. If sadness is chronic and is more than just fleeting, if sadness is a fairly common feeling, or is ever overwhelming, then the reasons for the negative emotion need to be uncovered and rectified.
Many people are prone to chronic and overwhelming sadness out of a lack of self-respect, because of low self-esteem, we think poorly of ourselves; that we are incapable, unlovable, unattractive, unintelligent, we are mean to ourselves in thought, action and deed, and we suffer as a result, at our own hands. Those who lack self-respect and self-esteem are often disrespected by those in their lives; spouses, parents, children, bosses, coworkers, and friends, adding to the burden. When we respect ourselves, others are more likely to follow suit. Think about it, if we can’t even respect ourselves, how can we expect anyone else to respect us? It begins with us. Respect begins within and self-respect and self-esteem are the foundation for happiness. Self-respect and self-esteem are the destroyers of chronic sadness.
So, tonight, I will sleep, having taken a few moments to recollect all that I am grateful for. Sleep, with the aid of gratitude, and two fantastic glasses of wine, will begin to blur my conscious and I will rest my mind, my body and my soul. Tomorrow, I am certain, I will arise with a smile on my face and a smile in my heart. Gratitude is the champion over any fleeting and trivial sadness.
Powerful! Look at the word – powerful. It is full of power. Are you? Empower yourself. Be full of power!
Don’t let anyone “make you” feel something.
My kids “make me” feel tired
My mom “makes me” feel guilty
My husband “makes me” frustrated
My boyfriend “makes me” happy
My life “makes me” sad
Whether a good feeling or a bad feeling, they are your feelings and no one else is actually capable of “making you” feel anything. You are completely in charge of your feelings and how the actions or words of others cause you to react. Realize that and half the battle is won. I’m never going to say it’s easy, I struggle with this issue constantly and have to consciously listen to how I talk to myself and correct my thoughts, and words, to reflect the truth. The truth is, for all of us, we, alone, have to power to choose to be tired, or not, to be guilty, or not, to be frustrated, or not, to be happy, or not, to be hurt, or not. Attributing someone else with the responsibility of inflicting those feelings onto us is depriving us of the power to take control and ownership of those feelings and change them. For the better.
It is human nature to react to the actions and words of those around us, to let those words and actions define our moods, our responses, our feelings. To make matters worse, the closer someone is to you, the more reactive you tend to be to their words or actions So much of our lives is impacted by our moods and our feelings, that by letting others “make” us feel or react as a result gives the other person complete power over us. We lose ourselves in not being in control of our feelings.
When we allow someone else to dictate our feelings by reacting to their words or actions, intentional or not, it is often said, “we let someone get our goat”. This is an old saying that I recently heard the explanation for. Whether urban legend, or not, the explanation I heard is as follows: racehorses, being very high strung and excitable, often have companion animals to keep them calm. This is particularly beneficial before a big race. Often, a suitable companion animal for a horse is a goat. Before a race, some less than savory racehorse owners would steal their closest competitor’s horse’s goat, hoping the horse would be so out of sorts at the loss of his or her companion, they would be unable to perform well in the race. That being the story, don’t ever let anyone get your goat. Whether intentional, or not, if the words or actions of someone close to you has you reacting, stop. You are in charge of your reactions and of your feelings. Take control. Do something positive, whether in your head, or physically, and maintain control over your feelings.
To do this, we really have to pay attention to the conversation that goes on in our heads. This is extremely beneficial in many areas we may be seeking to evolve in. But if you want a more cheerful, sunny, happy outlook on life, take control of your feelings and of your reactions. Listen to your internal conversation and correct yourself when you hear “so and so makes me feel so …” This will take significant practice, the sooner you begin, the better. Be diligent. As soon as you begin to gain mastery of this, you’ll find your general outlook and attitude are vastly improved.
Shit gets serious, though. The control we allow people to exert over us goes way beyond just the feelings and reactions we have to their words and behavior. This goes beyond feeling grumpy because your significant other left the toilet seat up. In a lot of relationships, especially family relationships; parents, children, siblings, spouses, one party exerts power over the other willfully and knowingly by prompting a predictable, desired reaction. Manipulation. In other extremes, one party exerts their control over the other party through deliberate and malicious acts of violence, abuse, whether verbal or physical, and neglect. Humans are far more savage than we give them credit for. Out of fear of greater harm, out of fear of abandonment or loneliness, or for lack of knowing what else to do, we often allow this to continue until we become unrecognizable as our former selves. Or worse. But, we need to know, we have the ability, at any point in time, always, and without question, to regain control. We are powerful. All of us. And equally.
I have a friend I’ve known since high school, so, for over three decades. She was beautiful, vibrant, popular, and usually the life of the party. She had a joie de vie I always admired. She was daring and wicked and fun. She was a couple of years older than me and I always looked up to her as someone I’d like to be more like, though my tendency was to be a bit quieter, I was, at that point in my life, never really the life of the party. I was at the party, no doubt, but never the life of the party. She had a string of men after high school, but one, in particular, she seemed to always come back to. He was loud, phony, but somehow destined for fairly good things. They eventually married and started a family. From the outside, they seemed a magazine cover sort of family; incredibly good-looking and quite successful. She was progressing well in her own career even without having gone to college. His career was solid and he made good money. As the years passed, though, she changed. Her self-confidence deteriorated. Her health was deteriorating. Her vibrancy and joie de vie were completely gone. He was abusive. He never laid a hand on her, his weapon of choice were words. He told her, daily, that she was ugly, that she was stupid, that she was worthless. Years of this and she believed every word. She couldn’t hold a job, and though she still had school-aged children, she turned to drinking. First it was just in the evenings after the children were tucked in. Then she began to sneak drinks earlier in the day. Before long she was drinking straight vodka beginning in the morning, just after dropping the kids off at school. Her alcoholism progressed to the point where she was hospitalized, near death. She recovered, thankfully, and her doctors told her that her liver was so damaged that a single drink could kill her. By this point in time, she was separated from her husband and battling for custody of her children. She was still lost, though, as an individual, and she did drink again. She was admitted to a rehabilitation program and made a long, grueling recovery, only to drink again. She is still alive, and is now sober, but only because of the incredible support her family is providing her. She is now divorced and her children are in the custody of other family members. Every day is a battle to regain her health, her strength, her self-respect, and her integrity. Her friends and family always fear she will relapse. She struggles to find the most basic of employment, and then to keep it. She still has many ongoing, chronic and incurable health issues. All because of the words of someone who vowed to love, honor and cherish her. Hateful, mean and untrue words. Sadly, and very hard to say, it is all her fault. She had no reason to believe those words, to let them destroy her, except that no one has ever taught us that we are in complete control of our own feelings, our own reactions, that we actually have all the power we need to prevent someone from hurting us and destroying our lives. Until now. I’m telling you, if no one else has, you are in control of your own feelings and your own reactions. Be strong, brandish your power. You have the power. You are your own superhero! Save yourself!
I have another friend, from college. And, thankfully, this is a far less tragic story. But, still, tragic, in an unsettling way. We were extremely close for a period of time. Again, she was fun and outgoing. I’m, to this day, not really sure if she was my sidekick, or if I was hers. It may have depended on the party, but we were at them all. I actually think I corrupted her and, despite what she’d lead you to believe, she was never quite as deviant as I. We parted ways at some point late in college, just weird personality differences girls have as we mature. Years later, though, we reconnected through an online high school forum. My mom had kept me filled in with her marriage and other newsworthy items in the newspaper, as had mutual friends. Not so very long ago, a few years now, I had the opportunity to work near where she was living at the time. We agreed to meet. After work, I made my way to her house for dinner. She always planned to marry for money, and had managed to follow through with her plan. In spite of her college education, she did not work, except for charitable causes, which I respect. And don’t. But that’s my issue. She, well I guess, technically, her husband, had a nice home in a very nice area. When I arrived, I was given the tour and she and I visited, joking and laughing and carrying on, just like old times. It was wonderful. The doorknob turned and the front door opened, there stood the husband; a tall distinguished, sneering, sort of aloof, arrogant man. I am incapable of hiding any thoughts, so I’m sure I had a raised eyebrow and a look of disgust on my face, but we were introduced and I made nice. We had stimulating conversation throughout hors d’oeuvers, once he found out I worked in a professional field. She said barely a word, “more peas?”, was about the extent of it. It was as if she’d been exorcised the moment that doorknob turned. After dinner, she and I were allowed to leave together, without an escort, for dessert, and she returned to her “normal” self, save for a moment of stress over the ten dollars dessert was going to cost. I offered to pay, to avoid any issue at home, but she refused.
A few months later, we met again. We were, by coincidence, going to be attending the same sports event. As soon as we met, we fell into familiar banter, antics and conversation. We were talking and laughing and considering plans for after the event. Then it happened. Her phone went off, she quickly answered, and her face went robotic. When she got off the phone she said “he” wanted to go to, and she name-dropped some very famous and expensive restaurant, for lunch. She turned and walked away without even looking back. My friend was a slave. She sold herself for status and a country club membership. Not much more than a bearer of children, children who would be properly educated at the best schools money could buy, coached in the appropriate sports, and even their college admissions essays would be the product of high priced, consultative services. She kept house, or hired the proper housekeepers, and she kept appearances. She paid to learn to cook and had dinner on the table the second the doorknob turned. The exorcism was complete. And tragic. To be exorcised of your very self, your soul, your being, your freedom, independence, autonomy, is a fate nearly as bad as verbal abuse. This, I am quite certain, is an incomplete story, there will be a manifestation, not to be a witch foretelling of evil, but I am fairly certain that something unsavory will manifest on one side of that relationship, or the other. And happiness and joy and self-fulfillment will not be the manifestation of which I speak.
I have told the story of my friend that suffered physical abuse at the hands of her husband. I have also told of her eventual and brave escape from that marriage. That she saw her power, reclaimed her power and wielded her power. She fled, leaving everything but her children behind. They lived in shelters for abused women for a time, until something better could be provided through assistance she researched, through assistance and support from her family and from her friends. She made it out alive, with her self-respect and her kids. She found her way to self-sufficiency, to independence, to success. Her abuser rots one imprisonment after another. And though this story, at first, seems a happy ending, it does not yet end. She now battles for her life from another abuser, cancer. And though she is certain, as am I, as are all of her supporters, that she will again prevail, because she is powerful, this does mark a setback. I can’t help but believe, cancer as mysterious as it is to us all, still, that years of abuse, of denying her own power over her own life, of relinquishing that power to a coward of a man, could possibly have had some contribution to her eventual weakness to disease. It is believed by many smarter than I, that a life of stress is a major contributor to an increased risk of cancer. Is not suffering, physically, painfully, at the hands of someone who vowed to love, honor and cherish you, stress? Is not thinking you are powerless against not only the attacks, but also the attacker, stress? Isn’t attempting to contribute to the household income and raising the children in as normal an environment, though actually a warzone, stress? She found the power once, she is finding the power again. An aggressive and seemingly unstoppable cancer has, at this point, halted in its tracks. She has the power. She always had the power. So do you. Use it now. Whether your attacker is a person you are committed to, or a disease that eats you alive, find your power, wield it, and regain your self.
My story is vanilla ice cream and rainbows by comparison, but I do have a story. Mine is a story neglect, abandonment, really, and worse of all, of loss of self. Eventually, a story of finding power. A story of regaining power, and then self. Mine is a story that does not present itself well in this article, in detail, the details I will save for a better time. But I am currently trying to put to a fair and legal death a long, miserable and terribly lonely marriage. It is possible to be abandoned by someone who is still physically present, and it is no less painful, it is perhaps even more painful and cruel, than someone who actually, physically leaves. My marriage was to a man of addictions; before we met, the typical addictions of foolish and misguided youth, then as an adult, and in my presence, food, television, the internet. Benign though they may sound, they are as self-destructive, if not more so, than any other addiction. A relationship that began with hope and promise and the poison of expectations, it was loveless almost from the start. Oh, the words were spoken, ad nauseum, but words are empty when actions don’t follow. After years of cohabitation, marriage was agreed upon like an informal business dealing. There was no proposal, to speak of, more of a summit meeting around a wobbly, oversized and hideously ugly dining table. And me a hopeless romantic, a believer in one true love, in enduring passion and joy. The wedding night was one of me pleading for consummation from an unwilling, unenthusiastic, and un-enamored groom, and this set the tone for the next twenty some years. We were not lovers, nor husband and wife, as much we were really just “business partners” of a sense, and, eventually, sort of a real estate investment trust. For as long as we both could argue our stake in the business end of the bargain, and the real estate continued to stair step up to the ultimate conquest, a forty-acre ranch home, I managed to endure the unimaginable loneliness, the loss of self, of self-respect, and self-esteem. I was second to whatever fifty channels of cable television had to offer, to news talk radio, and to the Drudge Report on the Internet, then to an ill-fated, impotent and flaccid “day-trading” scheme that he could never actually consummate. Again. And still. I compromised my career, working only part time, in order to raise our children, acting as both mother and father for most of their youth. I was the only female Boy Scout leader in a Catholic troop, for Christ’s sake! He was a reluctant participant in their upbringing and employed yelling, criticism and hurtful name-calling as strategies to exert his dominance, to demand respect, as “father and husband”. Respect, always, is earned, not assumed, and never required. Mostly, he sat in his chair, eyes glued to one screen or another, yelling obscenities or cruel names at us if we dared demand his attention for a moment. When the economic crisis unfolded, and truths were withheld that resulted in the eventual loss of everything we owned, I bowed out. I found the power to bow out. And the moment I set myself free, finally, I found myself, a strong, independent, self-sufficient, driven and powerful woman. The power had been there, growing, all the while. In earning my half of everything we’d built, and lost. In raising the kids as both mother and father, in fulfilling their promise of college with not a dime to my name and no assets to leverage, in enduring the slander and outlandish accusations of a man who cannot understand being left, not because of another man, but because he is not worthy of my love. I found within myself a power so indescribably pure, so indescribably potent, that I know, without a doubt in my mind, I can do anything. I have overcome my challenges; I have rebuilt my life and have since found that one, true, pure and enduring love, passion and joy. The power continues to build and I want to use it to help those, who feel powerless, to become powerful. To find their own power from within. To evolve.
I am not alone in the possession of this super-power. It lives within all of us. Sadly, in the trial that life can be, we let it sink deep within us, and it is often near extinguishment, buried in our bowels. Let whatever trials or triumphs life affords you, ignite that power. Nurture that power and let it possess you, do not let anyone exorcise it from you, it is yours, alone. Use it to find your voice, to find your destiny, to find your peace and solace in this challenging world. Your power will help you evolve into the whole and deserving person you are, capable of anything you desire. You are all power-ful. Take it, it’s yours.
What is a boss? I always think of a boss as a leader, right? Or a manager. Someone in charge, someone making decisions and directing the actions of others. Someone who knows what the goals are and has a plan for achieving them. Someone qualified. With authority. Someone we respect. Someone we are supposed to obey.
There are good bosses and bad bosses, and I’m sure we’ve all had both in our work experience. What makes a boss a good boss? They lead with certainty but with patience. They are firm, but not harsh. They are clear, concise and reasonable. They clearly define expectations, boundaries, rewards and consequences. They are respected. They lead by example, they provide guidance, resources and encouragement.
Who is the boss? The boss of you? It should be you. You are “in charge” of everything you do or don’t do. So, what kind of boss are you? Are you a good boss? Do you know the goals? Do you have a plan for achieving them? Do you lead yourself with certainty and reasonableness? Do you have clearly defined expectations, boundaries, rewards and consequences for yourself? Do you seek out examples to lead yourself by? Do you have a resource for guidance and encouragement in your leadership role of yourself? This may, at first, sound a little absurd, but it is all quite necessary if we are to lead ourselves into evolving into the person we hope to become.
Whether we work or not, whether we are self employed or work for a company, large or small, someone is in charge of what we do, how we spend our time, and what we produce. There are all types of “bosses” in this world, in and out of the workplace.
Think of parenthood. Parents are “bosses” of their children, and boy oh boy, some are good, some are not, and the result is usually pretty evident.
My daughter was telling me a story about a poor parenting example she witnessed. She saw a toddler, probably about two years old, the child was whiny and fussy and eventually escalated into a full blown screaming tantrum. The mother was paying the child no attention whatsoever until the shrieking was well under way, then she sent the older sibling to the vending machine for a 20 ounce bottle of Dr. Pepper for the toddler. This pacified the child. This is horrifying on a couple of levels; one, no one should be drinking soda, in my opinion, it is merely type 2 diabetes in a can. Certainly, a two year old should not even know what a soda is, let alone “require” one for pacification. Secondly, the mother did not even attempt to communicate with the fussy toddler, to lead, direct or guide the child, she simply gave the child what it wanted without even a discussion.
I know, all children get fussy and whiny and will have screaming tantrums. Mine did, though rarely. I spent a great deal of time talking to my children, even well before they could speak. I always spoke to them with respect and treated them with dignity. I didn’t use baby talk, I didn’t “mince words”, I used the same calm, compassionate but firm tone, inflection and vocabulary I did with the people in the accounting department I managed. My children knew the expectations, the rewards and the consequences for their behaviors, and they always excelled at vocabulary in school!
I have had many bosses over the course of my career, many good, a few bad. There is nothing more frustrating than trying to perform satisfactorily for a “bad” boss, I’m sure you can agree. When expectations are incomplete, unstated or unclear, much time is wasted and there is a high degree of frustration on both sides of the equation. A boss with a volatile temperament makes for a very stressful work life. A boss who is apathetic and allows his entire department to underperform is, perhaps, even worse.
So, if you are your own boss, how are you doing?
Are you an apathetic boss? You want to lose weight, get fit, be happier, achieve certain personal, professional or educational goals. Do you have a plan you expect to follow? And do you hold yourself accountable for making progress towards those goals, according to the plan? Do you let yourself underperform, to the detriment of your goals, your desires, your dreams, your life?
Are you a volatile boss? Do you get mad at yourself for falling down on your goals? Self loathing is a terrible thing. Have you ever caught yourself saying “I hate myself?”
Are you a disorganized boss? Do you provide yourself with the goals, the plan, the guidance, the resources and the patience and counseling necessary to grow and achieve in the manner you hope for? Or do you just kind of plug along through life without direction?
Truthfully, not many of us are very good bosses of ourselves, or we’d all be trim, fit, happy and rich, right? Not many people really consider the necessity of being their own boss in just the matters of day to day life, but this is probably the one, single most important form of leadership we need as individuals. Without our own leadership, it is very difficult to grow and perform to the degree that other leaders in our lives expect.
Take note of people you may know that are successful at work or successful in other aspects of life; sports, hobbies, charitable ventures. They tend to have certain qualities that those who aren’t as successful lack. Self control, high self esteem, self direction, self discipline, confidence, organizational skills, time management skills, self-motivation. How many of these qualities include the word “self”? That means, quite simply, they are relying on their “self” to be the boss, to lead.
To be “like a boss” then, we need to develop those traits, characteristics and habits that allow us to become more in control of ourselves, to have a higher self-esteem, to be more self-directed, to have more confidence, better organizational skills and time management skills, to be more self-motivated.
Most of these traits, characteristics and habits begin with setting clearly expressed, measurable goals and an outline of a plan to move towards them. Most of theses traits and characteristics rely on replacing poor habits we may have with good habits we desire, and on being firm, clear and accountable for our own actions.
I have spent the last several years delving into my own “self-management style”, I have seen very satisfying change and growth and evolution. I often catch myself asking myself “how are you going to feel if you let yourself down?”. I’m not unreasonable, but I do truly feel bad about myself if I disappoint myself by doing or not doing something I expect of myself in order to accomplish my goals. But I don’t let a temporary setback completely derail me. If I disappoint myself by not working out one day, I don’t just stop working out, I pick up where I left off the next day. If I indulge in a pint of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream on Tuesday, I don’t wait until the following Monday to “start my diet” all over again. The moment I set that spoon down, we’re back to eating healthy, wholesome and reasonably. I may give myself a pep talk, but I don’t beat myself up. I manage myself with compassion, but with firmness.
I don’t hate myself, ever, for disappointing setbacks. I love myself, always. I love myself enough to know that I deserve to be managed well. And, by loving myself, I am able to love those in my life genuinely and authentically. Self love is critical.
Many tend to think of loving oneself as vanity or conceit. Far from true. If you do not love yourself, you are setting a very bad example for those around you. If you do not love yourself, why should anyone else love you? Seems harsh when put to words, but think about it. You expect others to love you, but you don’t even afford yourself that respect. If you are self loathing, it is impossible for others to fill that void within you. You trudge through life with that void and it is perceptible to those around you. They may not be able to identify that you are self-loathing, just that you are not lovable. To be loved, you must be lovable. To be lovable, you must be loving, to yourself, firstly, else you don’t really know how to love others, to love at all.
Additionally, when you love yourself, you take care of yourself, you manage yourself. You don’t rely on others to do those jobs. This is a sign of respect and love for those around you. When you love yourself, you are naturally happier, again, to the pleasure of those near to you.
Where to begin? Start with a few goals and a whole bunch of self reflection on what changes you have to make to achieve those goals. Then begin to hold yourself accountable for progress. This isn’t something you do on January 1st then forget about, this should be something you discuss with yourself on a daily basis. That’s what a good boss does, makes the goals part of the daily agenda and part of the company culture, then provides loving guidance, direction and resources necessary to achieve those goals.
So, it’s time to get down to business. Like a boss.