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Archive for March, 2013

To Plan or Not to Plan?

Thursday, March 28th, 2013

At the moment I am on the road–with a guy who prides himself on not planning. I am a planner. A very good planner.  When I take charge of something, it gets done–right, on time, under budget…all that.

So far, I have not gone into catatonic shock in this effort to not plan, but I am starting to ask myself some important questions. As in “How much of this trip should I really be doing his way?  Am I denying who I am in an effort to “get along?”  And the really scary one–“What do I gain by not getting it my way when I don’t?”

Maybe they are questions we all need to ask ourselves every once in a while.

I decided to try “his way” on this trip just to see if I could learn to be more relaxed about how I travel.  But this version is a whole lot less relaxing for me.  It’s the same issue we have with laundry.  He thinks it’s easier to do it when he runs out of clean clothes.  I do mine so that I always have clean clothes–which makes life simpler for me.  I don’t discover I need a certain pair of jeans washed twenty minutes before I want to put them on.

On a trip, when he doesn’t plan and I don’t plan, we end up checking into a dumpy motel at the end of the day exhausted by what we ended up having to do to get that far.   We pay way too much for the lousy lodging.  We miss things along the way that we might have liked to see because we didn’t know they were there.  We didn’t tag up with friends and family living nearby because we didn’t bring their contact information along.  But we do have total flexibility and plenty of room for spontaneity.  So it really is a matter of trade offs.

So I guess that’s what I’ve learned this time:  This “not planning” is harder, more expensive, and seems to me to net us less interesting days.  I’m not in favor of planning every second in advance–or even every day.  But thinking more about what might be part of where we are going and checking information about what that would add/subtract just makes for a more refined product–vacation.  But that’s me.  He’s just in favor of hitting the open road and seeing what happens.

So why are we doing it all his way?

Well…I said I would this time, and that’s a biggie for me.  I agreed to do this trip with minimal planning.  But there’s more.  I have spent two weeks making my own life more stressed for the sake of him having everything the way he likes it–every day.  What’s with that?  Why am I not admitting what I need and asking for it?

It is with horror that I have to admit that I am still running the old tapes…You know, the ones about the high priority of pleasing your man.  Argh!!!!!  That is not what I want to do.

How to Be Old

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013

Old has so many definitions, but what I’m looking at here is how we advance in years. And I have become a bit of a snob about it. This surprises me since a few years ago I was rather put off with a local newspaper columnist when she pronounced “I’m not interested in interviewing anyone unless they are over 70.”

Now I’m limiting my own admiration for amazing things done in advanced age, to people not over 70…or even 80. I save my awe for what folks in their 90’s are doing.

My first dose of this was a newspaper article about a local retired teacher that came out a couple months ago. This nonagenarian is just doing what she likes to do but she’s still going strong and making a huge difference to young readers with her effort.

After she retired, she decided to volunteer as a reading tutor with kids who were having problems. But as she worked with these kids, she realized the materials available weren’t what the kids really needed. So she created her own materials.

Cool, huh? That was just the start. The materials worked so well that teachers in the schools noticed and wanted the resource themselves.  So with the help of her daughter–who did the illustrations–she made them into a formal set of materials. GoPhonics was born.

When I read the article, she was just embarking on even another step–to create a program for teaching teachers how to use those materials–because that’s what is needed now. Sylvia Davison is in her 90’s. You would never know it by how she is living her life.

Just this last weekend, I read of another amazingly active person who’s less that a decade from the century mark. Fred Oldfield is has been a commercially successful artist for over three quarters of a century, specializing in Western art,but also doing a lot of murals. He still paints, but even more amazing, he’s active in teaching kids painting and in raising money to help fund art education for kids.

Don’t picture this as doddering old guy who shuffles between his easel and his bed for a few hours every day. Don’t think this guy is just the facade for other, younger volunteers.  He still rides his horse regularly and makes his way around the Heritage Center where he teaches with the ease of someone much younger. Fred Oldfield is 95.

A recent AARP interview with Dustin Hoffman reveals I’m not the only one intrigued with these outliers of continued vibrance. Hoffman mentioned two whom he’s noticed. Manoel de Oliveira is still directing at 104. And then there’s the 94-year old guy who, after finishing a triathalon, was asked if he was going to run anymore. His reply, “Oh, yeah. I got to keep going until I get old.”

That’s a funny line, but it’s also the gyst of what’s going on with these folks. They do not see themselves as “old.” And that is the best way for all of us to advance in years. How many birthdays you’ve had is completely irrelevant to what you will be happiest doing with your time, effort, and resources.

These people are all deeply interested in something and spend a lot of time and effort on it. Age is a totally useless concept for them–at least in terms of themselves. (The ones who are working with kids may have age parameters for the kids they work with, but that’s a whole different thing.)

I preach a lot about having a sense of purpose–something to do that goes beyond your personal comfort and pleasure. That is definitely an essential piece of becoming a centenarian superstar. But there’s another piece to this that we all need as well.

We need to stop thinking the “old” thoughts. When something aches or I don’t have the energy, I can often make it go way if I’m not excited enough about what I am planning to do.  I won’t do that if I tell myself “Well, that’s just what happens when you’re my age.”  It’s way too easy in this culture to start telling yourself that!

I want to be like Grandma Moses.  She got to into painting in earnest when she was 78 and created over 1,500 canvasses before she died at the age of 101.  She went from displaying her art at a local drugstore for $3 each to national renown (and $10,000 price tags) in less than a decade. Her example is far more compelling than that of my maternal grandfather who retired from a corporate job at 65 like everyone else and then just sat there because he “had a heart condition.”  He kept breathing for another 20 years, but he wasn’t really living  them.

The more energy you use, the more you have–no matter how many candles were on your last birthday cake.  Dustin Hoffman, quoting Bill Connelly about the point of the movie Quartet in which they were both involved, had it right: “Don’t die until you’re dead.”


A Pope Versus a Budget

Wednesday, March 13th, 2013

What’s the matter with the US Congress? And the US President? In less than two full days, the globally diverse Catholic church has risen to the task before them and chosen a new pope.  That pope will be around for a fairly long time. He will set policy and be the boss for every Catholic on earth. He’s not to everyone’s liking–no one is.  Still, the Cardinals chose and got the job done.

I’m not a practicing Catholic and am not even inclined to tout them as particularly blessed in terms of skill at building a consensus.  But it does give you pause, doesn’t it?  The US Congress–and the current Administration– have yet to come up with a budget for this country.  Not just for this year.  Not ever.  For some reason, all of the people who are responsible for getting it done think the childhood strategy of pointing the finger at someone else is enough to explain their own failure to get this crucial task accomplished.

Who said they could quit because it was hard work?  Who gave them the okay to go home and relax when what they need to do most is still in the starting blocks?

Why is it acceptable to fail at this? To ignore this? To act like it’s not them that have to get it done?  It’s heartbreaking to witness the cowardice of what’s going on.  Instead of rising to the task–like congressmen and women have done since this country began–they’re paralyzed with fear about the reactions that might come from the constituencies they represent.  Instead of assuming the leadership role they were elected to, they take rigid stands like stubborn three-year olds and refuse to get on with finding the solution.

Yes, it’s a lot harder to get the job done in the Senate and the House than in the Sistine Chapel–you have the media blowing everything out of proportion and sensationalizing every little nuance day after day.  But there is no constitutional waiver for not doing the job because it’s hard work.

Yes, the work involves hard choices and will dissatisfy some who voted for you.  Do you think every single person was on board with any of the hard things that this country has had to decide over the decades and centuries?  This is not about who voted for you.  This is about coming up with a workable plan for how this huge and successful country is going to make and spend its government dollars–so we can stay successful.

It took the Catholic Cardinals–who are part of an organization that’s struggling with scandles and major differences of opinion just as we are–two days to get their job done.  That is not because it was easy.  It was because they accepted it was theirs to do and did it.

Take a lesson, Congress.  Take a lesson, Mr. President.  Get this job done!  Come up with a budget.


Re-thinking My To Do List

Wednesday, March 6th, 2013

Are you playing fair with your To Do list? I’ve been abusing mine for about a decade now and didn’t even know it.

I tell myself that I’m not a slave to it–I did finally see the light about the lunacy of “getting it all done at all costs” a while back.  But I’ve just discovered I’m stilling approaching that To Do list the wrong way.

I’ve been using it as a daily confirmation that I have worth as a person—salvation via getting a lot done.  And the painful truth is that this is just another perfectionist strategy—a way to avoid the pain of being deemed not good enough in someone else’s eyes by completing task after task after task, day after day after day.

To let go of perfectionism, you have to stop worrying about what other people will think.  I thought I had accomplished that–and in many ways I have.  But I still worship at the altar of “getting things done.” The wrongheadedness of this finally became clear to me courtesy of Brene’ Brown’s The Gifts of Imperfection.  The gifts she discusses aren’t consolation prizes.  Imperfection is actually a whole lot better way to live than all the perfectionist striving I’ve been guilty of over the years, including my worth-through-productivity mania.

Brown knows my game.  She too was devastated when she learned that a stiff dose of work ethic wasn’t a particularly evolved approach to life.  She refers to herself as “a recovering perfectionist and aspiring good-enoughist.”  She’s also a social scientist who’s been doing qualitative research on shame for much of her career.  That’s right—perfectionism is a facet of shame.  I’ve been driving 90 miles an hour down that dead end for decades!

The news was a shock, but also a big relief.  I’ve been frustrated for months about how little I get accomplished these days compared to three or four years ago.  I used to write a long list of chores for the next day every night, and then, bright and early the next day, I would get going on those things—roaring through them like I was on a mission to save the world.  Much of the time, nobody but me had decided they needed to be done.  In the vast majority of cases, if I didn’t get them done, nothing bad was going to happen.  But getting through that list made me feel like a superstar.  I was effective.

Recently, it’s gotten more and more difficult to make myself work on the list each day.  More and more often, I don’t even write one out the night before.  I’ve been worried that this meant I was losing my grip on my life. I can’t even get a simple to-do list done?

After reading what Brene’ Brown had to say, the dawn came.  A while back I asked the Universe for help to get wiser about doing what really needs to be done.  I thought that it was a case of rededicating myself to that daily list.  Until I read about her experience, I didn’t even realize the resistance to my To Do list mania was the answer to that prayer.

Who says I have to get anything done?!  Who’s keeping count?  I’ve been in an ever-accelerating role as Simon Legree, meanly enslaving myself. That’s no more admirable than subjugating someone else.

A few days ago, I turned over a new leaf.  Instead of that long To Do list, I jot down what I really do need to remember to do.  Then I remind myself that my day is mine to do with as I choose.  Yes, I need to honor my commitments, but usually, it doesn’t all have to get done “today.”  And it’s okay to change my mind as the day progresses.

Work is a good piece of life; it’s not work that needs to be eliminated here.  It’s important to keep that in mind.

What I—and maybe you–need to stop doing is the frenzied rush through an arbitrary list of tasks that has become the default proof that I (we) deserve to be alive today.  I need to erase the notion that work—even meaningless work that doesn’t need to be done at all—trumps the less socially acceptable stuff like play and taking a nap.

“To Do” lists are great for remembering what needs to get done.  You do want them in your toolkit.  But they aren’t inflexible marching orders, and there is no correlation between the length of your list (with everything crossed off) and your value as a person. To be really wise, you need to use a strategy that includes knowing when to ignore them.