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Archive for August, 2012

Be (All of) Who You Are

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

“Be who you are” is a tall order. It’s easy to lose track of the things that resonate for you when you are in the middle of dealing with other people’s needs–which is often for most of us.

But letting what you need and how you like to live your life get lost in the shuffle is a lose/lose proposition.  When you aren’t authentic, you lose your zest for life, your ability to rebound, and your enthusiasm for getting on with whatever you are trying to get done.  Plus putting yourself on the shelf not only makes your own life less, it makes you less effective with others.

Being who you are is not a matter of insisting on wearing designer clothes and carrying a wad of cash in your wallet.  I’m not talking personal style here–even though that can be a piece of it.  Being who you are means looking at the world through your own eyes and chosing from Life’s buffet according to what suits your fancy whenever you can.

I just relearned this lesson.  For the last six months’ I’ve been focused on “renesting.”  That’s been mostly “Organized Mary” putting things away and get on with eliminating the clutter that comes when you pull everything you own out of all the nooks and crannies you’ve been hiding it in.  I thought I was doing well with just letting “Organized Mary” boss me around.

But this last week, two other pieces of me finally resurfaced and my quality of life has grown exponentially.  I’d been ignoring both the “Playbaby Mary” and “Outdoor Girl” facets of who I am.  Those two provide me with some of my broadest smiles.

I reconnected with “Playbaby Mary” because of my older sister, an amazing fiber artist.  She and I went on vacation together a couple of winters ago. The fun on the trip included an “art village” where lots of local artists exhibited.  “Playbaby Mary” was particularly intrigued with some mixed media work that included pieces of felted material.  I wanted to create felted material, but had no idea how.

My big sis knew in detail and explained it to me.  I was intrigued but still had no idea how to start.  When we got home, I e-mailed questions.  She sent me a book.  Wow.  The possibilities for what I could do with the technique multiplied.

I tried it with supplies I could find from my own meager sense of what was out there.  No much luck with that–and I reported that back.  At which point, bless her heart, she sent me a delightful collection of roving (fibers that have been cleaned and brushed into strands so that you can make yarn or felt with them).  What a cornucopia!

Then life intervened and all that wonderful play stuff just sat.  And sat.  And sat.  Every week I would write “Try felting” on my list of what I was going to do, and every week it didn’t get done.  Every time I saw the tub of goodies, I felt sad.

Last week was my birthday.  I do give myself permission to do whatever I want on my birthday.  And I tried felting!  I love the process and want to do more.  And I will, because now I remember that doing that kind of “exploring” is part of who I am.  I am much happier when I honor that, even if just for a hour (and hopefully, not just on my birthday).

Reclaiming “Outdoor Girl” was just as surprising.  Lately, I’ve been doing”easy” hikes and telling myself I was not in shape to do more.  (My current definition of an easy hike is “five miles or less with less than 800 feet of elevation gain.”)  Last Friday, I agreed to do six miles with 2200 feet of elevation gain.  As a kicker, some of the uphill was on the way back.  (When you are dog tired, any uphill seems like scaling a cliff.)

It was a glorious day, the wildflowers were going crazy, and it was great to be out with my friends.  But I won’t pretend the hike was easy.  I knew I’d asked a lot of my body when we were done.  However, the most amazing thing happened once we were off the mountain.  That evening, I went out dancing and was full of energy.  The next day I felt like I could conquer the world.  Doing that hard hike has given me a whole different level of energy–one I would still be missing of I’d continued to ignore “Outdoor Girl.”

“Being who you are” is one of life’s constant challenges.  What parts of yourself are you ignoring right now?  Any chance you can work in at least a teeny bit of time for letting that part of you take the forefront?  Life will be a lot sweeter if you can find a way.


“Should” versus “Want To”

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

Doing the things that “should” get done at the expense of the fun is a drag.  But you won’t get very far in life if you just do the fun stuff either.  Where is the sweet spot on this continuum between “gotta” and “wanna?”  More to the point, how do I get back to it when I am once again off in my “favorite” part of this particular patch of weeds?

I am very good at “gotta.”  For much of my life the word “should” has been the organizing principle of my entire existence.  A lot of those “shoulds” were unavoidable.  You should show up for work when you’re expected to.  You should feed your kids nutritious meals.  You should go to the dentist regularly.

But there are a lot of shoulds that I just let be important when they really weren’t.  I made myself crazy–and still do–trying to do a bunch of stuff that nobody cares about, including me.  I just do it because I said I would. Who said you really need to do everything you said you would? Is there more wiggle room on that than I am giving myself?

I really wish I could find a permanent innoculation against this proliferation of “because I said I would.” I waste so much of what could be lovely time focusing on those “shoulds” instead of what’s really important.  The beautiful first moments of a winter dawn go unnoticed if I’m stewing about a report that no one will read while I drive to work.  I’m not included in the joy of the kids in the park when I’m rushing to run an errand near-by and don’t even hear them having fun.  I miss so many real, easy, everyday miracles for the sake of “should.”

While writing this, I’ve finally realized that “should” is not the opposite of “should not.”  Should is the opposite of “want to.”  Do I really want to do this “should?”  Do I really need to spend my time doing that rather than something that brings me more joy or helps someone I care about or makes a bigger difference to the world than this “should” I’m so focused on?

These are not just the archaic June Cleaver “shoulds” of the last century.  At the moment, my “shoulds” are mostly electronic.  I “should” do a blog post.  I should figure out how to get the photo files set up on the new computer.  I should do another backup. I should check sales numbers. I should get my business on Twitter. On Facebook. On whatever they dream up next as a social networking option.

The list is endless.  What I need to teach myself is that it’s also pointless.  Shoulds should not automatically and immediately be done.  Once something feels like a “should” it’s a warning signal.  Something in your life has changed priority and you need to see what’s behind that.  Feeling like you “should” instead of like you want to do the thing that you’re spending your time, focus, and energy on is a red flag.

What’s behind that lack of interest, that sense of duty in lieu of excitement about the task? If my heart isn’t in it, there’s a reason. Finding that reason is the only real purpose of a “should.”

Yeah! A Nice Political Discussion!

Thursday, August 16th, 2012

Miracles do happen. A recently released book confirms it. But let me lay some groundwork before I get to that:

I am a political agnostic, choosing to steer clear of any and all dialogue about “what this country needs” because so much of what’s said these days is full of vitriol, diatribe, and arrogance.

It seems there is no “we” in our political conversations.  It’s an all-out ideological war. I–and, according to the book, many others–have lost faith in those who claim to be working toward the common good. What we see of them makes them look like a bunch of liars, cheats, and oversized egos.

So when my brother recommended a book written by an outspoken Democrat and a loyal Republican, my first reaction was “Ewww…” But he kept telling me how much he was enjoying the book, so finally I gave in and took a look.

America, You Sexy Bitch has the subtitle “A Love Letter to Freedom.” The authors? As described on the book flap, they are “a married, forty-year-old, gun-fearing, atheist, Democrat comedian, the son of a lesbian Social Security employee” and “a single, twentysomething, gun-loving, Christian, Republican writer and blogger and daughter of a Senator and 2008 Republican presidential nominee. Thus began my journey with Michael Ian Black and Megan McCain.

And literally, it was a journey. The book is about a trip they took together across America. Barely knowing each other, they agreed to do a month-long, cross-country tour…much of it in an old RV…to find out what everyday Americans think of “the state of the Union.”

In addition to talking to everyone from cowboys to strippers to anarchists and touring everything from Graceland to the Zappos headquarters in Las Vegas, they end up talking to each other. A lot.

And that is what is so priceless about this book. It is an honest dialogue between two very different people about what they believe and why they believe it that ends with them being honest-to-god friends.

The great thing about reading it as a book is the perfect balance between the two sets of ideas. Megan writes an entry. Then Michael writes an entry. Some of them have to do with what they are doing or seeing at the point in the trip. Some of them are about what each feels and thinks about a particular issue. Some of them are about tiffs between them or problems on the road. But none of them are a rant about the wrongness of the other or the stupidity of a given point of view.

I’m not sure which I treasured most–their honesty, the two different styles of humor, or the respect they gave each other in the book they created. What an incredible breath of fresh air.

The two of them have gotten me thinking about my own stubbornness regarding politics, too. I shut down when someone starts to push their political agenda whether it’s a meeting with casual acquaintances or hiking with dear friends. I want to believe that common courtesy requires far less of this kind of discourse than we have.

But maybe that’s not as good a solution as I thought. When I step back and tune out, I lose the opportunity to hear what someone else is thinking about some issue. I lose the chance to expand my own grasp of what’s going on by adding that person’s perspective to what I already know.

I’d like to believe that every politician just needs to read this book and they will be healed of the “we/they” toxicity that’s so pervasive right now. That’s not likely. But at least I know now that two outspoken members of the opposing parties can have a real conversation.


A Budget? Really?

Monday, August 6th, 2012

Are you as far out in left field about budgeting as I’ve managed to get? I’ve discovered I’ve been making some highly counterproductive assumptions.

As in: You only have to budget when you don’t have enough money.  For a while now, I’ve wrong-headedly taken the position that successful people don’t have to pay attention to what they are spending.  It’s easy to believe that in our culture.  Even the US Congress avoids getting on with it.

In doing that, we’re missing the whole point of the process. Knowing how to spend money–balancing what’s coming in and going out–is probably one of the top five life skills. That’s what budgeting really is.

But I’ve been confusing budgeting with “don’t spend any money.”  Oops.

When I took over a line management job in the natural gas industry years ago, I was blessed with a great set of supervisors who had most of what needed to done well in hand.  The one big thing I needed to get them to change was the way they budgeted.  They always said they needed more money than they spent.  This was considered saintly, but it was actually costing the company money.  The money you need to operate on has to remain liquid.  You can’t use it for other opportunities or put it in a higher-yielding financial vehicle.

The same is true for personal budgeting, especially in retirement.  If you spend the money you have mindlessly on day to day stuff that doesn’t make a real difference in your quality of life, you don’t have it when the opportunity for that dream month in Tuscany comes along.  Not paying attention to what you are spending and how dooms you to mediocrity at best.

It can also make you a lot poorer than you have to be. Budgeting helps you keep your resources focused on what’s most important to you.   But most of us think of it more like a diet.  We even phrase it the same way.  We put ourselves on a diet—or a budget.  It’s the drastic step needed because of a previous lack of discipline.

What a waste of a good process.

Think of it as a wise financial nutrition plan rather than a diet.  Crash diets don’t work very well, and neither does crash budgeting.  You starve yourself to shed those pounds—or save that cash.  Then you get weary of denying yourself, and pretty soon you weigh what you did before you started—or your bank account has shrunk back to its former puny size.

A nutrition plan is about taking good care of yourself not “losing weight” (or “saving money”).  You look at what you want to achieve overall and figure out the best way to get that done.  The actions themselves are positive rather than some version of privation.

The big thing missing from the “don’t spend money” approach is that it’s not set up to look at whether what you’re spending money on is satisfying.  You might be cutting out the equivalent of your favorite kind of ice cream and leaving the calories for bread pudding—which you happen to hate—intact.  Life is better if we learn to pay attention to how we are alloting our resources .

The essentials usually make a big difference, so they will naturally be part of what you choose.  Not having a place to sleep is unthinkable for most of us.  Having something to eat ranks right up there as a priority.  But each of us is going to see the rest of where the available money should go a little differently.  Part of the decision is, of course, how much you have to work with.  But part is also what you like most and what else you want to spend your money on.

Learning to manage any limited resource—money, time, emotional energy, physical stamina—improves your quality of life.  When you are maximizing what you do with what you have, you’re richer, regardless of how much of it you have.

If you don’t like the nutrition analogy, go with how my son (the finance guy) sees it.  To him, budgeting is a roadmap. “This is where we want to go; so we need to take this road—and then this one and this one—to get there.”

If you’ve never used a budget and need some help to get going, there are plenty of resources out there.  Surf online, talk to a financial advisor, or browse either real or virtual bookshelves for ways to go about it.

Finding the sweet spot between never buying something lovely and indulging yourself every time is a worthy effort.  If you view budgeting as a form of self-care rather than being denied, it becomes a very handy tool indeed.  Excuse me while I go work on mine….