Monday, February 26, 2018

Choosing to be a victim...or not

Last night my husband and I went to see one of our son's final performances in his high school jazz band.  It was a swing dance in the gym, where all of the jazz bands from the surrounding schools came to play in a fun, dance hall setting.  We had a great time, and as much as I love seeing my son perform, since it was cold and snowy out, the tiny, inertia-inspired part of me honestly wasn't thrilled about leaving my couch cocoon and putting on real pants.

Anyway, we went, we had a wonderful time, we hung out for a bit afterwards schmoozing with some of the parents and teachers, and eventually strolled out to the parking lot, happy and warm on the inside from such a fabulous evening.  We got to the car and there was a woman standing beside it.  She looked at us, put her hand decisively on her hip and spat out angrily, "I've been waiting out here for twenty minutes trying to leave."

Surprised, we looked at our car, then at her car, and then at the mini school bus that had come while we were inside at the event and had parked directly in front of her.  It wasn't there when we arrived, we had simply pulled into an empty space behind her, but now we were clearly boxing her in.

YIKES!  It was about 25 degrees out, snowing lightly, and I instantly felt so badly that she had been standing out there for so long. (Although presumably she had passed the time somewhat warmly inside her car.) We apologized profusely, jumped into our car as quickly as possible and got the heck out of her way immediately.

As we drove home I continued to feel guilty about the whole situation...for about 30 more seconds.  At that point I realized, Wait a minute! There was no reason whatsoever for her to have remained outside in the cold for so long waiting for us! We were in one place at a school, not a big concert hall, and there were only about 50 or so adults still inside by the time we left. She could have very easily come back inside and announced on the microphone that she was boxed in by our make and model of car and license plate number. It would have taken about ten seconds and she could have been happily on her way. Or if she wasn't comfortable making a big announcement, she could have approached the adults she saw, explained her situation to each one, and undoubtedly in less time than she would have been out in the cold, she would have found us, crisis averted.

The point is, she COULD have done SOMETHING to help herself out.  She could have taken some measure of control over the situation and taken steps to at least try to rectify it. But instead, she CHOSE to remain in her unhappy situation, no doubt growing angrier and more frustrated by the minute, and was all too happy to unload her frustration on whom she perceived to be the cause of her despair.

It wasn't our fault, we didn't do it on purpose, and while it caused her some inconvenience and discomfort, because we didn't know it about it, we weren't able to fix it for her. With that being the case, the onus was squarely on her to do what she could to make it better. But she didn't. She made the choice to stay out there and remain in the unpleasant situation, blaming others for her misfortune, rather than trying to do something productive to change it.

How often do we do the same thing in our lives? We stay in an unhealthy environment or in less-than-ideal circumstances because we think we have to. We believe that we have no control over our situations no matter how miserable we are or how much we might want them to change.  But the truth is, more often than not we DO have some manner of control over our circumstances and we CAN make the conscious choice to stop being a victim, and instead become the heroes of our own stories.

I have mentioned here before about the untenable job situation I was in but felt powerless to leave.  Looking back, I should have left within the first few weeks and gotten some other job, ANY other job, that would have prevented me from crying every single night for a year and half.  I have a dear friend who is in a miserable marriage and wants to get divorced but is convinced she can't because of money.  We box ourselves in, just like the woman in the car, and we stay trapped because we are unable to think outside of that box to see other, perhaps unconventional solutions.

What could I have done so many years ago? Well, I was a college graduate who had some professional work experience so had I quit I could have easily temped at a temp agency until I found a permanent position.  Or I could have gone back to retail, which I did when I was in high school and college. Or I could have swallowed my enormous amounts of pride and asked to borrow money from my family or friends until I found something with a salary.  The fact that I got a job within weeks of finally leaving that one showed me in hindsight that with my education and skills I most likely would have gotten something sooner rather than later had I left when I should have.

The point is, I was miserable, I was unhappy, I was stuck, and I allowed myself to remain there.  There was absolutely positively no reason to.  My friend COULD leave her marriage, it wouldn't be easy, it would be mountainously difficult, but she has a healthy functioning body, a college degree, and many years of work experience behind her, so she would undoubtedly land on her feet if she took the leap.

So often we get stuck in "that's just the way it is." If people always thought like that I can't even think about what our country would look like with regard to civil rights and women's rights. If humans always thought like that we'd have no technology or innovations and we'd all still be cooking over a fire and washing our clothes in streams with rocks.  Too many times have we settled for "just the way it is," when we could be reaching for "the way it COULD be," and "the way it SHOULD be."

Inertia can be a powerful thing - believe me, I get sucked into inaction as much as anyone.  But when we find ourselves in a situation that compromises our happiness or our values or our ideals and prevents us from living the most joyous, fulfilling, spectacular lives possible, I think we need to ask ourselves, "Do I need to stay out here stuck in the snow, waiting for someone else to get me out? Or do I need to examine other choices that I can do NOW, TODAY, AT THIS MOMENT, to take matters into my own hands and break free from the situation I'm in."

Nine times out of ten there will be SOMETHING you can do.  Even if it's turning around and noticing the other car when it pulls out in front of you.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Haters gonna hate

In the inimitable words of Taylor Swift, "'Cause the players gonna play play play play play and the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate, Baby I'm just gonna shake shake shake shake shake, shake it off, shake it off."

I gotta be honest, I'm having trouble shaking off all of the haters today because of how well our players play play played yesterday.

To clarify, we're New England Patriots fans.  We lived in Boston for 12 years, we fell in love with the city and its people, our kids were both born there, and for anyone who is familiar with the area, Bostonians have a civic pride that I've never seen anywhere else.  People from Boston are proud to be from Boston, and proud to share their city and its customs with anyone who wants to join in.

We were there when the Red Sox reversed the curse, conquered the Yankees and ultimately won the World Series in 2004.  I can tell you that the joy and excitement was palpable in the air and in the smiles and greetings from everywhere around us.  Strangers literally high-fived each other between their cars and we all felt like no matter else happened in our lives, we would always have THIS magical time to look back on and to share.  It was pure magic, and it happened when they won again in 2007, and again in 2013, although not to the same billowy extent.

We were also there when the Patriots started their magnificent winning streak.  We collectively bemoaned losing Drew Bledsoe and having to make do with the second string replacement named Tom Brady.  We blissfully shouted and cheered when he and Bill Belichick led the team to their first ever Superbowl win in 2000, after being the team for so many years that everyone (including me) chose as their sure winner for the office losers pool.  We have been steadfast fans ever since, and now that we live in Broncos country, we are able to share a quiet smile or nod when we see fellow citizens decked out in Patriots gear on game day.  Being a long-time Patriots fan has brought my family and me so much excitement and joy for the past 18 years, but now it feels like we're rooting for the bullies on the playground who won't let anyone else have the ball.

Haters gonna hate.

And to be honest, I can't quite figure it out.  I'm told that it's because they have been winning for so long now that it doesn't seem fair to the other teams. (I get that, but it's not like they are winning because they made some deal with a supernatural force. They are winning because they are phenomenally dedicated, they work incredibly hard, and no matter what has happened in the past, they keep looking forward to what's next. Isn't this what we teach our kids is the road map to success?)  People are also quick to condemn from the hearsay of cheating scandals (nothing has ever been proven by the way) and jump on any bandwagon that puts the players and/or coaches in a bad light.  Thankfully, being a fan I have never felt any discrimination due to the NFL team that I choose to cheer for during a 19 or so weeks in the middle of Winter.

Until now.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love to throw a party. I was an events planner for years and one of my true joys in life is planning a get together. In past years I have joyfully hosted a Superbowl party, complete with tons of food, games, prizes, and specially rigged televisions for optimal viewing pleasure.  We cheer for the winners, we commiserate with the losers, all in the name of fun and sportsmanship, enjoying the special feeling that comes with sharing a communal activity.

Not this year.  This year my son has been told to his face that under no circumstances will certain of his friends enter his house on Superbowl Sunday because we're rooting for the Patriots.  He did say not to take in personally, he just hates the Patriots so much that he can't even be in a place that will be supporting them.  He has one friend who makes it his personal goal to badmouth the team in our presence to any and all who will listen.  And last year, after spending time and money and effort to host a party, one particular individual went out of his way to comment on every play that was made against the Patriots and made disparaging remarks all the way up until halftime when he blessedly left.  He was so rude, right to my face, under the guise of being funny, and the whole thing just left me feeling like, "Why do people have to be so mean? Especially when none of this stuff even matters in the scheme of things."


I know that people take their professional sports very seriously, more seriously than I do, but it seems like this year in particular, people are jumping onto the hater bandwagon with everything.  Friendships and even marriages have ended due to their voting choices, and everyone is so quick to point fingers and place blame on others, assuming the worst without hearing every side of the story.  It's so clear to me that there is some need for humans to feel superior to one another, and singling out one particular team or their fans to pick on is, to me, a slippery slope toward putting people in condemnation boxes, simply because of an affinity for something trivial, and nothing to do with who they are as people.  It feels more than a little scary these days, with jealousy and hate taking the place of compassion and love in people's hearts and minds in this country.

Why does this hurt me so much? Something came to mind this morning as I was nursing my still tender wounds about not being able to have a party this year (parties depend on attendees and no one will come to one this year).  I remembered a situation when I had felt the exact same way.

I was 10 years old (yes, we're drawing way back into the memory bank here).  I had auctioned for and happily made it into an elite singing group affectionately called "The TV Choir" because we had an opportunity to perform on a a show produced by a local tv station. We were led by a gorgeous, young, aspiring singer, who couldn't wait for her closeup herself.  We sang five or six songs total, and when there were solos, I got every one.  (I didn't audition for these solos by the way, the leader just gave them out as she saw fit.) I was obviously the best singer in the bunch and she wanted us to sound the best we possibly could for this unique shot at a few minutes of local fame.

Unfortunately, my joy at having this chance to showcase my talents was completely overshadowed by the hate I felt from my fellow choir members.  I overheard nasty comments and I definitely felt the daggers shot at me when we were situated into our final tv places, with me being moved closest to the floor microphone.  I was being punished in the most effective way that people know of, for something that wasn't even my fault in the least.  I didn't angle for the solos, I didn't bribe the leader or convince a friendly leprechaun to work some magic on by behalf, I got them because I was the best. But the sadness that being the best caused me made me want to prefer just singing in the back row, being accepted by the rest of the group rather than being proud of my own little star getting to shine.

Well not anymore.  I still can't have a party because the haters ain't gonna come.  But I can still wear my Tom Brady jersey with pride, knowing that no matter what anyone else says, statistically speaking he is the Greatest Quarterback Of All Time.  (This is not based on opinion - math and numbers don't lie.) I can also root for whatever team I want to root for, because it's just football, it's not actually life or death (despite what some people would have us believe.)  And most of all, like all things, at some point, probably soon, this ever-winning dynasty will end and some other team will take their place at the top of the podium.  Same for the current pop music star, same for the current political administration, and same for the current health food fad of the moment.  Everything ends, so why waste time hating on people for something that is not only temporary, but that doesn't really matter whatsoever in the first place.

If someone is intentionally hurting another human being, or discriminating against, or stealing from, or cheating against, or lying to, or deliberately manipulating, or bullying, or committing some other crime against humanity, then by all means their actions (not the people themselves) should be rebuked and attempts should be made for apologies, retribution, and an introduction to a new and different path.  But hating someone for the team they cheer for, or the country they live in, or the religion they choose to observe, or the beliefs and values they were taught as children? This kind of behavior is unconscionable, and it disgusts me that human beings will often take any minor differentiation from themselves to truly hate and vilify another human being.

Does anyone even remember who won the Superbowl 2 or 3 years ago? Or who won a Grammy award? Or who was president before we were born? Of course not.  So that's a LOT of wasted energy and effort on hating something that doesn't leave any kind of lasting impression whatsoever.

You know what does last though?  The encouraging comment made to a struggling student by a caring teacher - the comment that the student as an adult says changed his life and put him on the road to becoming the successful and happy man he is today.  The extra moment taken to hug the child before she heads out to the bus stop, so she can start the day feeling secure and knowing that no matter what happens in the day, she is safe and loved.  The high-five by the coach to the kid who had to be taken out of the basketball game because it just wasn't his day.  And the powerful words of friends and family members who take the time to pay attention when children and adults alike are being bullied and step in to confront or comfort when necessary.  All of these things have the ability to bring light and color and joy into the hearts of others, and allow those glimpses of humanity that we're all searching for in our daily lives.

So if you don't want to come to my party I can unequivocally say that you will be missing a great time. Come Superbowl Sunday, the few of us who are here will be full-on celebrating the fun and exuberance of an American tradition. We'll be shaking our patriotic pom poms, shouting and cheering at a television screen, all the while knowing that at the end of 3 1/2 hours or so, our lives will go on and nothing will have changed, except that we may be glowing from adrenaline and the thrill of sharing an exciting experience together.

So the players are indeed gonna play play play play play, and you haters are gonna go on hate hate hating. To you I say, go ahead if you must. Meanwhile I'm sure glad I'm not you because I'm going to go on cheering and smiling instead.  I wonder which one of us will end up with a happier life overall?

Monday, January 1, 2018

2018 New Year's Resolutions Part 2

This is Part 2 of my New Year's resolutions for 2018. In the previous post I explain why I'm doing these and what my #1 resolution is.  (Spoiler alert: it's to stop complaining. Entirely.)

My second New Year's resolution is similar to the first, but slightly different.  While I intend to stop complaining about the things and situations around me that I may not like or agree with, I also want to stop another bad habit that I have and have always had.  I do not want to have this habit and while I've made considerable strides toward ending it in the past, this year there is going to be a concerted effort on my part to eradicate it from my mind, soul, and body entirely. 

Stop judging.  

As in criticizing, measuring against, comparing, demeaning, juxtaposing, scorning, etc. etc.  other people, and, more importantly, M.Y.S.E.L.F.

I recently spent an extended period of time with a group of people who measure others by factors like the size of their houses, the amount in their bank accounts, the number and places of vacations they go on every year, and by the number on their scales.  Whoever isn't on what they determine to be their level, gets cut down and condemned for not being up to snuff.  What's actually funny about these people is that they are not living in what would be considered to be mansions by American standards, nor do they look like the Barbie and Ken dolls that have been established as conventionally attractive in this day and age.  Their vacations do not take place in extravagant locales only accessible by the uber-rich, nor do they have safety deposit boxes bursting with rare jewels and deeds to castles. Which made me realize something that I had never really realized before:

These people judge everyone and everything that is different from their way of doing things. It's not the huge size of their bank accounts that cause them to be so critical,  it's the minuscule size of their minds.  If someone's house is smaller than theirs, then they are put down for having such a small house. If someone has a bigger house than they have, then they are put down because who the heck would want to live in such a big house? Too much space to heat and clean on a regular basis.  

Try it for a second - it's fun!  Let's say you are a judger, and a meat eater.  You love steak and chicken and all things pork-related.  You meet a vegan.  They are happy, and healthy, and have made this choice for some reason unbeknownst to you.  What are some of the thoughts that go through your head? "How on earth could someone not eat meat? What's wrong with this person? Don't they know how good bacon tastes? They are foolish for choosing a plant-based diet for themselves. People need protein, they will be malnourished for making the choice every day to omit animal products from their diet.  I'm so glad I'm not like them, they are stupid and dumb and I would never want to be like them or even associate with them ever."

Feels good doesn't it? It's an anthropological need of humans beings to feel superior to their fellow humans.  Hence the multiple genocides that have taken place since we got out of our caves and began interacting with each other.  Hence the prejudice and racism and anti-anyone-who-does-things-differently-than-I-do-or-looks-different-from-me attitudes that continue to propagate and pervade our human existence.  

You may feel like, "I don't do that! My feeling toward vegans is live and let live.  If they want to eat that way, as long as they don't try to tell me to do it too it's fine with me."  Ok.  So instead of vegan, substitute a religion that's different from yours.  Or political affiliation. Or sexual orientation. Or how they choose to spend their free time. Or how they choose to wear their hair. Or what size their jeans are. Or what kind of sneakers they wear. Or what kind of car they drive. Or how much square footage is in their house. Or what kind of pet they own. Or what their friends look like. Or what kind of phone they use. Or the size of their living room television. Or how many people they have dated. Or what kind of parenting methods they use. Or where they went to college. Or if they went to college. Or where they buy their groceries. Or how they like their meat cooked. Or who they are married to. Or what kind of movies they enjoy. Or which parts of the newspaper they read. Or their level of education. Or how they hang their toilet paper.  The list is honestly endless.  It seems like almost everyone can find something that they judge another person about. Whether they realize it or not.  

And a lot of this isn't our fault.  Social media permeates our consciousness and tell us what is attractive, what is acceptable, and what is "normal," and sets up often unrealistic ideals that many of us can never measure up to.  We need to make a conscious effort these days to turn off the shows and posts and photos that constantly tell us if we're not as rich as, and as thin as, and as famous as the people we're being barraged by, then we're simply not good enough. 

(Of course, what we're seeing is all fake anyway, but that's for another time...)

It's bad enough that we mercilessly judge other people in our heads, (or for some people, quite unsolicitedly out loud), who are just trying to live their lives as contentedly as possible according to their values and ideals, but I believe it's even worse when we do it to ourselves. How many times have we looked into the mirror and instead of loving and being grateful for what we see, we find what we see as wrong and reflexively put them down one by one.  What we consider to be the "extra" flab around our stomach, or the abhorrent gray hairs at our temples, or the unacceptable wrinkles by our eyes. (This is why so many people are addicted to plastic surgery by the way.) What's crazy is that no one else is standing there by the mirror pointing these things out to us. We're doing it wholly to ourselves! It's so ridiculous.  But we've gotten in such a habit of judging others that it makes sense the criticism would also fall to the one person we spend the most time with every day. 

Quite simply, we have to fight it. We have to fight against believing the people whose opinions try to cut us down, and we have to fight against our own harsh judgments that may have been ingrained in us since birth. We have to fight it by not buying into them, and we have to fight it by STOPPING DOING IT!

I know a single woman in her mid-forties who is perfectly content every day with her successful career and vibrant social life.  Day to day she wouldn't change a thing because she is perfectly happy with the choices she has made to end up with the life she has. But every time she visits her family, who ask about if she's met anyone yet and if there's still a chance she could possibly have children, she feels inadequate and sad because she's not measuring up to what they have repeatedly told her is a successful and acceptable life.  Why do we allow other people to judge us negatively and to make us judge ourselves as a result?

I know another woman who did exactly what was expected of her - she had her coming out ball in her late teens, married a rich socialite right out of college. She has 2 children, (a boy and a girl no less), a big house, lots of money, a second house on the beach, gets mani-pedis every two weeks, and has a bunch of girlfriends who all live the same way and get together regularly to for drinks and to complain about their lives.  At these get-togethers they are all judging and talking about the peons who don't live they way they do, but interestingly, they are all also judging EACH OTHER and texting select ones secretly things like, "Can you believe the handbag she bought?" and "Did you see what her son was wearing at the country club?" and "I can't believe she upgraded her diamond to THAT," etc. etc.  Scary but true.  I honestly don't know if the woman in that group that I know is happy or not in her situation but I can tell you that when I knew her in my youth she had very different dreams for her eventual life.  

I'm getting off track here and I'm realizing that I'm now judging them for judging others.  What a vicious circle I have created here! 

Anyway, my point is, that as much as I hate to admit it, I have fallen into the trap of judging others who do things differently from me too. That is hard for me to realize about myself but the first step toward change is admitting you have a problem, right? 

I used to know someone who was obsessed with her looks. She never left the house without spending 2 hours on her hair and makeup and worked out every day without fail.  She particularly loved going to spin classes. I remember hearing about how she would drive to her gym (which was less than a mile away), put a reserved sign on the bike she wanted to use, drive back home, and then a half an hour later, drive back to the gym to take her class on her bike.  I knew another person in the same neighborhood, equally obsessed with her looks, who also worked out every single day and lived a half a mile away from the same gym. (Which was brand new and had all of the latest and greatest equipment and amenities.) Every day this woman would drive 45 minutes each way to cross a state line to go to her old gym, where she lived before, leaving her infant child in day care to do so.  

I'll be honest. I judged both of these women harshly.  I thought things like, "Who would do that? Why would someone do that? That is absurd! I would NEVER do that!" etc. etc. etc. 

Do you know what I have now realized?  These women enjoyed doing these things. They fulfilled whatever they needed to be happy and they took the time and effort to do what they wanted when they wanted. They had the money to do these things, they had the time to do these things, and most importantly, THEY WEREN'T HURTING ANYONE ELSE BY WHAT THEY WERE DOING, NOR WERE THEY AFFECTING ANY PART OF MY LIFE WHATSOEVER!" So why the hell did I care? Why did I find it necessary to put them down and judge them for how they chose to spend their time? 

The same goes for people who are prejudiced against anyone else.  I know practicing Protestants who can't understand why anyone would sit through what they consider to be an interminably long and boring Catholic mass.  They don't for a second think about the comfort and joy it brings to practicing Catholics who have grown up participating in them thousands of times with fellow participants in their faith and rituals. Here's what I would like to ask them: "What do you care if someone you don't know goes to a service that you know nothing about? Are they getting in your way? Are they preventing you from practicing your own faith? Are their rituals affecting your life in any way shape or form? If the answer to any or all of these questions is "no" then why are you spending so much time criticizing their actions? Because different is scary and no one likes to be scared.  

I know many people who are horribly prejudiced against homosexual human beings who fall in love with each other and create families together.  These intolerant people will leave the comfort of their homes to carry signs and shout mean things and expend an enormous amount of energy to make sure that their bigoted views are known by all who are within earshot, and hopefully for them, broadcast widely to a television viewing audience. Those who don't go to all of that trouble will do things more subtlety, such as refuse to share space with them or deliberately not hire those whom they deem "wrong" by their core beliefs and values.  To these disgusting individuals (and yes, here I am judging the judgers, which I realize is wrong...see, this is why I have to work on this) I would ask them: "If handsome, successful, famous, good-looking Neil Patrick Harris wants to marry handsome, successful, famous, good-looking David Burtka, and they decide to raise two children in a loving, considerate (big, wealthy, impeccably decorated) home, why do you care one iota what they do? Do you know them? Is their life in California impeding on your life in Duluth in any way? If the answer is no then put down your picket sign, shut your mouth, and focus instead on how you can better your own life and not spend it spreading hate and cruelty out into the world around you.  

All right, let me climb down from my soapbox and try to put what I'm trying to say as simply as possibly.  This year I am going to stop judging other people and what they do, even if what they are doing is different from how I would do things and if their views and opinions do not line up with mine.  I am going to remember that every human being on the Earth makes decisions based on their own values and ideas and I have no right whatsoever to judge them for it.  Most importantly, I am going to remember that I would not want someone judging me for my choices and actions and therefore I am going to treat others the way I would want to be treated. And those others starts with the most important person of all, myself. 


I just read this quote by Brene Brown, "At the end of every day, and at the end of every week, and at the end of my life, I want to be able to say I contributed more than I criticized." 

So do I my friends. So do I. 

2018 New Year's Resolutions Part 1

In the past I've been on the fence about New Year's resolutions.  The pattern I've seen with myself and other people is that we are completely, 100%, gung-ho about our resolutions that always include bettering ourselves somehow; losing weight, exercising more, becoming more organized, etc.  They are always about something that we feel is lacking in ourselves and that we want to fix.  I think that when we look at resolutions this way we set ourselves up to fail because the underlying belief when we set out to make these changes is that we are not perfectly okay and acceptable the just the way we are already.  We feel like these modifications will finally help to make us suitable for living the happy and fulfilled life that we have always dreamed of. Which is why the first time we skip the gym, or lose our keys, or eat a piece of chocolate, we tend to throw in the towel and tell ourselves, "Well at least I made it longer than I did last year!"

This year I have a different feeling about New Year's resolutions. It comes courtesy of a person whom I trust and admire (okay, it's James Murray, actor, comedy writer and performer, and published author,  most famous for the show Impractical Jokers, whose video I watched yesterday on this very topic). He was talking about how much he believes in the positive effectiveness of making New Year's resolutions, especially in the power of writing them down.  He said that not only is the act of writing them down empowering for the person, but it also helps him to be able to really focus and hone in on the specific goals he wants to accomplish. His weren't big, vague goals like "I want to be a better person," his were distinct ones like "Sell a comedy show to a major network," and "Visit Colorado at least once."  I really like that approach because I believe that putting things out into the universe with the intention of getting them done can really help us when trying to achieve our goals, and that we can consider the universe our partner in getting them done.

Along with the focusing our intentions specifically, what he said next I thought was both funny and true. Murr said that when we write our goals down, and keep them in a place where we can see them daily, we feel so guilty about NOT doing what we said we wanted to do that we end up doing them!  Isn't that hilarious? For those of us for whom guilt can be a strong motivation factor, I'm in!  Whatever works to get us to our goals, right?!

All kidding aside, after watching his video, and receiving his "personal" encouragement to go after my hopes and dreams, I decided that I would indeed make some New Year's resolutions for myself this January 1st.  So far I've come up with 2 (second one to be revealed in next post).

1. Stop complaining.  Period.  I've been thinking about this for a few weeks ever since I heard myself complaining for the third time in three days about something that I had to do that I didn't want to do.  I was visiting with some people whom I hadn't seen in about a year.  We were catching up on each others' lives, laughing and talking about what we were all up to, and I found myself monologuing about this particular thing, repeating the same grumbling and grousings that I had said to some friends the day before, and to a different friend the day before.  Halfway through my minor tirade I feel like I stepped out of myself and was watching me from the outside, as these people were doing.  They were all nodding their heads and saying things like, "Ugh, I hear you," and "Yeah, me too!" and I noted that the entire mood of the room had changed from brightness and joy to gloomy and gray.  I realized in that moment that I HAD DONE THAT! I had changed the entire timbre of the experience for everyone and I felt my brain say to myself, "What are you doing?  Is this the person you want to be? Do you want to be the person who spreads light and encouragement and sparkle into the world, or do you want to be one who throws dourness and bitterness and pessimism into the space and minds of the people around you?" This was quickly followed by a loud and unmistakable message from my brain which was, "STOP!!!!!"

I stopped, and did my best to detour the conversation to a happier direction, but after I left these people I took a long time to think about what had just happened.  I replayed the conversation in my head and really looked at it with a critical eye.  Was all of the hate, judgment, and vitriol being spewed about on social media and in our collective consciousness rubbing off on me? Was I allowing other people's frustration and despair in the world around them to creep into my sensibilities?  At once I was reminded of the words from Professor Randy Pausch's  famous Last Lecture speech: "Do you want to be a Tigger or an Eeyore?"

Well I know the answer to that (it's a Tigger), but I allowed myself to travel back in time to 2 places to help me illustrate that more clearly to my own self.

I remembered a very close friend I had my freshman year of college.  When we met we both felt like each other was the sister we had never had.  We would stay up late talking about anything and everything, we called each other our best friends, and we liked each other so much that we decided to become roommates our sophomore year.  I remember I was so happy.  I felt like I had finally found a person who really "got" me - my sense of humor,  my outlook on life, and someone with whom I could really be 100% myself.

A few months into this newfound friendship bliss, another friend of mine (a junior, so much older and wiser) took me aside and told me as gently as she could that perhaps this sister-friend of mine wasn't necessarily as good for me as I thought she was.  She mentioned how much I had changed since hanging out with her, and that this friend missed the happy, cheerful, encouraging person she had so enjoyed spending time with before I had met this other one.  She told me that I was no longer the bright and inspiring person she had been drawn to from the moment she met me, and asked me to just consider what she was saying out of love for me and wanting me to have the happiest and most fulfilled life I could have.

Wow. This was most definitely a blow to my spirit, and looking back on it now I can see what immense courage it took for her to take the risk to say those things to me.  The change in me must have mattered a lot for her to take that time and effort to say those difficult things to me (that no one wants to hear), rather than just write me off as someone who was beyond help.

Fast forward a few months to sophomore year, and I had a friend (whom I didn't necessarily know very well) visit me at college.  On Day 2 of his visit I noticed he was seeming pretty down and unlike his usual chipper self. I asked him what was wrong and he responded, "All you guys do is complain and talk about each other.  You never have any fun. How do you live like this?"

Wow again.  An even bigger blow to my heart and spirit because I had no idea that this was what my life had become.  We salvaged his trip by going off by ourselves and doing our own thing sans my friends, but his words stayed with me as I examined what he said as a person looking in from the outside.

He was right.  And my other friend was right too.  I had changed.  I had fallen into a pattern of complaining and bellyaching, and, if you'll forgive the salty phrase, "bitching and moaning" about my life, no matter what was happening in it.  And as I thought about it, I realized something that I hadn't realized before:

Complaining is fun.  Whining and fussing about every situation satisfies our desire to find the worst in everything. Even more so, criticizing everything and everyONE around us keeps us on what we believe to be a higher level.  If we're constantly judging others and putting everyone else down, it lets us remain at the top, perceiving ourselves to be superior to everyone and everything we're deliberately putting below us.  That's how I was living.  And to a certain degree, it felt good.

I will forever be grateful to those two souls who cared about me enough to tell me the hard stuff I didn't want to hear.  To be honest, it hurt a lot to hear those things from those two people, but thankfully enough of my true self was still left that I was able to put aside the pain of what felt like attacks on my very self to realize the truth of their words. And I can still remember them now.

(Just to wrap up the story of the sister-friend, about a month after we started living together, she ended up dating the guy that I had a crush on, after promising me she would help me "land" him. She moved out less than halfway through our second semester and dumped the guy - whom she didn't really like but was a perfect rebound for her - shortly thereafter.  I bumped into her fifteen or so years later at a mutual friend's wedding. I was happily married with two kids and a successful career, she was miserably single, working at a job she hated, and still seemed to be mad at the world for dealing her such a bad hand. Once again, very very thankful for those two people who took the time to help me reset my thinking and put me on a different, healthier path.

I also traveled back in time to remember some quotes from some of my favorite books of all time.  (I actually didn't have to travel back that far because I still read them regularly.) They are the Little House books by Laura Ingalls Wilder.  In them she discusses frequently how she was taught to never complain. During the hard winter where the family almost starved and nearly froze to death, Laura was complaining about the dry wheat bread that they were forced to eat when all other provisions ran out.  Her mother cut her off saying, "Don't complain Laura! Never complain about what you have!" So true. It's all in how you look at it.  When the family lost all of their crops to a grasshopper plague, they were all standing outside, completely devastated at the demise of their hopes for the coming year.  Next to the decimated fields were the chickens, running maniacally around, gobbling grasshoppers as quickly as possible.  Ma remarked quietly, "There is no great loss without some small gain. Now at least we don't have to buy feed for the hens."  That would have been the most perfect, acceptable, and completely understandable time to complain, but she chose to have a different perspective and find the good in the situation.

Which brings me to what I really wanted to say which is that complaining, criticizing, finding the worse in the world around you, is always a CHOICE.  We can choose every single time to see the bad in a situation or to find the silver lining.  Also, haven't you noticed that when we complain about something, while it may feel good at the time, it does absolutely nothing to solve the problem or better the situation? In her later writing Laura Ingalls Wilder says (and I'm paraphrasing here) "If you have a headache, don't complain about the headache. You will find that it will go away sooner if you think pleasant thoughts instead."  True physically, but also metaphorically as well.

I also love the story of when Dolly Parton was shooting the movie Steel Magnolias. The story goes that they were shooting an outdoor winter scene so all of the actresses were bundled up in wool sweaters and coats. The actual temperature that day was sweltering so while they were waiting for lights to be adjusted and cameras to be set, everyone was sweating and complaining about how terribly hot and uncomfortable they were.  All except for Dolly Parton.  Apparently she was happily winging on a nearby tree swing, singing to herself and patiently waiting for the scene to begin.  Some of the women went over to her and said, "What are you doing? Aren't you hot? Do you feel how horrible this is?" And Dolly responded, still swinging along, "All my life I've wanted to be a major movie star and I ain't about to complain about what comes with it."

Don't you just LOVE that?!  What an amazing lesson about making choices in trying times.  For every bad thing that happens, and for every good thing too for that matter, our attitude toward them depends completely on how we choose to look at it.

So I am writing down this New Year's resolution for myself: Don't complain. I'm going to channel Laura Ingalls Wilder, and her mother Caroline, and Dolly Parton, and remember to always see the bright side of every situation.  Even if I can't see a bright side, I'm going to CHOOSE to NOT spread misery and derision or anything other than light and joy out into the world.  I'm going to write it down and put it where I can see it so I can focus on it, remember it, and if necessary, let the guilt of not doing it (if that happens) to guide me back toward doing it every day.

How about you?  Do you want to be a Tigger or an Eeyore?  How do you want to spend your new year that's filled with possibilities and opportunities for either?

In the words of the character I'm choosing; "Well, I gotta go now. I've gotta lotta bouncin' to do! Hoo-hoo-hoo-hoo! T-T-F-N, ta-ta for now!" - Tigger

Saturday, November 4, 2017

Oh ye'll tak' the high road and I'll tak' the low road...

...and I'll be in Scotland 'afore ye. (Now I have that song going through my head...)

Well the low road may work better for getting oneself to Scotland but it doesn't work so well in real life situations.

Although sometimes I sure wish it did.

Yesterday I got an email from a person I worked with, off and on, many years ago.  I had created something and he needed a copy of it right away.  I mean, right away, like it was an emergency of sorts.  Under normal circumstances my response would have been "Sure, no problem, let me get right on that to help you out."

This time however,  I paused before saying that and getting right on it.


Because this man is mean.  M.E.A.N. And his wife, whom I'd also had the displeasure of working with, is also a nasty, petty, rude, and all-around disrespectful person, who had degraded and insulted me to my face, in front of others, many many times.  They both sabotaged my work and even now as I think about them, the visceral reaction inside my stomach is nausea and revulsion.

And here the guy was, desperately asking for my help.  And I had a choice. I could take the high road and help him out, or I could take the low road and give him a taste of his own medicine.

Between you and me, I sure wanted to take that low road.  And let me just say here that I would have been completely justified to take said so-low-it's-underground road.  I had no obligation or responsibility to help this person, who by the way, had actually made me cry on several occasions.  I could have ignored the email claiming to myself and the universe that it's my old email that I only check a few times week anyway (which is true, I just happened to have checked it a few hours after he contacted me). I could have ignored the email simply because of the horrible way he and his wife treated me repeatedly. If I really wanted to take the lowest road possible I could have answered the email by telling him that I couldn't help him out and he was up a creek, while laughing sinisterly to myself saying, "See? What goes around comes around jerk! I now have the power to make you miserable! Ha ha ha ha!"  I could have run this scenario by anyone who knows these people and our backstory and I believe that every single one of them would have said, "Why would you even consider helping this guy? He was so mean to you, his wife was so mean to you, let them feel what bad karma feels like for once." There was a certain degree of satisfaction that I felt in that moment, knowing that the tables were turned, and that I had the power to make this guy suffer...or at least be inconvenienced while he floundered around, figuring out a last minute Plan B.

So what did I do? (drum roll please....)


I took the high road.

I can't tell you how much I didn't want to! But the truth is, as soon as I read his email I didn't hesitate. I found what he needed right away, it took about 3 minutes of my time, and I sent it to him with a nice, cheery, "Glad to help, don't hesitate to get in touch if you need anything else" message.

Why the heck did I do this when I had every justification to not to?

Because I had the opportunity to create a world where people don't hold grudges.  Because I had the chance in that moment to craft a microcosm where people help each other in spite of past hurts and transgressions.  Because the only person I can control is myself and I want to hold myself to the standard of treating others the way I want to be treated regardless of how they may have treated me. And very simply, I helped this guy out because it was the right thing to do.  Period.

How often do we let our emotions and bad feelings get in the way of us doing what's right? How many times have we allowed the pleasure of the "dark side" to overtake the difficulty of staying in the light?  It is usually so much easier to, in the words of Darth Vader, be seduced by the overwhelming power of taking the low road or the path of least resistance; especially in times like these, when everyone around us seems to be very happily skipping down that low road with no apparent negative consequences.

But ultimately what is more important? Getting to have our moment of nefarious retribution, gleefully rubbing our hands together and twirling our villainous mustaches? Or helping out another human being in his or her time of need, and choosing grace that we would appreciate being extended to our own selves regardless of our past mistakes?

(As an aside here, I'm not saying all of this to show off what a great person I am.  Believe you me, throughout the entire time I was looking for the thing the guy needed, and for a good ten minutes afterward, I went off on a rant that would have made Dennis Miller proud.  My heart may have been in the right place but I was letting everyone around me know chapter and verse what these people did to me and how I had every right to take that all-too-enviable low road in this situation.)

The truth is, at the end of every day, I have to be able to lie my head down on my pillow and know that I did the best I could.  I have to be able to say to myself that I lived that day to the best of my ability, and made personal decisions that honored my own values and standards.  That's all we all can do. Had I not helped this person it definitely would have felt "good," but not the kind of good that you feel deep down in your bones when you know that you've done the right thing.  Especially when it was so much more difficult than doing the wrong thing.

So unless you're going to Scotland, my advice to you is to always, always, always take the high road. In the words of Wayne Dyer, "How others treat you is their karma. How you react is yours."

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Dance It Out

Man was I upset today. And yesterday. And the day before.  I'm in a situation where I am being continually frustrated and disappointed by people that I am depending on to help me and for a variety of reasons things aren't going as expected.  This is on the heels of a situation a few days ago where there were other difficult and discouraging things going on.  My mind and spirit have been taking a beating and today was what felt like the last straw.

So there I was, crying, balling my hands into fists, and seriously considering banging my head against the nearest wall, when it was time for one of the funny segments I listen to on the radio in the mornings. I put it on, listened to the segment with half an ear, and then when it ended I was ready to find the wall on which to bang my head.  At that moment, one of my all-time favorite songs came on.  "Shut Up and Dance" by Walk the Moon.  At the same moment, the words of Shonda Rhimes and Grey's Anatomy came to me.  Dance it out.

I turned up the radio, moved away from the open windows, and had a three minute dance party with myself.

I flailed my arms, I shook my hips, I spun around, and my rhythmic jumping would have put any Jazzercise class to shame.  I danced and danced for all I was worth and when the song was over I caught my breath and noticed how I was feeling.

Light and sparkly from head to toe.

My problems were still there, I still had a difficult email to send, the fact that my trust was broken multiple times still existed, but I felt better about it all.  I was calmer, and therefore able to deal with the situation more rationally, I had some adrenaline flowing, which gave me a more positive outlook on things overall, and the feeling of my heart pumping and my limbs and body moving made me feel powerful and alive and like I could handle any difficulty that came my least for the next half hour or so.

I learned something super important from this little exercise. Actually a few things:

1. When you're facing a difficult situation, allow yourself to take a break from it and gain some perspective.  Watch a show that makes you laugh (my current personal favorite is Impractical Jokers), listen to music that you like, bake a loaf of bread, clean out a closet, do SOMETHING that will take you out of the situation and that will keep you from sinking down deeper into the hole you're halfway down already.  Removing yourself from it, and focusing on something else, even for a few minutes, will help you to get a different outlook and hopefully even help you get your brain in the right mode to find a solution.

2. Do something physical! Be active!  When James Taylor talked about overcoming his drug addiction he said that what he found to be most effective was to "sweat it out." Find an activity you enjoy doing and sweat out the anxiety and the stress and the feeling like you don't have control over the situation. This isn't "go work out so you can at least improve your looks." It's do something that will remind you that you have a body that works, that you're a strong, capable person, and it ultimately will give you an energy boost to conquer the problem that's facing you at the moment.

3. Dancing in particular can be very therapeutic. The act of moving your body to music invigorates the senses and allows a very specific instance of "letting go" to occur.  You can also let go in this way  through meditation or yoga or a spin class, but dancing - when you are allowing your body to move freely, the way it wants to, with no prescribed routine - is very freeing for the mind, body, and soul.  There's something about moving one's corporal self through space and time that connects us to the Earth and the atmosphere around us, and it can be very spiritual experience that allows for an opening of our hearts to the possibilities previously unseen.

No matter how hard we try to control the world around us, bad things are going to happen. Things aren't going to go according to plan, people will disappoint us, and even through we try not to, we will sometimes take things personally and be hurt by them. What we CAN control however, is how we choose to deal with it when these inevitable things occur.  We can lie down and take them and bemoan the state of our lives, or we can dance it out and figure out the next step to take to solve the problem at hand.  Sometimes we forget we have that choice, but we always do.

"I am not a product of my circumstances, I am a product of my decisions." - Stephen Covey

Today I am deciding to dance it out!  Care to join me?

Monday, October 2, 2017

What to do when the world is falling apart...

I'm tired today.  Tired of the tragedies that seem to be occurring daily.  I woke up to the news of the mass shooting in Las Vegas.  This on the heels of the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico, just after the horrible aftermaths of the hurricanes in Texas and Florida.  Meanwhile America is still fighting amongst themselves about the NFL national anthem protests, the healthcare bill, and the continued inanity of our current president's tweets and press conference statements. 

This all comes less than two months after the unfathomable horror of white supremacist neo-Nazi rallies spewing hate and vitriol in otherwise peaceful towns and streets in the United States of America in 2017.  Four months after a suicide bombing at a concert (whose attendees were largely children) in Manchester, UK.  And the recent bomb scares across the country.  So many of us are still dealing with the tragedies of the Aurora movie theater shooting, the Sandy Hook elementary school shooting, the Columbine school massacre and the many other senseless and heinous acts of terror that have plagued our nation in recent years.  

It's so sad to think that we are becoming inured to these atrocities. It seems like since 9/11 we all say things like, "Here's another one," or "Pray for the victims of ______" as we go along our day like nothing happened.  It can be very defeating and depressing to think that human beings are getting used to the idea of mass executions and the random slaughter of our fellow men and women.  

I guess what we have to remember is, evil is not new.  Evil has been a part of modern society, and I'm assuming primitive society as well.  How many millions of innocent lives were targeted and lost over the 10,000 years or so that we know of human existence?  Millions upon millions of non-military people - men, women and children have perished by command of tyrannical dictators like Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Adolf Hitler, Joseph Stalin, the list goes on.  We know that evil exists and but it certainly hits home when the deliberate annihilation of fellow Americans who were just out to have a good time at a concert, or spend a morning at school, or go to a movie is the top news story of the day. 

So what do we do with our heavy thoughts and burdened thoughts? Well, first we should allow ourselves to have them.  Resist the cynicism that so many people adopt in these times. It's hard not to just believe that the world is going to hell in a hand basket, I know.  But we need to keep our hearts open and malleable and believing that good will ultimately win out in the end somehow.  

Secondly, I think we need to focus on the good. Count our blessings.  Hug our loved ones.  Acknowledge the things we have to be grateful for and resolve to fill our thoughts with gratitude more and more each day.  

Then, we need to make the choice to spread light into the darkness.  So many people are pointing fingers, calling out blame, filling social media feeds with acidic words and blatant hatred.  Don't be one of those people!  People who do their best to keep the world divided into "us" and "them."  People who relish cutting others down in order to build themselves up.  People who criticize and belittle and judge and discriminate against others because that's how they try to make their own miserable lives bearable.  Make the choice to speak kindly, act courteously, show compassion and tolerance toward other human beings regardless of the color of their skin, the religion they practice, their customs, core beliefs, hairstyles and wardrobes.  Make the choice every day to find the good in others, to seekthe similarities between us, and to remember the fact that that not one of us will make it out of this world alive.  

"Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that." - Martin Luther King Jr.

What to do when the world is falling apart? Love one another.  To the best of your ability, in as many ways that you can.   Love is the answer, and it does indeed conquer all.