Browsed by
Tag: Coping with change

As We Change Presidents…..

As We Change Presidents…..

It’s just a new President.  Really.  The Constitution is still in place.  The Congress is still there.  (I was going to say “functioning”, but that would be a new development of late.)  The Judiciary branch is still doing its thing.  We have just changed one piece of this amazing puzzle of a democracy that has worked so well for over 200 years.  The sky is not falling.  Really.  It may be rattling a bit with the change in how the wind is blowing, but it’s not falling.

The angst with this particular election outcome is unique.  It’s as if the whole country has forgotten that one party wins and the other loses every time we do this.  To the “victors” each time comes the hopes that they are going to get things exactly as they want.  To the “defeated” comes the frustrating truth that they will have to wait.  And that’s never the way it turns out.  Neither party ever gets  things exactly as they wanted!  Because we are all part of this.  Not just the “winners.”

It’s as if people are assuming the President is an absolute ruler who does whatever he wants and has the right and the role to change whatever he chooses.  Donald Trump may even believe that.  It doesn’t matter.  That’s not the way we roll as the United States of America.

This is about ALL of us doing what we can to make this country a place we can all live together–fairly and at peace with each other.

If you want a great country, add some effort of your own.  Little easy things can help a lot.  Donald Trump may say he is going to Make America Great Again.  But that ain’t gonna happen if it’s just him trying to pull it off.  Particularly if what he thinks would be “great” isn’t what the rest of us have in mind.

If you refuse to do anything to improve the situation because you hate Donald Trump, you’re missing the point:  It’s not his country!  It belongs to all of us.  Refusing to make things better because he is part of the picture makes about as much sense as refusing to plant a garden because you don’t want to eat the peas you spouse always plants.  SAVOR THE REST!

Martha Beck once wrote: “The happier you are, the more joyful the whole world becomes.”  At a minimum, do something to generate joy.  In  your loved ones.  In  yourself.  In the people you meet while waiting in line for your coffee.  We can start to turn this around just by being nice to people every time we can.

We do not need to let this become a war.  If we become happy enough, Donald Trump will be superfluous.  If he truly is about “making America great again” even he would be happy with that.

Come on!  Smile at somebody!


Grieving by Peeling Onions

Grieving by Peeling Onions

Sometimes you have to peel onions–not to make stew, to make sense of what’s just happened.

Last week, my youngest brother died unexpexctedly. It was a massive coronary event and we’ve been assured he didn’t suffer. But he only got half of the “Live long; die fast” mantra to work. He wasn’t even 60 yet.

Shock comes first. Deep sadness quickly after. Then a whole bunch of stuff that you never expected that feels an awful lot like peeling onions. When your family dynamics get adjusted, lots of stuff bubbles up through the new cracks.

I am part of a fiercely loyal family with seven kids. We take care of each other, whether it was running for help when a neighborhood bully was hurting a sibling at the playground or anteing up to cover expenses for someone who truly needed an assist. That doesn’t mean the relationships have all been smooth as gourmet ice cream. That was particularly true of this brother since he had both physical and mental health challenges of significant proportions.

So in addition to the sadness of losing a family member, there are assorted versions of relief, some of which don’t feel very noble.  I am relieved that he won’t have to go into assisted living.  We weren’t even sure we could find a place that would accept someone with as many challenges as he had.  I am relieved that he got “home safe.”  He lived life differently than most and that made him vulnerable to physical attack from someone bigger and afraid of those differences.  But I am also relieved that I don’t have to worry about what he will need next.  That’s the not-so-noble one.  They are all part of peeling the onion.

What I definitely did not expect was the flood of memories that have come that have nothing directly to do with this brother.  He wasn’t even in the band.  But in talking with one of my other brothers, the memory of a band director who died in my junior year of high school returned.  My brother worshipped him and still does.  I thought his death was a miracle.  Much as I didn’t have the words then–and was way too naïve to use my brain to figure it out–I knew the man was grooming me.  Now we call those people sexual predators, and they go to jail.  When I was in Catholic high school?  Not gonna happen.  But then he died and I was safe.  Why is my other brother’s death making me experience all that again?

There are other traumas, experienced long ago and buried that are bubbling back up now, too.  I was not ready for that, but I need to let it happen.  Perhaps my outer shell is more easily cracked because of the primary loss.  Perhaps it’s just time.

I want to honor my brother for who he was–and he was a rarity.  He was amazing with his grasp of physics and mathematics.  The web of fantasy he constructed inside our reality was in a class by itself.  He was not a “regular guy” but he was, even with the distortions his mental illness caused, a good person.

He is giving me something in death that I could never had gotten out of conversation with him.  His death has presented the chance to peel another onion–to go deeper into who I am because of what I have already experienced.

I will miss him–do miss him.  And I will keep on peeling onions.  I promise.


Getting Fired

Getting Fired

A month ago I got fired. Not from a job (that’s one of the perks of working for yourself–you get immunity from being fired). No, I got fired from a romantic relationship. Once it happened, it was obvious that doing what I’d been so committed to doing was way off course for me personally. But I had to get fired to learn that.  And that got me thinking about getting fired in general.

Sometimes, the firing really isn’t fair, right, or reasonable.  Those are really hard to get past because the hurt seems so legitimate.  But most of the time, getting fired also means that what you were doing was not a good fit for who you are.  Perhaps it was a matter of skills.  Perhaps it was a matter of personality.  Perhaps it was a matter of motivation.  Perhaps it was a matter of morals (and yours may have been higher than theirs). Regardless, it was a case of a bad fit.

I will not pretend this is easy.  Your ego takes a massive hit, and you may end up asking yourself “Am I good for anything?”  The answer is YES.  And that’s the beauty of getting fired.  That event removes the major obstacle to finding the right place to be…the right work, the right “significant other,” the right group of friends, whatever you got “fired” from.  Getting fired from what really wasn’t a good fit for you gives you a wide open shot at finding what is.

It’s embarrassing to get fired though–especially for those of us who joined the workforce when it was pretty rare and usually the result of flagrantly bad behavior when it did happen.  But embarrassment is temporary and the opportunity that results can make a huge positive difference for the rest of your life.

So back to my own recent firing…

Since that event, I have rediscovered myself in numerous delightful ways.  I have more energy.  I get up excited about the day and spend it trying to make a difference somehow.   I have reconnected with an unexpectedly large number of people I’d lost track of for the sake of “the relationship.”  I am doing things my way and loving the space I’m in as a result.  I am connecting with nature when I am out in it (instead of worrying about “keeping up” or “why isn’t he talking to me?”).  I am more alive.  Far more alive.

That potential resides in every firing-even if it looks bleak beyond words.  Sometimes, the Universe gives us a good swift kick instead of a gentle nudge when it’s time to do something different.  at some point, you will probably find yourself fired.  Be grateful.  It a painful, embarrassing, but incredibly effective shortcut to being something much, much better.


It’s About Time

It’s About Time

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.


Life Goes On. Go With It.

Life Goes On. Go With It.

No one is immune from the occasional cosmic gut punch. Stuff happens in every life that’s life threatening, gut-wrenching, and/or soul crushing. We’re dazed initially when it happens, but eventually, we literally need to come back to Life.

There is no better place to remember this than at Mount St. Helens.  I had the chance to hike there this week.  Seeing what’s going on there 33 years after its own cosmic gut punch was amazing.

On May 18, 1980 at 8:32 AM Pacific Time, this previously  dormant volcano in Washington’s Cascade Mountains roared to life with stunning devastation.  The top 1500 feet of the mountain slumped off the north side after a 5.1 earthquake.  Horrendous volcanic explosions that hurled rocks and hot gases at over 300 miles per hour followed in seconds.  The heat of that caused the snow and  ice on the mountain to melt, resulting in massive mud flows that swept a slurry of muddy water, ice, rocks, and trees over the landscape and into local lakes and rivers.

The blast downed or killed over 217 square miles of timber.  Virtually every bird in the vicinity, most of the mammals, and many of the fish died.  The debris was as much as 150 feet deep.  At the end of that day, the devastation  was complete.  The landscape was as inhospitable as the moon. Much of the mountain still looks that way:

Mount St. Helens hike 001

The dome in the center near was is now the top of the mountain grew after that unbelievable day.  The volcano spewed lava for six years, but in more subdued fashion.  It’s quiet now, but still on fire inside.  The dark area shows how much the debris has been carved by ground water in the ensuing years.

Thirty-three years isn’t even a nanosecond in terms of geologic time.  In the grand scheme of seismic change, it’s like we are still in the same moment the mountain blew up.  But if you look closer (or in this case, behind you), the evidence that life goes on is all around at Mount St. Helens.

The area is now a National Volcanic Monument, and the US Forest Service does a nice job of explaining how the volcanic apocalypse happened–and what happened immediately after.  Even when the entire mountain was convulsing, pocket gophers were safely burrowed underground.  When the violence stopped, they started digging out.  That action shoved dormant seeds to the surface.  Within weeks, those had sprouted, and plants were starting to grow.

Some of the fish avoided the catastrophe because they were below the ice of a still frozen lake, which helped moderate the impact of the heat.  Once the lake thawed fully later, their existence continued as if nothing had happened.

But even in the lakes where everything had been killed, life returned with unexpected speed.  On land, mammals and birds carried seeds from beyond the blast zone back on hooves and feathers or in intestines, giving even more plants the chance to germinate and grow.  And now, not even four decades after the blast, Mount St. Helens has more a more biodiversity than it did before the top blew off.

Yes, the timber companies harvested many of the downed trees and planted many more to replace them.  Yes, it looks different.  But life really has gone on at Mount St. Helens.  The day we were there, wildflowers were screaming their colors in the sun all along the trail.


Mount St. Helens hike 008

The red of Indian paintbrush, the fragrant lavender blue of prairie lupine, a variety of different yellow flowers dancing happily in the breeze and even an occasional young spruce tree made the place look like a garden.  Entire forests of alder trees have grown up.  (Alders create a better soil for later trees.)

You can’t get much more destruction than what went on at Mount St. Helens in 1980.  And yet, life there is back without hesitation.

That’s such a great lesson.

Even if what happened is awful.  Even if what it left you with is far “less” than what you had before, go on.  Be part of life.  It might be different, but it can still be rich and diverse and beautiful.


Having Enough Time

Having Enough Time

All that angst about “not having enough time” is supposed to go away when we retire, right? Well…

For the last couple months I’ve been struggling to “find the time” for things I really want to get done.  I’ve also been feeling guilty about not getting to the “shoulds” (like dusting).  A lot of stuff is just not happening.  It’s not because I have a major project at work that’s burning holes in my own choices.  I have been captain of my clock for almost 20 years now.  You’d think I’d have it figured out.

I don’t.  But when I started to look at it more closely this morning, I made a startling discovery.  Maybe “having enough time” is the wrong way to look at it.

We all have “enough time”–we are blessed 24 hours every day.  You don’t get 27 hours because you need it as a young parent, or 18 hours because you’re tired of it all and waiting to die.  24 hours is it.  It’s how we manage it that makes the difference.  Depending on your personality, this may be a conscious thing or it may not.

I am a planner.  I make specific decisions about how I am going to spend that 24 hours.  I make a list of what I want to get done every day.  I cross stuff off when I get it accomplished.  My sweetheart rarely does lists.  He’s a lot more casual about whether something gets done or not.   At the bottom of it though, we are both making choices all day long about how we spend our time.

One of the things that bugs me most about the current version of “retirement” is the boast by retirees that “I’m so busy I don’t know how I ever had time to work.”  It’s not about being busy.  It’s about filling your 24 hours each day with what you really value.

I finally realized this morning that the dilemma for me is that I have a hard time making peace between what I want to “get done” and the things that come along on a spontaneous basis that have more value.

In the last two weeks, my list has been ursurped by helping decorate the nursery for a soon-to-arrive new grandson, a trip to the zoo with my granddaughters, hours of televised sporting events as part of Father’s Day, and a hike in Mount Rainier National Park on a glorious sunny Summer Soltstice.

Every one of the things that I did instead of spending time on the important projects really was more important.  But I’m giving myself a stress pill by fretting over what didn’t get done because I did those things.

Not so very smart, I agree.

But what’s a better approach?

This morning I finally saw the light: see it as the budgeting process it is.  Cutting out the little time wasters can help.  E-mail, especially forwarded stuff, needs to be demoted.  Forgetting how to get the Spider Solitaire game to load would be good.

I need to stop pretending I can do it all.  When the unexpected requires resources, the original plan has to change–be it with money or time.  Maybe it’s a timeline I set for myself on a writing project that needs to be stretched,  Maybe it’s putting a “creative fun” project on hold for a little while.

But  I’m concerned with just leaving it at these kinds of solutions.  I’ve done this before, and eventually I start to resent that I’m getting to what everyone else needs of me but not to my own interests.

That’s where the “Ah ha!” occurred this morning.  When I was managing operations in the gas industry, one of my most unexpected challenges was teaching the guys I supervised that it’s no better to be way under budget than to be way over.  When you’re under budget, the company holds back resources you say you’ll need that could have been used elsewhere.  Something that could happen didn’t because you said you needed those dollars.

It’s the same deal with time management.  It’s wiser to live near the tipping point between “enough time” and “not enough time.” on an on-going basis. Living well does not come from “getting everything done.”  It comes from using your time on the things you value.  Sometimes that’s going to be on the “to do” list and sometimes it’s not.

That means a granddaughter’s excitement over a hippopatomus trumps getting a blog post up. And that is just fine.


Solving the REAL Problem

Solving the REAL Problem

Fifty percent of good problem solving is knowing what the problem is. Too often, that step gets lost in the rush to make things “right.”  When that happens, instead of solving a problem, you just create more.

How do we miss on figuring out what’s wrong in the first place?  Lots of ways!

On the top of that list is the tendency to assume that a symptom is the problem itself.  It’s wet under your sink.  If you assume that’s the problem, then you will just mop up the water.  Problem solved?  Not really.  If it’s wet under your sink, something is leaking.  If you don’t find and fix the leak, the water will collect under the sink again and again, eventually rotting the wood.

It’s also easy to assume you know what is causing that symptom.  I had a nice little reminder of that last week.  I recently recoupled in terms of living arrangements and we are living in his house.  So all the peculiarities are new and different.  When the whole house circulating fan went on after I’d started my morning routine in the bathroom a few days ago, it included a rather irritating rattle, which kept going and going  and going.

I assumed it was the ceiling fan and went on with the teeth brushing, face washing, etc.  It was only when I had finished and opened a drawer to put away my hair brush that I found the real cause of the problem.  Once the drawer was opened, the rattle became much louder.  And when I investigated, I discovered I’d accidentally turned on the little battery powered gadget that takes fuzz off your clothing.

That example isn’t a big deal.  We hadn’t spent hundreds–or even thousands–of dollars to get the “not real” problem assessed and “repaired.”  But there have also been several situations where that kind of expense was involved.  Both were related to health care.

My significant other has a genetically transmitted kidney condition.   He does a great job of managing his diet and his lifestyle so that it’s not an issue for him.  But when he gets sick, the medical community automatically assumes it’s because of this condition.

The first time I was witness to this, the eventual diagnosis was pneumonia.   The second time, they ordered a series of high risk and expensive ($5000 a shot) injections to help his kidneys work with his blood.  Even when there was no improvement, they kept going.  The side effects of this treatment are serious–an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, for starters.

Eventually, the situation got so bad that he ended up in the emergency room and then admitted to the hospital.  And that’s when they took the time to find the real problem, which was a no-longer-indolent lymphoma that they’d noticed several years before.

We need to do better at diagnosing problems.  Right now, the Democrats have diagnosed the budget shortfall as not bringing enough money in.  The Republicans see it as a matter of spending too much.  It is both, but nothing is being done to solve the problem because neither side is willing to expand their diagnosis.

So what do we do about this as plain ordinary people?  Try not to fall into those same traps with your own problem solving, certainly.  But we can also serve as the “double check” with others making decisions on our behalf.

Ask questions to force those service providers to go beyond what they are assuming:

  • If a doctor says “Well, that’s just because of your XYZ disease ask”If I had not already been diagnosed with XYZ disease, what would you do to figure out my current health problem?”
  • If your mechanic tells you your car is just getting old, ask “If this car weren’t ten years old, what would you recommend?”
  • If your financial advisor says “The market is too unpredictable.  We can’t invest now.” ask “How do other advisors keep people invested in this kind of climate?”

It’s easy to see others’ shortcomings–and frustrating to have to deal with them when they are affecting our own quality of life.  But this is not a solo difficulty.  As a culture, we are used to instant fixes, be it while playing a video game or ordering a new bike off the internet in the middle of the night.

We all need to take more time to be sure we understand the problem we are trying to fix.  When you do, it increases the odds of it staying fixed once you address it considerably.

What’s the Point?

What’s the Point?

Having a sense of purpose is a key element to living well. That’s easy to say—or write.  But actually connecting with that purpose and staying true to it is a whole different ballgame.

Purpose can be elusive, especially if you are the kind of person who changes a lot over time.  Usually all that changing includes new directions in what you believe to be the point of being here at all. As you mature spiritually and emotionally, your sense of what your life is about gets deeper and more complex.  Unless, of course you get distracted by…well….living.

It’s not full speed ahead toward that point on the horizon even if you do have a clear sense of why you’re on the planet. I just read of a couple who’d survived two nights on Mount Rainier—in January–after getting lost on what was supposed to be an easy snowshoe trek.  Whatever their purpose was before they faced that peril, it was suspended while they dug snow caves, climbed steep slopes in the snow, and otherwise focused all their energy on surviving the immediate moment.  Now that they did survive, their sense of purpose will most likely be permanently different.

My point?  As you move through life, your assessment of “what’s the point?” is going to change.  Acknowledging that is a good start toward keeping yourself both focused and satisfied.

Here’s an example:  when you first have kids, your purpose is to parent them.  But as they grow, your purpose on their behalf changes.  Sure, you still love them, encourage them, and make sure they have the resources you can help them find to move toward being happy, successful adults.  But you go from being the center of that child’s universe to being the font of all solutions to being a coach, then a cheerleader, and ultimately, a proud spectator.  Parents who don’t understand that their parenting purpose changes end up hurt, angry, and worse.

When your purpose changes and you’re not in sync with that change, you won’t feel settled.  It can make you restless or irritable or even angry.  If those unpleasant emotions pop up without you being able to put a finger on “why,” you may want to take a look at what’s going on with your sense of purpose.

There are also a few things you can do to strengthen your sense of purpose at its core. In A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose Eckhart Tolle distinguishes between your internal purpose, which drives you toward ever higher evolution emotionally/spiritually, and an external purpose that addresses your contribution to the greater good as a worker, leader, teacher, whatever.   It’s that external purpose that morphs again and again.  Knowing your internal purpose at those times can keep your life satisfying.

When you think about “purpose,” think dynamically.  Your sense of what you are here to do today will probably not be anywhere close to what you are focusing on in ten years.  But also, think authentically.  In Finding Your Way in a Wild New World Martha Beck recommends starting with your first answer to “What’s the point?” and digging deeper by asking successive questions that come from your previous answer until you get to the one that doesn’t produce another question.   Then you’re at your core—at least according to Martha.

Here’s how it looked when I tried it:
When I started focusing on retirement issues, the answer to “Why am I doing this?” was “Because I’m furious with our cultural norm for how we treat people who are old enough to retire.”  That answer produced the question “Why am I angry about that?” To that I answered “I’m angry because we all lose by doing it this way.  More health problems, more social problems, and all that talent and experience wasted.”

Okay, so “Why am I upset about what society chooses to waste?”  The answer to that was “There’s a better way that would benefit us all and I want to help bring that about.”

“And what’s the point of me being involved in that?”  Well…”I need to help.  I need to solve problems.”

Okay, now I’m to something intrinsic to me. I can use that awareness a lot of different ways.  The point of my whole life is “How can I help?”  I’m not here to be an “expert.”  I’m not here to sell gazillions of books.  I’m here to help.  Very soothing to know when my life gets crazy—or confusing.

Knowing there’s more than one version of purpose and understanding your core (or internal) purpose can make life more serene and satisfying—whether you are just stepping into adulthood or planning what you want to do in your 90th year.


New Years Resolutions…Yes or No?

New Years Resolutions…Yes or No?

A brand new year. What a great time to renew our vows to do all the things we were going to do to make our lives better last year…and the year before…and …

The turning of the year is the perfect time to take stock of where you are trying to go. That part of the old “new year’s resolutions” idea is definitely worth keeping. But the resolutions themselves? Well, maybe we need to take a closer look at that.

It’s easy to make a list of how you want to be better. But is it going to motivate you to do anything more than writing it? A list concentrates all that stuff you think you need to “fix” into one massive dose of self-improvement. That’s a good way to feel pretty inadequate in a hurry.

There’s room to question the whole negative motivation thing, too. Negative motivation is only as strong as the negative consequence. So if you aren’t feeling any real pain because you haven’t gotten to it, committing anew to getting it done is pretty likely to give you more of the same.

Still, it would be nice to get on with some of this stuff—all of this stuff, actually. What’s a good way to use the new year to motivate yourself?

Figure out what usually makes you get things done. If making a list and checking off completed tasks works for you, then that list is a fine idea. But if you get things done by someone else’s deadline, committing to a buddy, or dealing with one change at a time, something other than a list as your New Year’s plan might be wiser.

Be clear about what you can change. It’s so tempting to “want it all” but that can ruin the whole effort. Choose things you value that you truly want to make happen. And be realistic. You are not going to overhaul your personality, your financial situation, and your love life in one twelve month period. In fact some things are never going to change.

Accept that change often comes from messy beginnings. There are times when the change you need to make arrives as an ill-defined, disconcerting restlessness. We’ve all been encouraged to write those measurable, achievable goals. But we don’t always evolve as humans in that orderly, concise manner. If what you need to do is muck around, get on with it instead of trying to jump over the messy part by setting a bunch of easy-to-assess but irrelevant goals.

When you don’t know where you are going, writing a bunch of instructions for getting there (i.e. “New Year’s resolutions”) is a waste of time. In that situation, trying to do one thing every day that addresses what you believe in or want more of in your life might work better. Make it small, doable, and something that you can get done in the time you have each day. It might be as small as spending two minutes (literally) thinking about where you want to take your life. But do something.

New Year’s resolutions too easily become “big deals” that are impossible to accomplish in the crush of everyday life. Then they are de-motivators instead of positive tools for helping yourself change. Using this time of year to assess what you’re doing with your life is a great idea. Limiting yourself to a list of “resolutions” as the outcome? Not so much.

Go beyond the tradition and incorporate an awareness of what it takes to help yourself succeed in how you go about it and what you choose. Maybe this year, see what happens if you make the commitment more flexible. When you get off track–and we all do, just pick up the process again once you notice you’re not doing it. (If it’s important enough to want to change in the first place, you will notice.)

That which isn’t growing is dying. Working toward creating something more than what you currently have in your life is wise and good. But don’t set yourself up to fail—and feel like a failure–by making an impressive list of things you don’t really need to do, want to do, or know how to do.

Yeah, baby! We’re looking at a brand new year again. What do you want to do with it?


Beginnings Are Messy

Beginnings Are Messy

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.

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.