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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Boundaries: Places to avoid, but also goals to shoot for.

One day as I watched my stepson being trained in Taekwondo and got a chance to listen to and converse with his instructor, a blog idea came to mind.  I don't fully remember what his instructor said, but I think it was the following: In order to reach your goals you have to picture them first.  It got me to thinking about boundaries. 

I think we are so used to the idea of boundaries being a negative: 
  • Things we can't do
  • Places we can't go
  • Stopping points
that when we hear the term "boundaries" thrown around it can feel like a lecture, scolding reminder. In other words, a downer.  I will call that an "inward boundary" or protection.  But, if you think about it, a boundary doesn't have a stopping point, but instead it can be a jump off point or a place to push pass.  I will call that an "outward boundary" or goal.


Now a little comparison.

Inward boundary (protection)
  • Usually in place for our own safety or that of those around us. For example, they can 
    • Keep us from intentionally or unintentionally hurting ourselves or others-physically, emotionally, mentally and/or spiritually.
      • They can limit our actions.
      • They can limit our behavior.
    • Inform us where to stop. Al Some examples:
      • A sign or barrier can tell us it is unsafe to drive past this point.
      • A fence can direct keep us from entering an unsafe area.
      • Sexual harassment rules designed inform us at what point conversation/interaction goes from being acceptable to being inappropriate or questionable.
  • It is dangerous to keep letting them slide.
    • Sends the wrong message. Namely, if you don't like the rules or laws, you can just ignore them and face no recrimination.
    • Brings us one step closer to disaster. It is best to stay away from the edges.

Outward boundary (goals)
  • Usually in place as a starting point--I want to do better than this--or a destination--I want to reach this point.
  • Inform us exactly where to go.  That is what to shoot for or exceed. Some examples:
    • A student needs to get a minimum score on a college entrance exam to get a particular scholarship. The student may do practice tests until he or she is confident that they can get at least that score.
    • An athlete is shooting for a world record time, if he has a goal aka an outward boundary, he/she will have something tangible to reach for and pass.
  • It is actually preferable to slide or move the boundary.  
    • It means we are achieving our goals (outward boundary). 
    • It means we are pushing for a greater achievement (that is a new goal or boundary).
    • It is best to approach and exceed or surpass the 'edges'.

I guess the takeaways from this post are to (1) be aware of when boundaries are there to protect you, (2) be aware of when boundaries are meant to be broken (goals).  I think this goes hand in hand with the "Serenity Prayer".  

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

  - Reinhold Neibuhr

Accept the things I cannot change (or should not change) - protect.  Courage to change the things I can - goals.  Wisdom to know the difference - between what is in place to protect and what is in place to achieve.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Losing everything else, but keeping ourselves

In a previous blog entry, The Fine Line: Failure takes no effort, success takes a lot of work, I observed that failure is a essentially a default position.  That is to say, failure comes 'naturally' by effectively doing nothing.  Success typically takes a lot of effort.

It occurs to me that a corollary of that point is in this life, if we live long enough, we face profound loss.  Loss is hard to avoid.  Also, even when we gain, it is usually temporary.  Even the 'permanent' gains can lose some of their edge.  In other words, there is always a degree of loss, even profound loss.  However, we don't have to be lost.

I will go over my concept--losing everything else, but keeping ourselves--and give what I see as a backstop to looking at life as hopeless.  First, losing.  On our travels through life many things pass. These are just a few of them:
  • Most people when they are born, spend a lot of time around one or both parents.  We get the attention and love, warmth, the security, the attention of them.  In time, as kids get older, their parents realize that they can't just hold onto their 'little one' forever.  They must allow their little angel to fly.  From the perspective of a kid, it is gaining their freedom.  From the perspective of a parent it is the loss of sharing joy and love with their child.
  • People come and go in our lives.  It is hard to lose someone we thought was our friend.  Sometimes, it is in a dramatic destructive fashion. Sometimes, people just drift apart. Other times, they just stop reaching out or back to us and we don't know why.  Even when it is not a dramatic exit, it the sense of loss is still present when friends just move away or fade out.
  • Loved ones pass away.  It can be the loss of those very close such as close family or friends.  It could be a friendly familiar face.  It could be a beloved fixture in the background we never got to meet such as Carrie Fisher.  Regardless, a passing still has a sting to it.
  • Our youth, our energy, our health fades.  The carefree nature of youth is lost to adult problems to where we miss the romanticized version of our youth.
These things, if we let them, can make our glass seem half-full or less.  These things can make us seem like we've lost more than we've gained or have.  But, I have learned in a much less dramatic fashion than Job, Anne Frank, or MLK that there is one thing that we can only lose--and therefore feel lost--if we choose to give it away or let it go.  That one thing is OURSELVES.

We can lose a lot in our lives, but we won't lose ourselves and be lost if:
  • We keep our self-respect and dignity.
  • We keep our honor.
  • We keep our basic sense of fairness and decency.
  • We keep our sense of who we are (our roles).
  • We keep our faith and purpose.
  • But most of all we keep our relationship between us and God (our Higher Power). All else flows from this.
So, let this world and this life try to keep us down.  Let this world and this life try and defeat us. We can lose everything, but we are only truly defeated and lost if we lose ourselves.  

* If you like this blog post, I think you'll like:
Always darkest before the dawn: Cleaning requires a bigger mess first

In the spirit of a man who lost everything (his life), but did not lose it all.  MLK kept his pride...

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Always darkest before the dawn: Cleaning requires a bigger mess first

As I've been recovering from a concussion recently, I feel the crispness of my thoughts is not there and it has been frustrating.  Anyway, this is a blog post idea I've been thinking about for a long time, but I'm going to attempt to finish it.

We commonly have heard the saying, "It's always darkest before the dawn", but really what does that mean?

As we know, overnight the sky gets progressively darker and darker until the morning sun starts it's gradual ascent over the landscape.  When we face struggles or darkness in life, as the struggles intensify or become increasingly dark, life seems to be more hopeless.  Often times, just like the impending dawn or light is just over the horizon.  Hidden by the darkness, the light ahead or the better times just ahead, are just out of our view.

The key to seeing past the darkness is the ability to see through the clutter or haze of our life.  For example, when you are straightening, cleaning out and rearranging a cluttered room, you go through a couple steps which could discourage you.
  • You look all around the room and it appears that there is barely enough space for everything.
  • You start to clean out the room section by section, drawing clutter out into the open or center of the room.  With everyone out in the open and in the way, the room can seem more hopeless cluttered or messy.
At this point, you could get discouraged and think I've got a bigger mess on my hands OR you could look at the newly emptied closest and look across the room and picture what could go in it.  Now, at the moment you have a cluttered mess in the middle (and things stacked everywhere) and it might seem like the room will never get cleaned.  However, if you stick with it, bit by bit, item by item, piece by piece you will gradually see the closet fill up in an organized way and the clutter from across the room lessen.  When you combine this with a trash bag or can nearby to throw away the things you don't need, the task becomes more and more manageable until you have a straightened/uncluttered room.

Similarly, when trying to working through the issues or problems in your life, they can seem overwhelming and contribute to a general sense of hopelessness.  When stopping to take inventory of your life and everything is out of the closet, out on the table and out in the open (at least where we can see it), it can seem like there is a lot to work through. Questions such as the following can weigh us down or add to the clutter.

  • Are we happy in our current circumstance or with who we are?
  • Are we being honest with who we are and what is important to us?
  • Do we have the courage to make changes where we can and should?
    • Can we let go of the people/things weighing us down?
    • Can we let go of our own demons and fears that weighs us down?
  • Do we have the courage to accept our roles?
    • Head of the family, parent, power of attorney/executor, leader, responsible party...
  • Are we a victim of our past mistakes or failings or we a student of them?
  • Do we see the glass as half full or half empty and are we willing and able to adjust our perspective to how we need to see things.  For example,
    • Gratitude list vs. complaint list.
    • Blessed/honored with responsibility vs. being cursed.
In effect, what I've been talking about is step 4 in twelve step recovery programs--"Make a searching and fearless written moral inventory of yourself."  While I think this is best if we write it out, I think we can also process this in other ways.  Now, while in cleaning out the clutter of our rooms (and our lives),  focuses on getting rid of the unnecessary/unhelpful, it isn't solely that.  Often times, when we are cleaning we run across things that we'd lost or forgotten that we had--sometimes treasured items and sometimes just useful items we didn't know or remember we had.  In a similar way, working on the clutter of our lives and taking an inventory can reveal our strengths too.   We can look back on tough times and realize that we had more fortitude than we realized at the time.  We can look back and realize that we are wiser than we gave ourselves credit for.  We can better see the things we are talented with.

I've had points in my life in which I seemed 'stuck' or in a low spot.  Once in my early 20s and another time during and after the period of my divorce. The takeaway for me in this not to get discouraged when thing are really bad and know that my Higher Power (God) is with me.  He never promised an easy life, but He let's us know that He will give us what he needs.

Consider the case of Job.  In the Old Testament, God had a servant named Job whom he saw as blameless, but for a time, God allowed Satan to take from Job everything he had and to place plagues upon him.  Despite it all, Job persevered and did not curse his Lord.  Job was eventually rewarded for his loyalty with a greater reward than what he had taken from him prior.  When his time was up, he was said to have lived a long and full life.  Now, most people's life circumstances aren't going to be as extreme as Job's were.  However, the lesson holds, realize that often times the darkest periods of our lives are a gateway to better times.

* If you like this post, I think you'll like the following one too: 

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Survivor's guilt, thriver's guilt and the unbearable lightness of being...

I was talking with a good friend one time about why people feel guilty about being the one who makes it.  By that I mean the one who survives or the one who succeeds vs. the one who passes away or fails.  I see it as "survivor's guilt" and "thriver's guilt" respectively.  We also discussed the concept of "lightness of being"--something which I feel few people ever learn to appreciate or hold onto if they do come to appreciate it.  To me that's a sense of being carefree.

Anyway, I will delve right in by first introducing the concept of guilt over being the one who makes it.
  • Survivor's guilt -  I'm not going to delve into this concept too much as I feel it has been explored.  But when someone close to us passes--naturally or not--especially if they are younger, we feel like we could have helped them somehow, that they didn't 'deserve' to be the one or that somehow we contributed to their passing, it is not uncommon to feel guilt over being the one that is left behind.  Much of the time, the guilt is misplaced:
    • It is easy to second guess how you could have 'helped' another after the fact, when the 'evidence' or problem is more clearly obvious.
    • No one 'deserves' to die per se--except for maybe those convicted of a capital offense. It's a natural part of life however.
    • Even if you somehow contributed, it probably wasn't intentional.
    • It doesn't seem fair that a younger person, especially our kids would go first.

Next comes the person who succeeds and who sees others who have not:
  • Thriver's guilt - This is a term that I thought of.  I'm not sure if it has ever been used before?  Anyway, the concept behind this is that I believe there are successful people who feel guilt over the fact that others around them are not thriving.  It's like they somewhere in the back of their mind they feel that they don't 'deserve' to be doing well, while others are suffering, even if they have done nothing to cause or lead to the suffering of others.  It can be feeling guilty about having opportunities that others did not have.  That is wondering why they are fortunate to have a leg up.  This can persist even if they take the opportunities provided to them and work hard to be successful.   Here are some of my thoughts on 'thriver's guilt'.
    • People have no choice to decide to whom and what situation/circumstances they are born under.  
      • It is proper to be thankful to your Higher Power (God) to be born into a family which is thriving and/or has opportunities.
      • It is proper to want to help or look for opportunities to help the not-so fortunate.
      • It is not proper to feel guilty about being born into opportunities, but instead by grateful and take full advantage of the opportunities you were given.  Guilt over squandering opportunities can be very appropriate.
    • People usually have some amount of choice as to how to deal with the situation or circumstances they are born into (or raised in).
      • In some cases, others are less fortunate due to poor choices they've made.  However, often is the case, that they are less fortunate because they have less opportunities.
      • In some cases, others are more fortunate due to hard work they've done.  They were given the wisdom or had the opportunity to be positively influenced by others in their life.  Therefore, with hard work, they've raised themselves out of a bad situations.  In many cases, they are more fortunate in spite of poor choices they've made. We've heard stories of the kids of rich being rescued, enabled or protected by their parent's money. 
      • Once again, if you've worked hard to succeed regardless of where you started out, there is no reason to feel 'thriver's guilt'.  However, if you've succeeded in spite of yourself, then a little perspective or 'thriver's guilt' isn't a bad thing.
    • If a person has succeeded by working hard and doing right by others, regardless of where in life they started, then it is not appropriate to try to shame them into feeling guilty about their success. Nor is it appropriate shame them into feeling their success is undeserved.  What is appropriate is reminding them that not everyone has the opportunities they had and to remember that and be helpful or charitable where they can.
      • It is not our place to judge others like that.
      • If a person is raised properly, they are more likely to respond when encouraged to be helpful to others than being shamed into being helpful.  
      • Encouraging them to spend time with helping the less fortunate is also a better way to reach their sense of empathy rather than trying to shame them.
      • No one likes to live in shame and even if it works for a while, an eventual backlash is probable. 

Now the final subject, people who are at ease with themselves and their lives/relationships:
  • Lightness of being - When I think of that term, I think about not having a care in the world. In reality, a lightness of being is a place of serenity.  It is a sense of ease in your own skin.  It is a place where you are at peace with your Higher Power (God).
    • It can be a place in our lives that is hard to reach and/or is fleeting. 
      • It can take a lot of effort--praying, meditating, introspecting, pausing to observe.
      • Circumstances happen which lessen or destroy our lightness of being, but we don't have to live or stay in the circumstances, no matter how bad they are.
    • It can be a place we reach not because our life is problem free, but because our perspective has become better.  That is to say, we see the glass as half-full more than we do half-empty.
      • We see our problems are not as big as others or even as we had originally thought.
      • We are able to see a gratitude list in our mind, rather than a list of complaints.
        • Perhaps it is because of misfortunes we've endured and are past.
        • Perhaps it is because we see others with less fortunate circumstances.
    • It can be a place we reach when we see the value we can offer or our significance in life
      • In other words, it is as much spiritual as it is emotional or mental.
      • If we are able to see our role or place in this world, even if it is tough one, we at least have an anchor to hold onto.

I guess my take away from the whole subject is:
  • Survivor's guilt - Is a place that we can visit, but not a healthy place to stay.
  • Thriver's guilt - We shouldn't feel guilty for our success if we've put hard work into it.  Not everyone will succeed to the same level and there is nothing wrong with that.  It is when we  don't appreciate properly and respect our fortune that we need to be reminded of it.  It is important to appreciate the means and/or tools that God blessed us with and to bless him back by helping the less fortunate.
  • Lightness of being - A fleeting place which takes some work to achieve and stay there and is based on our outlook and spiritual well-being as much as anything.

I don't always know if what I write is meaningful or helpful to others and I know everyone's experiences are at least somewhat different.  So, take what helps you from this post and leave the rest for others.  


* I got the title from the novel "The Unbearable Lightness of Being" which posits some interesting existential questions which I let you click on to explore.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Renaming songs appropriately: Tell Us What You Really Think

I wasn't going to write a new blog post today, BUT I was listening to the radio and "How to Save a Life" today came on.  I've always imagined an alternative title to it. You know how you hear a song and sometimes you just feel like the artist is trying to tell you something else besides what's in the song?  Anyway, this is just a short list of songs and how I would rename them if I bought the rights to them.  I would match the new titles of them to the message that I get out of out the song.  Obviously, everyone has their own list, and this is mine.  I realize I may offend a few people in the process, but that's a risk I'm willing to take.  Cheers.

1. How to Save a Life - The Fray
    How to Whine a Song

2) Stressed Out - 21 Pilot
    This Song Is Stressing Me Out

3) Soldier of Love - Donny Osmond
     I'll Never Get Over You Getting Over Me - Expose
     Love Touch - Rod Stewart
     Unskinny Bop - Poison 
        each becomes
    I Have No Self-Respect

4) Everybody Wants to Rule the World - Tears for Fears
     This is the Most Boring Song I've Ever Sang

5) Most U2 Songs
     Could We Just Lighten Up a Little

6) All For Love - Bryan Adams, Rod Stewart, Sting
    All For Giving Away Our Man Card

7) Grenade - Bruno Mars
    Please Throw a Grenade at Me

8) Never Going to Give You Up - Rick Astley
    Never Going to be More Than an 1980s Joke

9) Girlfriend - Avril Lavigne
     Less Serious Artist

10) You Oughta Know - Alanis Morisette
      You Oughta Know How Physcho I Feel

* In my opinion, a song that an established, renown , respected grown male artist should never have agreed to record.  I can imagine his British peers laughing at him and saying: "Now what were you thinking mate?" 

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Heavy straws & a broken camel's back.

The other day I was involved in an accident in which the person in front of me hit a patch of ice on the highway, swerved into the wall and ended up stopped and perpendicularly positioned in front of me.  Even though I was driving cautious for the conditions, I had little reaction time.  I couldn't safely get over into the other lane, so I did the next best thing: I tried to slow down as quickly as I could to avoid hitting her.  Unfortunately, as often is the case, this was a doomed proposition.  

The resulting collision set off my airbag, destroyed my car and left me with a concussion & neck strain. Given the location of the accident, the cars had to be moved as quickly as possible.  Therefore, I could not just linger in my car and make calls.  A police officer was nice enough to drop me off at a safe location nearby such that I could stay out of the cold and start making calls. 

Being a problem solver by nature and not one to give up in tough jams, I proceeded to make calls.  I made a call into work and let my boss know what happened, to the insurance company to report the accident, to my wife to let her know I was safe, to a rental car company to get a car, and to the tow yard to set up retrieving my belongings from my now destroyed car.  I know having dealt with rough circumstances before & having faith that I could get through it.  The important thing is that I was safe and that everything else was replaceable or manageable.

Not realizing that I had a mild concussion, I took my daughter back to her mom's house later that day (as was previously scheduled).   So, I have a bag in which I carry a couple of medications of mine & which I was carrying her medicine.  I had taken that to her mom's house to drop off her meds with her mom.  I carried the bag in with me as I brought her other stuff in. Given the distractions with dropping off a rambunctious nine year old and the fogginess I didn't realize I had yet, I left the bag over there.  My haziness was such that I didn't remember even bringing it in with me.  So, I got home and was going to take the bag in from my car and came to realize I didn't have it.  I reached out to my daughter's mom & to a restaurant I'd stopped at to see if I'd left it either place.  Both indicated it wasn't there.  So, I went searching through the rental car and my own place extensively, but couldn't find it.  The brave front I'd been putting up had finally collapsed.  I thought I'd for sure lost my meds as well as those of my daughters.  Only later did her mom find the bag off to the side of the front room.  

Back to the story at hand.  Literally, I had a huge wall of uncertainty thrown up at me starting before 8 a.m. that day and I managed well, but a lost bag of meds that could be replaced if necessary got the best of me. The adrenaline/shock that took me through the day was already beginning to wear off, but it was compounded by a 'final' setback for the day.  I was besides myself and I had to literally force myself to try and sleep despite being very upset.  Looking back on it, I have a few takeaways.
  • Sometimes a concern is so big that we know that we can't immediately deal with it.  Therefore, in our mind, we allow for a significant time and amount of uncertainty rather than panic.  We just take it step by step.  Getting home/replacing the car/recuperating in my case.
  • It is the smaller things that we think we should be able to deal with that get to us.  Thinking I should have kept better track of the bag and that if I look and look and look, I will find it as its got to be around somewhere.
  • The big pressures of the day, I'd already factored in and had been resolved to a passable state (including the other driver's insurance accepting full liability).  But, they were still a burden on my shoulders.  I was not prepared for the final pressure.  In other words, for the day, it was the straw that broke the camels back.  Literally, I wasn't up to accepting another hit on the day.
  • The next morning, I started to make provisions to replace the lost medications.  Soon thereafter my daughter's mom informed me that she did have my bag after-all.  Therefore the stress and worry about it proved unnecessary.
    • One time when I was fretting aloud to another friend about a matter which I couldn't resolve late at night, she asked me: "Is there anything you can do about it now?".  I said, "No".  She's replied, "So, stop worrying about it."  I have always remembered that and always try to remember that when something is not in my control.
    • On more than one occasion, after getting bogged down with stress about a lost/unresolved circumstance, I've stopped and prayed about it.  A funny thing has happened on some of those occasions.  Literally, it is as if my mind was cleared and I was led to a finding what was lost or a solution.  Reminding me that prayer before the complete stress-out might be in order. 
Anyway, when you or someone around you starts to have a meltdown about what appears to be an easily manageable circumstance or seemingly unimportant decision or detail, realize that you may very well be looking at the straw on top of the mound of weight on the camel's back.  Realizing that the straw is on top of what the camel was barely able to carry anyway.  In other words, don't take it for granted that the meltdown is over the small detail or circumstance.  Address the detail of course, but be aware that you may need to address underlying weight that was really the problem.

Hopefully, this is a helpful reminder for those whom I reach.  Cheers.
- Rich

* This blog post I think ties in well to Letting go and letting God - The timing and art of letting go as our burdens often start with a significant loss.

Monday, January 2, 2017

It's my pity party and I'll cry if I want to

I'm not sure where I get the titles to my blog posts.  If you've paid event a scant amount of attention to my blog, you'll get that my love of music animates me and is often how I relate. I think God has blessed me with the ability to think, write and tie in appropriate theme music.  But, I digress.  This blog title amuses me.  

So, in my dealings in life, I've come to occasionally host pity parties, been invited to pity parties and be an uninvited observer of a pity party going on. So, I have a little life experience on the subject matter.   Like many situations in life, there is no one-sized fits all solution to how to handle a pity party.  Below are some ways that one can handle a pity party with reasons for and pros and cons of each way.  Knowing your audience is the key to knowing which way or ways to try.

  • Empathize with or indulge it.
    • Often times, it can be a cry for help.
    • I believe often a pity-partier feels like his/her concerns are not being taken seriously.  So, it is a way to gather attention, even passively. 
    • On some occasion, they just need to feel that there is someone who takes their side (indulging it).  Sometimes, people just need to know they have a loyal ally (even when they unknowingly might be wrong).
    • On other occasions, they need to feel that there is someone who at least understand them. (empathize).  Misery loves company.  Besides, it is nice to know that there is someone who can relate.
  • Compete with it.
    • We don't always know we are doing this.
    • It can be a way to give someone else perspective on their plight.  Not to dismiss their plight, but letting them know how it could be worse.  A way it can come out: When I was growing up we didn't get to do this or to go there or have this or...  So, appreciate it could have been worse.
    • It can be a way to minimize someone else's plight rather than relating. Instead of relating to or trying to help the pity-partier, there can be an unhealthy need to 'upstage' them.  A way it can come out:  When I was growing up, I had it rougher or something worse happened to me, so shut you have no room to talk.
    • It can be a competition for empathy/sympathy.
    • I believe competing for feelings, attention or empathy/sympathy is usually a destructive rather than constructive endevour.
  • Ignore it
    • Often times a pity-partier is just wanting to blow off steam. 
    • If the pity-partier can't be constructively engaged with, it might be best to just to ignore their pity party as much as possible.
    • Unfortunately, sometimes the pity-partier will not take well to being ignored.  Their need to be 'listened to' will not allow them to quietly be ignored, leaving you to choose another way of engaging them.
  • Ridicule it
    • Sometimes, after trying every other way to deal with a pity party, this feels like the only way that is left.
    • I believe in some cases coming from someone trusted, it can be a wake-up call, especially if the pity-partier is mature enough to hear the truth and has enough of a sense of humor to deal with it.
    • I believe it is usually a bad idea to do with someone who is emotionally troubled and/or has a low self-esteem.
Just some of my observations on pity parties and pity partiers.  Not everyone's experience is the same.  So, this is meant like many of my other blog posts to throw out ideas or to stimulate thinking on the subject matters upon which I speak.

Happy New Year all.  Welcome 2017, may it be a good year.

- Rich