Friday, November 7, 2014

Lesson for the Day...

...don't give up.


I know that sounds like something you'd read on an inspirational coffee mug, but I don't mean it in the trite or metaphorical sense.  Nor do I mean it for everything that may come your way in life.  (Believe me, I was wise to give up skiing after the third try.) I mean it for the things that really matter to you.  

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to give up on things sometimes? A diet, music lessons, a tired relationship? Sometimes it's much easier to say to yourself, "I really didn't care so much about that," or "It doesn't matter if this works out or not."  But you know in your heart what matters and what doesn't, and you know that this quote from Wayne Gretzky rings unquestionably true:

"You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

Here's what I've been learning over the past few months (and years):

If you knock on a door and no one answers, find another door.

If no one answers that door, find another one.

If you find one, it opens, and then gets slammed in your face, FIND ANOTHER ONE.

Keep knocking, keep trying, and never stop reaching out to those doors until you find the right ones, with the right support behind them.  Old doors may not open again, so it's your job to hit the proverbial pavement to find new ones.  New ones may open for a while, then close unexpectedly, and then it's time to revisit the old ones if necessary.

Sometimes the right door is at the top of a steep hill, covered with rocks and brambles.  Find a way to get to that door.

Sometimes the right door is answered by someone who requires us to put aside our egos, swallow our prides, and look outside ourselves for something greater.  Find the strength to do all of those things.

Sometimes the right door is opened in way that is completely unexpected and unfamiliar. Find the space inside to trust in the process.

Not giving up takes strength, patience, faith, and perseverance.  The heartache may often outweigh the joy.  We may want desperately to give up multiple times. But the reward is worth all of the knocking, slamming, frustration, and uphill climbs. The satisfaction of the accomplishment is so much more fulfilling after having gone through all of the hard work it took to get there.

There's one more thing we all need that is essential to not giving up:


Those of us who have built stone walls around our hearts from repeated hurts and disappointments will say that the deceitful nature of hope only leads to deeper pain and despair. Well, I would challenge myself, and you, to see instead the beauty and buoyancy of hope.  Feel the power and potency of potential.  And with every triumph, consciously take a pebble out of those walls, to see what light might shine through from the other side.

"An optimist is someone who figures that taking a step backward after taking a step forward isn't a disaster, it's a cha-cha." ~Robert Brault

Care to cha-cha with me?  The dance floor is just behind that next door...

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

To quote Inigo Montoya from The Princess Bride...

...I hate waiting.

Don't we all? Over the past few weeks I have found myself waiting for different things. Waiting for results from some medical testing (I'm fine), waiting several days for a diagnosis on my broken computer (it's not fine), and waiting for things to fall into place with my new CD recording (still working on those logistics).  Simply put, it's not easy to wait, especially for things that are important to us.

That got me thinking about how in today's world of technology induced instant gratification, we're not so good at waiting.  I was telling my kids recently that I was around before voice mail, answering machines and call waiting. (I was young, but I was around.) If you called someone and they weren't home - since all we had were landlines - you had to WAIT and call them back later.  If you encountered a busy signal ("A what?" they asked) you had to WAIT, remember what you wanted to tell them, and hope they were available soon.

Another example is music.  I remember saving my babysitting money, WAITING until I had enough, then WAITING for a ride to Sam Goody where I had to WAIT in a line to buy the record album I was dying to have.  (Not to mention having to WAIT through the songs that maybe I didn't love as much as the others as I was not an expert at handling a record needle!)  Today my kids can hear a song on the radio and, if they have 99 cents available, own it instantly.

Not that I'm yearning for the past - I'm a huge fan of voice mail and iTunes.  But I think that not having to wait all year to watch the Charlie Brown Christmas Special or feeling the pressure of constantly being at the beck and call of everyone on our friends list has made us all more impatient as a people.  Which can become a frustrating problem when we all expect everything to happen according to our own timing.

I'm realizing though, waiting isn't always a bad thing.  Anticipation itself can be very exciting and even inspiring. Have you ever found that when planning a special trip, the planning for it can be as fun as the trip itself?  You can't cook a Thanksgiving turkey or make a homemade bread in five minutes - isn't it lovely to smell the aromas in the kitchen and happily anticipate getting to enjoy their deliciousness?

Not to mention, some things you simply have to wait for.  If you've ever planted a garden, built a home, or had a baby you know it's impossible to see the fruits of your labor (pun intended) or to have success without waiting for lots and lots of time.  These things, and so many others, require patience, which seems to be a scarce commodity these days.

So, while it may be no fun waiting for people to respond, waiting for opportunities to knock and waiting for the right doors to open, instead of focusing on the difficulty of the waiting, I'm going to call it "hopeful anticipation."  I've lived long enough to know that most things do happen in their own time and sometimes having faith that things are going according to plan can be comforting during the process.

I will keep you posted, but in the meantime, to quote Vizzini from The Princess Bride..."I'm waiting!"

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Do unto others.... you would have them do unto you. I was raised on this adage and I believe it.  My family and I try our best to always treat others as we would want to be treated.  However, as I'm getting older, I would add this annotation:

Do unto YOURSELF as you would have others do unto you.

So many of us, especially those of us who are moms, spend our lives doing for others, happily and lovingly, but sometimes at the expense of our own good health and/or sanity.  This point was made very clear to me yesterday.

Yesterday was not an easy day for me.  No need to go into details, but suffice it to say that by 11:00 I was spent physically, emotionally, mentally, and spiritually.  I felt a strong need to curl up at home and savor a few hours of quiet solitude to recharge my whole self before the responsibilities of the afternoon and evening came calling.

Someone needed me.  It was not one of my kids, it was not another family member, it was not a close friend; in fact, it was someone whom I would barely categorize as an acquaintance.  But she needed me.

I did not want to go. I did not want to shoulder this burden. Every bone in my body was crying out "No, don't do this!  You need to take time for yourself."

But even louder than those bones was my head.  Saying, "I have to. Do unto others..."

Ultimately my head won out.  I gathered up what little energy I had and went to help this person.  The person left my presence in much better shape than before, while I was left even more depleted of overall strength and spirit.

Did I recover? Yes of course.  Did helping out this person cause me any long-lasting damage? No, of course not.  But the events of yesterday taught me a valuable lesson:

Yes, we must always do our best to help one another and treat others with love and kindness.


My time is just as valuable as someone else's. My health and well-being are just as important as someone else's.  I do not always have to put my needs behind everyone else's, especially when doing so could compromise my ability to do what I know I am supposed to be doing in this world.  Taking care of myself is not selfish, it's necessary. Period.

Do unto others? Yes, as much as possible. Do unto myself? Absolutely. No exceptions.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Sticks and stones may break my bones...

...but words can scar my soul.

And they do.

My family and will admit to occasionally indulging in a few television shows in recent years where people are judged on their artistic talent, their cooking skills, or their personal style.  We enjoy these shows for the presentations and the artistry of the participants but we always skip through the "judging" parts.  Why?

Because we don't need to show our kids that ripping someone's work to shreds with words is entertainment.

Because we don't want to show our kids that this is the way to treat people who have worked hard and tried their best.

Because we don't believe that harsh words of criticism are any way to encourage and inspire others.

When did Americans become so outwardly critical of one another?  It's not just on TV either - I've heard working moms criticize stay-at-home moms for not working and stay-at-home moms criticize working moms for not staying at home.  I've seen grown women cry because of mean things said to them at volunteer meetings.  I've seen adult men be upset for weeks because of a nasty thing a boss or co-worker said to them in a public setting.  Does seeing criticism so blatantly espoused by celebrities on television make it easier and more acceptable to do in our daily lives?

It's even easier to be mean to one another today through non-confrontive means such as email or texts.  How many times have we heard of kids being cyber-bullied with tragic outcomes?  It's disgraceful, it's disgusting, and I'm often amazed at the vitriol that people are able to spew at one another without giving it a second thought.  Yes, it's the criticizer's fault, not the object of the criticism, but that doesn't mean it doesn't hurt sometimes.

I just want to say to everyone: Enough is enough!!  We are all working hard every single day to lead fulfilling lives and have meaningful experiences.  Each one of us deserves to be happy and enjoy the short time we have here on Earth by living up to our fullest potential.  We don't need people cutting us down and stomping on our dreams just because they may disagree with our choices or because they don't like what we like.  None of us is perfect and none of us ever will be, but we don't need other people in our lives pointing out what they think our flaws are.  (Most of us do that well enough ourselves without help, thank you.)

I recently gave an interactive performance for young children and their parents.  It went very well, everyone was smiling and participating the whole time, but when it was over I braced myself for the criticism.  I knew it was coming because no matter how hard you work or how well you think something goes, someone always has something negative to say about it.  Interestingly, the criticism never came.  I received only positive feedback which made me realize 2 things:

1. Apparently it's not "always."

2. When you do something from your heart but are constantly worried about how it's going to be received, you never really put your whole heart into it.  You're holding back in some way because you think that somehow that will prevent someone from being negative, or if someone does say something unkind, you can console yourself by telling yourself that you protected yourself a little bit by not giving it your all.  The mean stuff can never really get all the way in since you didn't put yourself all the way out.

I'll tell you, that's a crummy way to live.

So what's the solution?  That's a tough one because there are some really mean people out there and when they insult you personally it's not easy to just let those words roll off of your back, even though we know we're supposed to just blow it off and say "Oh, it's their problem."

Well, one answer would be to make sure you are never that critical person.  You can't control what another person is going to say or do but you can control yourself.  Make the decision to not be that jerk who cuts people off at the knees with your words, and make a commitment to be encouraging and uplifting to those around you, even when maybe you don't want to be.

Of course there are times when someone might actually need constructive criticism, which can be extremely helpful when presented in the right way.  In that case I've heard that it's productive to give three examples of positive things before explaining where the person needs work.  Before you speak, always put yourself in the other person's shoes and think "what would I like or not like to hear in this situation."  Never say anything that you know would be hurtful, and if you inadvertently hurt someone, (it happens) own up to it immediately and apologize.  It's actually very simple.

It seems odd that most people don't act this way naturally.  Which makes me wonder, is it human nature to treat other people poorly? Does this all go back to survival of the fittest on an anthropological level? I don't know.  But here is what I do know:

Keep the people in your life who truly love you, motivate you, encourage you, inspire you, enhance you and make you happy. If there are people in your life who do none of those things, let them go. ~Author unknown


What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?  ~George Eliot

Last I checked, the mortality rate for human beings was 100%. We're all in this together.  How about if we treat others as we would like to be treated?

Give me sticks and stones any day. Bones heal.  Souls may not.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

O Captain My Captain

Robin Williams died yesterday.  While I did not know him personally, I find myself mourning the loss of him today.  Especially upon learning the fact that he took his own life.  So shocking to hear that a person who spread so much joy into the world was wrestling with such pain and sadness within.

I was one of those people for whom the film Dead Poets Society was an almost religious experience.  "Carpe Diem!" became my mantra, I had the amazing opportunity to visit the school and other locations where the movie was shot, and for a while in grad school I had the enormous cardboard movie theater display taking up a good deal of my apartment.

In that movie, Robin Williams as Mr. Keating, encourages his students, along with us the movie watchers, to seize the day, and make our lives extraordinary. Why? Because too soon our lives would be over and he didn't want any of us to regret not living up to our full potentials, and not making the very most out of every moment.  Now that teacher's life is over, and while it was definitely too soon, it is evident that he indeed "sucked the marrow out of life" even while dealing with his own inner demons. Thankfully for all of us, in doing so, he made the world a much much better place.

To celebrate the life of a brilliant genie, a hilarious alien, a compassionate psychiatrist, and an inspiring teacher, I'll be wearing my Carpe Diem shirt today, standing on a desk, and pondering the next way that I can consciously make my life extraordinary.  Thank you O Captain My Captain.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Cracking Up at the DMV

...and I don't mean as in going crazy because of the wait time. I mean cracking up as in laughing so hard and long that your cheeks hurt.

Yesterday was a prime example of the concept "Life is What You Make It."  My fifteen-year-old daughter and I had to go the DMV to get a replacement driver's permit.  (The original was left in a jacket which was left in a security bin at the entrance to the Chunnel Train on the London side.)  We had gone down there the week before, only to find out that the wait time was more than 5 hours - which was amusing since they closed in 4 hours.  We gratefully learned that we could make an appointment and come back.

(As an aside, I believe that being able to make an appointment at the DMV is akin to discovering electricity - a brilliant solution to making the world a better, more efficient place.)

We made our appointment and returned the following week, right on time. I punched in our arrival on the welcome screen at the door, and to my amazement, we were taken immediately. We didn't even move from our spot at the entrance and our number was called.  (see above aside)

After five minutes at the counter, we were then directed over to the waiting area so my daughter could have a replacement photo taken.  As we sat down she noticed the electronic reader board on the wall and said, "Oh cool, it's that trivia game."  I looked up and remembered that the last time we were here we had wiled away our time trying to answer the extremely random and varied questions that shot across the board in-between the rules and regulations of the DMV.  (Including keeping noise to a minimum...we didn't exactly follow that one.)

So we started playing.  Question after question we kept getting the answers wrong.  Five minutes turned into ten, ten minutes became twenty, and while everyone around us got more and more annoyed, frustrated, and grumpy with the wait time, the two of us got sillier and gigglier.

Did we get strange looks? Yep.  Were people around us annoyed by our laughter and high fives when we guessed correctly? Visibly so. Did we care one bit? Nope.

You see, not only were we trying to answer these ridiculous questions, but sometimes the questions would remind us of something funny, or spark a memory of something, and we'd talk about those things, which would start us laughing, often collapsing into each other, which inevitably distracted us from the next question, and sometimes we'd only see the answer and then try to think of the question that might have preceded it, which often made us crack up even more.

In short, we were having a grand time.  So much so that after a few minutes the older gentleman sitting next to me asked, "Are you two here just for the entertainment?"

We were determined to get at least one answer right and I'm glad to report that by the end of our 50 minute wait we had 10 correct answers out of the more than probably 70+ that we saw.  At one point my daughter was getting a little weary so she put her head on my shoulder and we played that way for a while.  In that moment I took a second to recognize and appreciate the situation:

Here we were, in a drab, dingy, incredibly uninviting atmosphere, sitting on uncomfortable chairs, surrounded (and I mean packed in like sardines) by strangers who would have all preferred being just about anywhere else at that time.  The guy next to me had terrible breath, the guy next to my daughter had B.O., and there was dark cloud hanging over everyone in the place.

Except for us.  For us the sun was shining and the DMV was a glorious place to be.  Especially for me as I realized how things could have gone:

I could have been angry that she lost her permit and we had to go all the way here TWICE, only to have to wait for a really long time.

I wasn't.

I could have been annoyed and bothered that even though we had made an appointment, we still had to wait for a really long time, and I could have let her know that this was all her fault.

I didn't.

She could have had her teenaged face buried in her phone, completely ignoring me and everything else around her.

She didn't.

Instead we chose to have the most fun we could possibly have despite our circumstances, and even used our circumstances to help us have that fun.  When my husband called later in the day he asked how it went and I said, "We had the best time at the DMV!" to which he replied, "I'll bet that's the first time anyone's said THAT!"

Happiness is a choice. Yesterday could have been a wretched, boring, frustrating time that we would have looked back on with irritation and aggravation. Instead we get to look back on it as a cherished and special time shared together.

Life is, indeed, what you make it.  Even at the DMV.

Monday, July 7, 2014

To Laugh or Not To Laugh

I love to laugh. I mean, who doesn't, right?  But I, and my family, really love it.  We go out of our way to find things to make us laugh, and we have spent many happy hours together guffawing until our stomachs hurt.

I have a very distinctive laugh. I've been told it's infectious, I've been told it's joyful, but most often I've been's loud. How loud you ask?  Well, someone once told me that they were in the grocery store, heard my laugh from afar and thought to themselves, "Oh, Rachel must be in Produce." It's not a nasal, Fran Drescher type of laugh, nor is it a raucous howling one, it's more the sound of a regular laugh, just dialed up a few notches.  (It is often accompanied by my head thrown back or the occasional clapping of my hands together.)

I bring this up is because today in the store I was sharing a laugh with one of the clerks, and as I walked away another clerk peeked her head out from one of the aisles and said, "I love your laugh. It's so boisterous."  To which I replied, "Really? Some people hate it." To which she replied, "Oh no - it's great!"  I smiled, thanked her, and as I left the store I got to thinking about those people who have told me to my face just how annoying and unnecessary my lively and energetic laugh is.

I realized something in that moment.  Every single one of those people falls into the category of being one of the most miserable people I have ever met.  It seems like they don't like loud laughter because they don't know what to do with that much joy in close proximity.  They don't know how to laugh at anything, so a great deal of laughter must make them very uncomfortable.

If enough people tell you something about yourself, whether it's right or wrong, you begin to believe it.  As a result, I have consciously held myself back from laughing in the presence of these people (and others too) because I didn't want to offend them, nor did I want to risk being verbally put down again.  But what does that do?  It suppresses my sparkle and my love for life because these people can't handle it.  I'm bringing myself down, to their level of darkness, because they can't stand the light.  One could argue that these people need to be exposed to laughter and joy the most.

I wish it could be the other way around - I wish that being around happiness could bring unhappy people up to a level of joy where they can feel comfortable to laugh and enjoy life themselves.  But in my experience, that rarely happens.

Which makes me holding back my happiness absolutely ridiculous!  What's the point? My loud, exuberant laugh is part of who I am, and no one should ever subdue something that is a part of them, no matter how people might react or how they will be viewed.

So, to laugh, or not to laugh? I have learned that some people will laugh along with me, and some people will shake their heads in disgust.  But I'll tell you this, those of us who are laughing will be having a great time enjoying life.  Care to join me? I'll be in Produce.