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Aspects of travel, changing where you live, filling your days, doing routine volunteering, managing your money, etc.

Success via “No”

Success via “No”

 Yesterday, I was caught by an online headline offering “the one habit that Warren Buffett says separates successful people from everyone else.”  I lived in Omaha for ten years.  I like Warren Buffett.  And anything about behavior lures me because my academic background includes a lot of psychology.  So I clicked.

The article was by Marcel Schwantes for Inc.  The quote it attributed to Buffet was:  “The difference between successful people and really successful people is that really successful people say no to almost everything.”  

photo by Gemma Evans on Unsplash

Schwantes then goes on to quote Steve Jobs about what constitutes focus: “”People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on. But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.”

You have to pick what you say yes to–carefully.

This isn’t just about business decisions.  The advice applies across the board.  For most of us, the Yes comes without even thinking for pretty much everything.  And that is where the trouble begins.  Yes to everything means you can’t do anything very well.  It also means you are running around like a chicken and living on a few hours of sleep every night trying to get it all done with even a C grade.

We need to learn to be far more lavish in doling out No’s.

Okay, so what do you say No to?  The new project at work?  Having dinner with the neighbors?  Taking the kids to the park?  Visiting your mother-in-law in the dementia unit? Working out?

It depends. There is no guru cradling a Magic 8-Ball, but it’s not all that hard.  You say No to the things that are not important… to YOU.  You say No to the things that will distract you from what is important.  You say No to things that waste huge amounts of time without gaining anything important.  You say No to the things that you can see before you even get into them are going to throw your life off balance.  You say No when the opportunity, request, or, even demand, is going to jeopardize an important Yes.

And that means you have to know what IS important.  This is not something for your wife/husband, mother, best friend or kid to tell you.  This is stuff your heart has to tell you. That’s one of the few places we say No a lot. To what our hearts begs of us.  We have this so backwards.

You also have to have the courage to step up to that No.  That is also up to you.  You can learn how to do this well—it is a SKILL.  (I remain a fan of Harriet Lerner’s The Dance of Connection for how to do that.)

This ability really does separate the successful from the not-quite-there.  People who know what they want and can stay focused on those things get them much more readily than the rest of us who chose afresh every day (and thus, start from scratch again and again on what we are trying to achieve).

If you are focused on the important things, your life will be happy.  Even when there are big challenges and things are not going well, you know you’re working on the things that truly deserve your effort.  You know you are making progress on things that mean a lot to you.  You know what you are doing is worthwhile even if it’s difficult.  And you also know that the other Yes’s are in balance.  All is well with your world.

Workaholics are not happy.  Doormats are not happy.  Learning how and when to say No can literally transform your life.

Who Should Pay?

Who Should Pay?

A recent article in a friend’s online newsletter was a rant that the guy should always pay when on a date with a woman.  That seems grossly unfair to me—if you both have money, taking turns seems more appropriate.  This friend likes the “old fashioned way.”  She has as much of a right to believe that’s best as I do to believe otherwise. 

But there’s a bigger question here.  How can we be effective in deciding when to pay and when to have another pay?

Another example is the current trend for kids to live with their folks for free, even if they are gainfully employed.  Who benefits with that?  From the outside, it looks like nobody.  The kid is denied the chance to learn how to meet their own needs with their own resources.  The parent continues to shell out for additional groceries, higher utility bills, etc. instead of being able enjoy things that meet their own discretionary needs.

Then there are the parents who insist on paying every time even though their adult kids are ready and willing to pick up the tab.  Who wins there?  Nobody.  Again.  The kids are left to be “dependents” long after they have matured beyond it.

And then there are friends.  The poor money manager kind, especially.  They can be quite comfortable with you footing the bill all the time because “you have more money.” Maybe that’s true, but it’s likely, at least in part, to be because they didn’t and don’t do good job of money management.  If you want to do something expensive they can’t afford and want them along, open your wallet.  But if every time you go to lunch, they choose a place beyond their own means and then expect you to pay, give it some thought.  Being someone else’s sugar daddy is a dead-end. 

What does paying say about the situation? 

Treating someone else to something that costs money is a way to say “I love you.”  So most of us find some situation where paying the bill is important.  But it also says “I believe in you and value your competence” when you give the other person the chance to pay.  And it can be saying “We’re friends, and we share the load—and it’s your turn this time.”

It’s not about dollars.  It’s about power—who is going to be subordinate by being “taken care of”.  The very old sometimes need to be “taken care of.”  And the very young, certainly.  But if you are taking care of everyone all the time, stop.  You’re throwing things off balance big time.

We need to pay attention to the message we are sending when we choose to pay.  Is it

  • Treating a loved one to something special?
  • Setting a good example for kids not yet old enough to have their own resources?
  • Carrying out the responsibilities of a specific role—like caregiver or bookkeeper?
  • Celebrating something that makes you feel prosperous with friends?

These are all legitimate.

OR is it

  • Accepting doormat status and paying for someone else’s good time who should be paying for it themselves?
  • Treating your grown kids as if they aren’t capable of paying when they reached that status long ago?
  • Relying on old practices without confirming that’s how the one you expect to pay wants to do it?

Sometimes, having the other person pay is the most responsible, loving thing you can do.  And sometimes it’s selfish, immature, and lazy.

As for who should pay on a date?  Well, if all you are after is a nice dinner, then insisting he pay may be the way to go.  (You may never see the guy again, but perhaps that’s your MO.)  When I date, it’s to get to know a guy.  I want to see what he’s like when he has the power and when I take it. If you can get in sync about who does when, you are well on the way to being good friends at a minimum.   When you insist he is always the one to pay, you’ve lost the chance to learn many important things. What’s he’s like when someone else has the power? Is he comfortable with give and take?  How does he handle his resources?  Does he respect yours?

Come to think of it, that’s all stuff to look at when deciding if the kids or friends should pay, too.

Ending the year

Ending the year

This article originally appeared as Ending 2013.

We are to that point in the calendar where we officially write THE END on the current year.  Each of us comes up with our own rituals for marking this.  It’s different for me now that I’ve “given up work”–not as straightforward or obvious.

When I was in corporate America, Dec. 31 was my favorite work day–partly because most of the office had taken vacation and I could get a ton of work done.  But every Dec. 31, after everything else was buttoned up, I’d also spend an hour reflecting on the year that was ending.  There were always things to point to that made me proud, excited, happy.  It was a great little ritual because it never occurred to me to dwell on what had gone wrong.  I left the office and walked into the new year with confidence.

Now, I’m not so good at that.  It’s tempting to tell myself that it’s because I haven’t gotten anything done in the dying year that justifies being happy, proud, or excited.

But I can finally see that’s not really what’s going on.  (Thank heavens!)

Once we are out on our own, it’s harder to set a course and stay on it.  That’s one of the side effects of that flexibility retirement blesses us with.  As we age, things tend to get less predictable as well.  Illness or injury quite often, but also opportunities that make us veer off course from the things we said we were going to do.  Two weeks in Mexico with the perfect travel companion?  Of course the volunteer work you were going to find can wait.   A friend with a litter of puppies that have him overwhelmed?  You love puppies–why not help out?

So how do you assess a year once you’ve given up the annual goal setting process at work?  Do you even need to ask “Was this a good year?”

I think we do.  All of us want to be competent and deciding that the year was done well is an example of that.   But the parameters need to change.

Instead of looking at work projects and milestones with kids (graduations, potty training, whatever), at this point we need to ask ourselves more personal questions.  These are the ones I’m going to use as I end this year:

  • Did I do the things I felt were important?
  • Was I authentic in how I lived this year?
  • Did I offer kindness when I had the chance?
  • What did I create?
  • How did I have fun?
  • If I was starting again on January 1, what would I do differently?

That last one is just to prime the pump for the coming year.  Endings are beginnings after all.  As I close this chapter, I’m laying the foundation for the next one.

It’s not about whether you meet all those goals anymore.  It’s about how well you’ve lived this particular chunk of your life.  Only you know what’s important about that, so find the questions that resonate for you.  And then be happy, excited and proud of all you did with the last twelve months.

Happy New Year!

The Wisdom of Seeking Wisdom

The Wisdom of Seeking Wisdom

This article originally appeared May 7, 2009

One of the many sad consequences of our preoccupation with youth is that we don’t pay much attention to wisdom. That’s like worrying about what color to paint the garage and ignoring the Ferrari that’s housed inside.

Wisdom, per Merriam Webster’s is “accumulated philosophic or scientific learning: KNOWLEDGE” or “ability to discern inner qualities and relationships:INSIGHT” or “good sense: JUDGMENT.”Roll it all together and you get “a wise attitude, belief, or course of action.” Wisdom is a key to living well. But aspiring to it is not typically on our lists of New Year’s resolutions or personal goal statements.

That’s probably because to acquire it, you have to accept you’re getting older.  We don’t like to go there.

First, let’s face one unavoidable fact. Every single day of our lives, we get older. It’s the normal course of events. The only alternative is to die—and I’m not voting for that option. So if we’re going to get older anyway, why not do it gracefully? Why not do it in a way that makes the reality more compelling? Why not work on becoming wise?

Going back to the definition I started with, there are three pieces to this—and then the decision to live that way (which is the attitude part).

Knowledge

Jokes about hiring a teenager because they know it all have been around forever. And we’ve all met precocious ten-year-olds who could go on for an hour on a topic they found interesting. But the knowledge that serves as a basis for wisdom has to be more comprehensive than the knowledge of youth. Becoming wise requires an accurate picture of the real world. And that means you need to have lived there a while. And paid attention.

Too often, we live in the realm of what we assume to be true instead confirming what is. Buying a car—or house—that you can’t afford is an example of that. But so is staying in a dead-end job because you’re telling yourself you’re not good enough for anything better. Not believing in ourselves is the stingiest approach of all to life. But it takes wisdom to see that–and to stop doing it.

Gaining knowledge hinges on paying attention to what’s going on around you. People who have learned “what comes  next” again and again are more serene about life situations. A wise person knows the bad times will end and can work patiently toward that day. She also savors the good times because they, too, are temporary. What we learn of the ebb and flow of life—by living it consciously—gives us a more solid foundation.

Insight

Knowing about life is important, but you need to find the patterns in it, too–even when they’re hidden in the shadows. Insight is combining information from the disparate sources you’ve observed and drawing astute conclusions about what’s going on.

One of my dearest family members reacts intensely to overwork. Until I understood that pattern, I found myself in the middle of emotional upheavals that left me baffled and hurt. Without a conscious assessment of previous episodes and an effort to extract what was common to them, I believed—as she was prone to insisting in those moments—that I was inadequate as a person and a loved one. Now, I just find the quickest route to the sidelines. Getting out of the way for a bit is a much better solution for both of us. This is wisdom. It’s practical. It’s loving. And it’s not going to show up unless you’re getting older. You have to watch things for a while to see patterns.

Judgment

Judgment is not about deciding you’re better than someone else. The judgment that comes with wisdom is about choosing an effective course of action.

Sometimes, it’s obvious. If the house is on fire, you get out and call 911. But if you’ve been worrying for weeks about whether to go on vacation in June or August, maybe you need to let go of it for a while. Wise judgment is knowing when NOT to decide sometimes. Ever spend months feeling awful that you weren’t getting to something that “had” to be done only to discover it didn’t need to be done at all?

Wisdom includes intuition when employing judgment. Knowledge and insight are essential, but so is “gut feel” if you want to get it right. As we get older, we become more willing to hear—and honor—that “little voice.” We make wiser choices as a result.

Wise as an attitude

We don’t become wise instantaneously. Wisdom comes in small increments. To get all the way to unflappable, ongoing serenity, we need to decide we want to become wiser. Every day. For a lot of days…weeks…months…years.

Balance….noun or verb?

Balance….noun or verb?

This article was originally posted Jan 24, 2012. It’s worth taking a look at again.

Is balance something you possess or that you pursue? Are you assuming someone else decides whether you have it?  Or do you see it more as an ongoing effort on your part?

Back in graduate school, I was delighted to discover work by Martin Seligman that talked about “learned helplessness.”  The term was used to describe the mindset of individuals who assume that they’re at the mercy of “powerful others”–God, the Establishment, whatever–who decide what happens in their lives.  Their assumption that someone else holds all the winning cards keeps them from even seeing what they can do to help themselves.

Life balance is vulnerable to that kind of thinking, even if you don’t go in that direction on everything else.  It’s really easy to assume that your life is out of balance because of  the load at work, the phase your child is going through or a favor for a friend that’s gotten far more complicated than you expected.  Life should just flow smoothly and balance should be a given, right?

Nope. Assuming that is just one more way to be a “victim.”

Seeing balance as an ongoing process rather than entitlement to Nirvana keeps you in the game.  And brings you closer to it even when you can’t get the “full meal deal.” Why?  Because seeing balance as an on-going process puts you in control. You can do things to move toward that version of emotional symmetry you prefer.

The good life isn’t about always being in balance.  It’s about getting good at recovering that balance when it goes away, which it will.  Often.

Some things to consider as you work at it:

Not all efforts to achieve balance work.  If getting up an extra half hour in the morning to exercise makes you cranky for the rest of the day, forget it.  Look for a another way.

Not all options are total improvements.  Okay, you want more time with your kids.  That doesn’t mean they want to shovel snow with you.  But when they are part of getting the work done, you feel less like poorly paid hired help, right?  So find a way to have FUN shoveling snow.

Sometimes your balance is on a different dimension than you planned.  So that snow shoveling wasn’t the fun “quality time” you were hoping for with whoever  you drafted to help.  You still had more time to get everything else done, right?

Balance isn’t always intentional.  Perhaps you got the surprise of your life when you insisted on help in cleaning up that snow.  Sometimes working together really is, fun.  Yes!  A nudge from a different direction.

Balance is as much about assumptions as it is about reality.  Quite often, what’s out of balance is what you are telling yourself about what should be happening.  A classic definition of stress is “the difference between what’s happening and what you think should be happening.”  Getting a solid handle on what’s reasonable under the circumstances can take you a lot closer to balance than a major overhaul.  Accept reality.  Then change as it changes.

Balance changes moment to moment.  Even if you do get into perfect balance, you’re not going to stay there.  At least not if you’re human.  The key is whether you elect to stay out of balance or put effort into moving back toward equilibrium.   As life changes, make your own changes.

A good life is balanced but it’s up to you.  It will aways require awareness and effort on your part.  And that’s all just fine.

Holiday Stress — Is It Stalking You?

Holiday Stress — Is It Stalking You?

This was originally posted on Dec. 19, 2010. It’s still relevant, so here it is again. (Happy Holidays!)

This time of year, stress is everybody’s “best friend.” No matter how hard you try to “keep things under control” the holiday season seems to devolve at some point into a meltdown, a blow up, or both.

Why?

Probably 80% of why things go wrong is because we are pushing so hard to make them go right. “I have to get my cards out in the next two days.” “Little Jennie is going to be so disappointed if I can’t find that baby doll that cries real tears.” “It’s the holidays, I need to bring something more interesting to the office potluck than veggies and dip.”

The overload comes with the best of intentions. And the worst of consequences. When things go very wrong at this time of year, it feels a thousand times worse. Not only have I not done that thing that everyone was counting on me to do, I have now come unglued in front of God and everybody during “the holidays.”

You don’t even see it coming, most of the time. Suddenly, someone does something minor, and you react in a major way. A few days ago this became very clear to me when a guy in a pick-up half a football field behind me when I changed lanes pulled up behind me at the next stop light honking and waving his middle finger. Did he really think he had exclusive rights to the lane? Or was some “holiday thing” getting the best of him.

I have discovered that, left to automatic responses, I tend to find fault more at this time of year. (How’s that for “Happy Holidays?!” )  Maybe you’re doing that, too, and don’t realize it.

At a minimum, let’s all do each other a favor and throttle back on all the huge elaborate plans. We don’t need to have prime rib and lobster for Christmas dinner. Expecially not with Yorkshire pudding and drawn butter and seven different sides. We don’t need a huge tree, seventeen gifts for each family member, and four family events within the same 24 hours.

Whatever holiday you are actually celebrating, it didn’t start because of a need to outdo the next guy with yard displays and open house spreads. So instead of rushing around trying to get every elaborate idea you’ve come up with accomplished,  stand back, take some deep breaths, and think “Goodwill” or “Peace” or “Bless us one and all.”  Or maybe “What, of all this, am I enjoying?”

The twelve-foot tall wooden solder to greet your party guests on the porch really isn’t worth it. That Grinch, Mr. Stress, is waiting behind it, and you don’t need him.

Beginnings are messy…

Beginnings are messy…

This was originally posted on Dec. 19, 2011. It deserves another read.

The farther you move through life, the more tempting it is to want to have everything under control.  Bad plan.  That strategy is a nice straight road to boredom.  Being a beginner until the day you die is an important piece of creating a good life.  And beginnings are not controlled situations.  Beginnings are messy.

Sunrise 1.28.19 M. Lloyd

When you move, things are total chaos for a while.  When you start an art project, everything you might need gets hauled out of drawers and closets.  To renovate your yard, you usually create a mud bog at some point in the process.

To make something better, most often, you need to make a total mess of what you already have.

And that’s okay.

In fact, it may be an essential piece of appreciating what you have once you’ve completed the change.  My mom’s yearly version of this process was the family camping trip.  Dad was great about getting everything needed by a family of nine packed in–and on–the car, getting us there, getting the tent set up, etc.  He was really good at making order of the inevitable chaos.

Mom, however, was better at appreciating the chaos.  “Going camping” was our vacation and that meant new adventures for us kids and the chance to break from the routine for our parents.  But “going camping” also made us all appreciate that routine when we got home and had everything put away.

The disruption and confusion of going in a new direction can be unnerving–and almost always is when you change anything significant.  But that doesn’t mean you don’t do it.  It’s just wise to realize what you’re getting into.

Beginnings involve going in the wrong direction.  When  you start something new, even if you have a full set of instructions (which most things in life don’t have), you make mistakes because the whole idea is new and a challenge to grasp.  Mistakes are every bit as much a part of getting things to go the way you want as the things you get right the first time.  Wrong turns help define the context of what you’re doing and help make it work well.  They’re most valuable if you use them–figure out what they’ve taught you and then move past them.  But if you can’t get that far about what went wrong, at least relax about the fact that they happen.  When you start something new, there are going to be mistakes.  Sometimes lots of them.

Beginnings usually involve a few restarts.  Thinking that it’s going to be smooth sailing from the get-go just invites frustration.  Redirects are inevitable. Sometimes, you don’t even know where you are trying to go when you start out.   And when you need to change course, you often need to just plain stop before you do so.  So if the project doesn’t keep going at a steady pace, don’t be surprised.  And for heaven’s sake don’t get all torqued about it.  Starting something new takes courage.  Finishing something new takes patience and tolerance–for clutter, confusion, and starting again….and sometimes again and again.

Beginnings often don’t look like beginnings.  Starting in a new direction is often disguised as something old ending.  This probably makes the messiness of a beginning even harder to endure.  When what you had worked for  you and was not something you wanted to change, it’s very hard to get on with the messiness of starting over.  That old reliable version of life was…well…yours, whether it was with a mate who died–or left, a job you lost, or health you took for granted. Pining for what was makes getting on with what’s next a lot more difficult.  Letting go of what you don’t have any more and stepping into the chaos of a new start is the only way to get on with your life.

Know that the disruption is essential and temporary. It’s easy to begin to feel like the turmoil is never going to go away, but that’s not what’s going on.  Psychologically, being able to predict what’s going to happen is as calming as being able to control it.   Reminding yourself that there’s an end point to the chaos gives you that predictability.

Beginnings are essential.   Beginnings can be intimidating simply because of the disorder and confusion they engender.  Begin anyway.  Having a good life is not a matter of having everything under control.  You need to keep your world expanding and to do that, you have to begin something new.  Again and again and again.

Psst….the World is not flat. Pass it on.

Psst….the World is not flat. Pass it on.

We’ve known for centuries that those who thought the Earth ended with an abrupt edge had it wrong. Some day, our descendants will shake their heads in every bit as much disbelief that we could be so naive and clueless in how older members of society were perceived in the 21st century.

photo by Jacquie Webster-Patton

Getting older is not the catastrophe it’s assumed to be. We are not illness waiting to manifest. We are not a burden. We are not useless. It’s really stupid to expect us to just go away so that younger members of society can get on with making the world a better place. We’re still here and ready to help. Why is it so hard to find ways to do include all ages in our problem solving? And in the solutions themselves?

Older people need to be part of making the world better every bit as much as the teenagers who will eventually take their place. Why? Because they are an amazing resource. It’s absolutely insane that as a culture we’re assuming there is no value in being older. That youth is all.

Think about it.

  • We’ve had many more years of learning about life than those who are younger. A lot of what we now know is critical to solving some of today’s biggest problems–how to get along with others, how to fight for what you believe in with integrity, how to nurture without coddling, how to confront a bully, how to not spend money you don’t have. We’ve learned a lot by living this long.
  • We had the chance to try stuff before everything became “too dangerous” to be allowed to do it. So there’s a good chance, that absent all the baloney about keeping us “safe” because we are old, we’re ready to take risks. Some of the risks we took when younger were stupid. (You cannot fly by jumping off the garage roof. Ever.) But a lot of it was both educational and confidence building. A lot of it was stuff that transferred to other endeavors and situations. The dilemma in this is that our innate tendency to take risks has been squelched by this goofy notion that we must be taken care of and kept safe above all…because we are “old” and thus un-able. The oldest among us could be such a resource as mentors for risk taking.
  • We are far more likely to have acquired wisdom than younger people. Wisdom is currently in pathetically short supply. Wisdom will get us a lot farther as a culture than this idiotic bravado and “I am the greatest and my answer is the only answer” that’s so popular right now. Authentically old people can see the folly of what seems to be “the only solution.” We don’t get as worked up about things. We have the chops and the time in grade to be more patient. And we are willing to share all of it for the greater good. For any one person’s good if they seek it.

Not using an outstanding resource isn’t even the worst of this unenlightened thinking. No, the really BIG downside to current cultural expectations is that they encourage all the bad stuff we envisions as “old”–numerous health problems…which then need expensive medical procedures (or are at least assumed to). Eventually people who could still be highly productive, caring, independent members of society require huge amounts of support just to live a semi-life in some assisted living facility where they are “safe”–and bored to death, literally. The cultural mindset plays out: If there’s nothing else to do and everyone is expecting it, then, well, “maybe I’m supposed to be sick when I’ve had this many birthdays.”

There are a lot of older adults who would be just fine until their last breath if they had a legitimate role to play.

We need to mobilize this segment of the population–to help communities, to help kids, to help each other. We need to let them shine. If you assume THAT is what is expected to happen, there will be a whole lot more of it happening.

We all cheer when we see the video of the 90-year old woman doing a sexy tango in competitive ballroom dancing. We watch the centenarian who’s still teaching yoga with awe. I remember being in absolute bliss after reading about a 100-year old woman who was still the fulltime proofreader for the local newspaper. We want that continued engagement for ourselves.

Then we go right back to assuming that “people that age can’t do those things.” This is just so inane. Let older people do all they can. Everyone will benefit if we use every single morsel of talent, skill, and passion the best we can. The world is not flat!

Why are you going?

Why are you going?

I just got back from “the trip of a lifetime.” Another one. This time, it was an ocean cruise calling on ports in the Mediterranean for eleven days in a row from Rome to Barcelona. If you’re prone to drooling with envy, let me tell you how it went, first. I have done over 100 days on ocean liners. Sometimes, I am an incredibly slow learner.

At the Vatican

This was an “amazing deal,” offered by a travel agency that gets clients via pitches to the mailing lists of college alumni associations. I jumped on it because it offered two-for-one fares (and a dear friend and fellow alum was interested). Other goodies were free airfare, and six free shore excursions. Those ARE nice enticements. But I forgot to be sure I understood why I wanted to go at all. Turns out this was not the best way to do what I was I thought I wanted to do. And it turns out also, that what I thought I wanted to do wasn’t really what works for me at all.

I have done a lot of world travel, but little of it has been in Europe. That was always “for later–when we need to do the easy things.” That was naive. If you want a travel contact sport, try touring famous sites in Europe. The situation in the Sistine chapel has zero room for awe as the Vatican police bark “Keep moving. Keep moving!” from the second you walk in. (I actually got a better feel for the art from a traveling digital version that had been mounted on the walls and ceiling of our local former armory last year.) The truth is rude on this. Going to see this stuff in person is NOT going to be a highlight unless you are good with doing it in the middle of a crowd and without the chance to stop and LOOK. My experience was the same at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem 20 years ago. Like I said, I am sometimes a slow learner.

The “romance” of a Mediterranean cruise has stuck with me over time, even though I am no longer married to the man who so loves to be on the water. This ship appealed because it is small (684 passengers, which is about 20% of what you experience on the newest and best of the ocean liners). I liked the idea that it had a port of call every day, something I enjoyed river cruising last year.

I just plain had it all wrong. Ocean cruising is best when both sea days and port days are part of it. The whole notion of being on a floating luxury hotel has to be part of how you see it. And you need to like the idea of being in the middle of a crowd. Pretty much all the time, unless you take the time to do a formal meal instead of the buffets.

Wherever we toured, there were a LOT of people trying to see the same things. That’s just how it goes when several cruise ships are in port the same day and they bring thousands of tourists with them.

I finally got to experience the kind of travel I enjoy on the 10th day of a 13-day trip. I booked a tour that went to somewhere out of the way: Carcassone, a walled city in the south of France. The tour guide knew his stuff and spoke English well enough that I wasn’t doing an ongoing translation in my head to figure out what had just been said. And it was about a very different topic–military architecture. (I didn’t even start to process how problematic seeing the extravagance of all the Catholic churches was for me until after I got home.)

We had free time in the little town after the tour. I sat down in a cafe for some lunch and promptly made friends with a couple from Wales at the next table. It was then that it hit me: I had pretty much missed the fun I typically have on travel adventures because I’d been in the middle of a herd. My best travel memories are times in cafes, watching the locals, sipping a glass of local wine, sampling their version of food, and being open to what’s happening right there, right then.

So…what I thought I needed was to see some of the most important sights along the Mediterranean. I chose the wrong method for that. (Some friends on a Rick Steves tour of Italy in the same time frame had a much more successful experience: much smaller groups; more intense focus on an area instead of just “the big deal site”; tour guides who spoke the tour clients’ language well.)

But that’s not what I enjoy about traveling. I need to just experience the place. No famous churches, fountains or plazas required.

All is not lost, of course. Now I know I can wisely delete ocean cruising from my future. I suck at sunbathing, can only do so many buffets, and do not enjoy herds–except maybe buffalo in Yellowstone or Custer State Park, South Dakota.

I also learned this time around, that if I want to learn about these sites, a good documentary will do a much better job. They film when there aren’t a gazillion people trying to see the same thing. They get the shots that let you really SEE it. To “be there” is not the romance it seemed to be. This is very good to know.

Of course, if all you’re after is to say you went to those famous sites and to brag about being on a Mediterranean cruise, then a 2-for-1, free airfare, 6-free-shore-excursions ocean cruise might be just the ticket.

It’s About Time…

It’s About Time…

This is a repost from 2014. Still relevant…

I’m in a bar fight with Time right now. I’m not even sure who started it. At the moment, I’m in a big transition—moving to new space in a new area to a house that’s needed significant TLC before I moved in.

So I’ve been painting, cleaning, and  organizing storage areas, plus trying to corral all the stuff I’ve managed to accumulate in the two years I’ve been living where I am now.  All that takes time.  And I want Time to cooperate and give me enough to get it all done–to give me the sense that I have it under control. Time is not hearing a word of that. I am not in control. Nope. Not at all.

Time is not flying; it is evaporating, like needed rain that never gets all the way to the parched desert floor. There “should” be enough time. This move is certainly doable. I have good support from family and friends. I have good resources to call for paid help as needed. But still, I am in this absurd wrestling match with Time.

On the surface, it looks like it’s my own silly fault. This cleaning that I’ve been doing….I’ve gone through three toothbrushes at it…plus a bunch of bamboo skewers…untold numbers of Q-tips…a few toothpicks. I’ve been manic about getting that last bit of gunk out of whatever it is that I’m sprucing up.

There is so much to get done.  And yet I’ve been piddling around with a toothpick trying to get the dirt out of the ridges of a light switch. I’ve painted almost every wall and most of the ceilings of the new place. I’ve replaced the carpeting and refinished the hardwood floors. I’ve been absolutely anal about how I set up the kitchen.

Have I gone over the edge—to where cleanliness is no longer next to godliness but instead has moved into the marginally functional wing of a looney bin? How can I possibly get all the work done if I putz at little things? Why am I fighting with Time like this?

But as I admit this and look more closely, it’s starting to make sense. There is a lot to get done with this move. And I do like to start with things as clean as possible. (Dirt is okay but only if it’s mine.) But this move is one of a kind and involves more than getting my stuff from here to there. When I move, someone I love will remain behind—by choice, but still…. Much of what I take with me will have to be replaced if he wants to be able to cook, clean, eat off a plate, etc. (He’s a guy; he may not….) So this preoccupation with getting things clean was probably a good way to end up with the right pacing.

Is there anything in this insight that’s useful for life in general?

Yeah, I think so.  I’ve always been an exceptionally well-organized person. I have not been like that on this move. Instead of making list after list, I’ve been blindly doing whatever seems to need to get done next. It turns out I have been letting my heart lead instead of my General-Manager-of-the-Universe mind.

Sometimes a list is not the answer. Sometimes, you just have to trust it’s going to work out and keep trudging along, even if what you’re working on seems to be getting a higher priority than it deserves. Sometimes, your hands have a better sense of what must be done than your mind does.

And that’s a good thing to realize at the start of a new year. “Because I’ve always done it this way” is a weak reason not to grow. By now I would be a raving lunatic if I’d have tried to manage this move the way I’ve done them in the past. I would also probably be heartsick and depressed. There are too many layers, too many extenuating circumstances, too much room to cause emotional hurt–to myself or someone else–by steamrollering through this move. What a blessing that I had the chance to piddle around with a toothbrush cleaning up someone else’s microscopic messes.

I haven’t been wrestling with Time after all. We were dancing, and I just didn’t know it.