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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.

Appreciating Little Bits of Genius

Appreciating Little Bits of Genius

Another blast from the past. This was originally posted Dec. 28, 2011. Here it is again with a few minor changes.

One good way to make your life better is to notice the ways it already is.  There are so many little bits of someone else’s smarts that we get the benefit of.  Usually we take it all for granted and notice the “not quite right” parts instead.

For a good day, start with your shower.  Hot water, on demand, where you want it on your body.  That wasn’t part of what was here before humanity started asking “what would happen if…?”   How lucky we are that someone figured out fire…and how to heat water with fire…and how to keep water hot in a tank…and get it to the bathroom via a network of pipes.  How wonderful for us that some genius figured out how to blend hot and cold water so that we can have it just the right temperature, turn it hotter–or colder–and turn it off when we didn’t need it any more.  A lot of people put their smarts into what has become a taken-for-granted part of modern life.

And at the breakfast table, how about orange juice–or whatever juice you drink?  Someone had to figure out that it would be cool to separate the juice from the fruit–or vegetable.  And someone had to learn how to store it once that was done.  And then how to transport it so that it stayed palatable and safe to drink.  If you make your own juice, someone probably helped you with that process by designing a machine to extract the juice in your very own kitchen.

The little things are good reminders of the big things.  We are blessed with machines that accomplish important stuff for us–everything from getting us to Point B from Point A, be it by car, train, airplane or space shuttle to making us coffee.  We have a wide range of options for gaining information–computers, books, newspapers, personal conversations.  Everything we know depends on someone else’s smarts for us to be able to access it.   Our lives are so much easier because of other people’s effort and ingenuity.

John Donne’s quote “No man is an island” is particularly true when it comes to our convenience.  We are so lucky that so many were so smart about so many “little things.”

As we end this year, let’s benefit even more by noticing them.  What little pluses do you rely on every day?  The barista’s skill at making your machiatto?  Someone came before them to invent a machiatto.  And to figure out that picking, roasting, and grinding coffee beans was worth doing.

The subway system?  The daycare to whom you entrust your child–or your grandchild?  Perhaps a nod to those who invented animal and graham crackers is in order. How about the clothes you’re wearing? There’s a ton of smarts in a good pair of pants.

These are just bits and pieces of a richly complex life of conveniences.  Our lives are so much easier and more pleasant in so many ways because of someone else’s thinking and ingenuity.  Lucky for us that they wanted to create those things.

In our current jaded take on commerce, the thought might come, “Well, they made money on the deal.  I don’t need to be grateful.”

Oh come on!  Most of the good that’s come about in the world is because someone wanted to solve a problem, to make something better.  Until recently, it was never about the money.  It was about the satisfaction of improving life for oneself and others.

A little gratitude for all those bits of creative effort and smarts puts you right with the world you’re blessed to be in.  So appreciate that stoplight–what chaos you’d have to endure if it had not been invented.  Appreciate the time clock if you punch one.  It keeps an accurate record of all the time you worked.  So many have done so much to make our lives easier.  Be happy about that–and then see what you can do to add to this glorious collection of little bits of genius.

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.

RIP retirement?

RIP retirement?

It’s time to admit the obvious. Retirement has outlived its usefulness.

New labels for what comes after fulltime work continue to proliferate.  Instead of “retire, it’s “rewire.” Instead of leisure, we’re urged to take on an “encore career.”  We should see it as a transition to a “portfolio life.”  We have become the Third Wave or Second Halfers.  We’re in the Third Act. Instead of the old “golden years” we’re really stepping into the “silver years.”  Every one of these terms has been used by a well-meaning author and advocate to help clarify “what you really need to get retirement right.” Except they don’t.

The sheer volume of alternatives to the word “retirement” is fascinating.  “Retirement” doesn’t really capture the realities of this stage of life, so why haven’t we found a better word and gotten on with it?  For almost a decade, I’ve been assuming we just hadn’t found the right new word—that we were on the right track but hadn’t stopped at the appropriate station yet.   Daylight has finally dawned and guess what.  The train is just plain going to the wrong place.

We don’t need a catchy new label for assuming roughly the same thing.  It’s time to retire the concept of retirement, not just the word.  We’re moving in a whole new direction in how we choose to live our years after tthose we spent in the conventional workforce.  It’s not a matter of repainting the signs with new names.  We’re not all going the same place.

Yet we continue to hold onto the old paradigm (“retirement”) when reality has us doing a whole lot of other things. People who “don’t have enough money to retire” are tarred for being bad planners or impulsive spenders. That may be true. But they may also be onto something those who “got it right” so they could retire with financial security have yet to discover. Buying into traditional retirement might turn out to be like buying 8-track tapes or typewriter ribbons.  The world has moved on to new options.

There are many ways to live life well no matter how old you are. The options don’t all evaporate the second you stop working fulltime. And continuing to work fulltime is not the mark of an inept person. Some of us are just going to work until our last breath–for a wide variety of reasons. These are personal choices based on individual situations and preferences. The notion that those who are not doing the traditional version of retirement are “wrong” is, itself, very wrong. As long as we’re still here, we have as much of a right to craft whatever life we want as the twenty-somethings.

So what does this new world include?

Work–at least some of the time.   To keep life interesting and to avoid mental, physical, and emotional decline, you need some kind of work.  (This is as true at 27 or 48 as at 68 or 82.) If you don’t need the money, it doesn’t have to be for pay. But it does have to get you jazzed. Whatever work you do needs to make you want to get up in the morning. Sometimes, it can be as mundane as cleaning the garage. It may not be all day every day. but over the long haul it has to be FUN.

Balance.  One of the big differences from career years is that you can pay attention to whatever you decide is important. You’ll run out of interesting things to do in a hurry if all you focus on is what you haven’t been able to get to though.  There’s a reason you haven’t gotten to this stuff–it didn’t have the priority.  Build a lifestyle that gives you time with those you love, time to create, time to reflect, and time to play–and time to work at something meaningful.  Get your minimum daily requirement of fun. Stay open and try new things.

Flexibility.  This is the central tenet for replacing the old retirement model.  In fact, finding ways for every worker—not just the oldest ones—to have more control over when they get the work done would probably unleash a wave of creative genius and productivity to rival the Industrial Revolution. But this is not just about the work piece. Learning to adapt effectively (and gracefully!) to new developments will get you past health detours and relationship changes as well.

Curiosity. The happiest people are the ones who want to know more…. who notice that something has changed and explore why that happened….who want to meet the new person in the building….who see an unfamiliar make/model of car or a word on the page and learn about it. Life presents opportunities to be curious all day every day. It’s a matter of noticing and acting on the ones that most intrigue you. No matter what the date on your birth certificate happens to be, curiosity keeps you vibrant.

Traditional retirement is about stepping away from life into a familiar, comfortable world.  More and more research is sounding the alarm about the negative impact of doing that. We have better options. If you need to keep it in the closet for a while to be sure, do that. But you probably don’t need “Retirement.”

Life’s Little Train Wrecks

Life’s Little Train Wrecks

Over the weekend, a group for which I have written grants in the past blew up. Not literally, but in terms of the cohesion of the volunteers. One of life’s little train wrecks. Sometimes it’s a community effort, as this is. Sometimes it’s a work group. Sometimes it’s a family. What’s the lesson when it happens?

I’d like to believe that as we get older, we get better at not only staying out of the middle of this kind of stuff, but of also being peacemakers–the force that helps knit the group back together. In this case, the older ones were nowhere near that. I’m not central to this group, and my role in the weekend disaster was as a spectator. But there are positive things to learn just by watching.

The group is a niche historical society, tasked with maintaining and providing access to a lighthouse and related structures in a city park. They have been diligent over the last 25 years. Six of the seven buildings in the compound have been restored, and they are in planning to do the last one–the lighthouse itself.

One of their annual community events has been an afternoon tea at the lighthouse keeper’s cottage during the month of December. These folks weren’t spring chickens when they started doing that, and they’ve been at it a while. They’ve been thinking they needed to stop hosting the tea because they didn’t have the stamina anymore.

Then several new volunteers agreed to do the tea. Problem solved, right? It should have been. Instead it turned into this train wreck. Usually, something trivial triggers this kind of disaster. In this case, it was two words–“Holiday” and “Christmas”.

The email I watched spool out was to okay the flyer announcing the tea. What should have been a routine nod, turned into a major email argument over whether they were going to call it a “Christmas Tea” as they had since when they started doing it or a “Holiday Tea” as the team planning the event deemed appropriate.

At first it was civil: “Please change it back to Christmas.” Then people started to “vote” with more heated words. Then Santa (the guy who said he would BE Santa for the event) said he wouldn’t show up if it wasn’t “Christmas.” My thoughts ran in two directions as I watched: “This is so sad” and “This would be really funny in a sitcom.”

Except it wasn’t funny. I also don’t think it was political. (I live in the Pacific NW, a proud part of “the Left Coast.”) No, the problem was an inability to let go that the longtime members couldn’t even see in themselves and a frustration with that for the newcomers who had to use their energy and enthusiasm to deal with the roadblocks instead of the event.

I tried to defuse the situation by asking whether they were planning a community event for our diverse, current community or a reeneactment of what the lighthouse keeper would have celebrated in the early 20th century–aka “Christmas”. But it wasn’t a rational situation so that went nowhere. (Silly me.)

Eventually, one of the new volunteers forthrightly described how difficult it was for the team that was so ready to make it happen to have everything they suggested and planned shot down or stonewalled. That was brave. But it didn’t stop the wreck either. The oldsters involved have “hearing problems” that have nothing to do with their auditory acuity. No one stepped up to that truth from the old guard.

In her last sentence, she quit. I can’t help but wonder if the rest of the new volunteers will follow suit. It wasn’t about “Holiday” versus “Christmas.” It was that the old guard wasn’t able to do the work any more, but they weren’t able to let go of dictating exactly how it was to be done.

So….the lessons…

First, I do NOT want to do that. Ever. If I can’t do the work, how it’s done isn’t my call. No matter how many times I excelled at doing it in the past.

Second, peacemaking is a lot easier if people are willing to be rational, but that’s not the typical terrain in this kind of train wreck. You can try, but don’t be surprised if you get ignored.

Third, there will be differences of opinion when you’re part of a group. Respecting and addressing them is best done face to face, and, if possible, one on one. Also right away and bravely.

Fourth, some things cannot be fixed. This organization may end up folding because they are so inept at giving full status to new volunteers.

There’s no good lesson in having that happen.

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.

Ahem…about your “stuff”…

Ahem…about your “stuff”…

This is a repost from 2014. It’s still really relevant.

It’s time to admit something important. At some point, someone is going to have to deal with your “stuff”. We don’t seem to be aware of this as we keep adding belongings.  Clutter is just a fact of life, right?

We keep stuff for all kinds of reasons–  “I might need it…”  “It was Grandma’s…” “I might decide to go back into that…”  But the ongoing accumulation of “things” is a slow motion disaster.  A few weeks ago, a woman in Connecticut was killed when the floor of her house collapsed—because of the weight of the stuff she had on it.  They didn’t find her until two days later; the volume was so massive that it looked like the floor was still there when the police checked initially.

That’s an extreme case, but we’re all affected by “stuff.” If you haven’t had to deal with someone else’s after they’ve died, count yourself lucky. If you have, you know what I’m talking about. But here’s the deal. If you can’t face dealing with it, how can someone else—who knows a whole lot less about it–manage to do it after you’re gone?

My family just went through this. Six siblings plus a dear and unflinching sister-in-law hauled load after load out of my youngest brother’s 900-square-foot home for five full days. We got rid of over 100 cubic yards of “stuff.” Don’t naively assume it was just a case of walking it to the dumpster again and again either. Landfills have rules these days. You must dispose of electronics, assorted batteries, fluorescent light bulbs, oil-based paint, other hazardous materials, etc. in very specific ways—or face a fine. There’s a whole different routine for latex paint. Plus, if those doing the disposing have half a conscience about environmental stewardship, there will be trips to the local food bank, Goodwill or a similar second-hand store, and perhaps the local Habitat for Humanity ReStore to donate appropriate “stuff.” And there will be lots of trips to the recycle center.

Accumulated “stuff” is not the benign, minor flaw we want to believe it is. Letting stuff you don’t need, don’t use, and don’t care about pile up leaves less space, resources, and time for what could bring you joy now. Holding onto too many things from the past means you don’t have faith in the present–or the future. It’s also a waste of money if you’re insuring, maintaining, paying for space to keep, and otherwise lavishing resources on all that “stuff.”

My loved one didn’t set out to leave a huge mess for the rest of us to clean up. He felt he needed everything he acquired. That’s how we usually amass stuff…a teeny bit at a time, time after time. But “stuff” doesn’t go away on its own. Somebody is going to have to deal with it eventually.

All six of us siblings came home vowing “I’m not going to do that to anybody!”  So I’ve been thinking a lot about what I can do make getting rid of my “stuff” less of a burden when I depart. Everyone’s list will be unique, but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

  • Clean out the file drawers! Going through files is huge time sink for next of kin, and I can find most of what I’m keeping online if I do need it.
  • Make sure my kids really want what I’m keeping for them.
  • Whenever I learn someone needs what I’ve discovered I have (and don’t need), give it to them.
  • Mark the contents of boxes I do keep. Include a “Get rid of after ___” date to avoid going through boxes again myself when I can.
  • Donate to the food bank from my pantry. (This gets food I bought for a unique reason and then didn’t use onto someone’s plate rather than sitting on my pantry shelf until it expires.)
  • Dispose of the old paint immediately when I repaint. (But do keep the new paint for repairs.)
  • Be honest with stuff I get as gifts. If I’m not going to use it, return it, donate it, or regift it.
  • Remove anything I haven’t worn in the last year from my closet. Donate what I’m willing to part with. Put the rest in a separate stack. If I don’t wear it in another 12 months, donate it then.
  • Go through my bookshelves quarterly. Pass on anything I don’t expect to read again.
  • Leave notes for my loved ones about what’s what and how to get rid of it.

I want to do this right. From what I’ve seen lately, it’s a really good way to say “I love you.”