Narcissism Sucks!

“It is much easier to make good men wise than to make bad men good.” Henry Fielding said that in 1749. I like Henry Fielding as a writer because not only did he lace his thoughts in humor but he also had curly hair and a law enforcement background. I like people with curly hair and law enforcement backgrounds, I don’t know why.

Forgive me for ranting a little bit but this week has been just a little stressful. I don’t often have to deal with true narcissists in my job but when I do it’s a depressing reminder of my deceased brother who suffered from a mental illness late in life characterized by extreme narcissism. In defense of my brother, he couldn’t help it. He was principally a victim of circumstance, a war, and probably some crappy genetics. If you hang out with me for very long at all you will easily spot some of the crappy genetics I’m referring to (not from you mom).

There should be a test people take before being allowed to procreate. Men should have to account for all of the sperm they produce and pay a tax for any that escape an allowed allocation to partners who are on a list of government approved recipients. If your DNA has a genetic marker that could produce a narcissist then you should be sterilized. That way, the rest of us have some say about the kinds of folks we have to live with, deal with, subsidize or carry the burden for. I’ve met a few folks that have had some hard times but they’re so nice I didn’t mind them having an EBT card. I’ve also known a few folks that have no problem whatsoever carrying their own weight but really should have been aborted.

I’m not making any political statements here but I will say this about gay couples, at least when they decide to have children, they research the heck out of those eggs and make sure their kids are coming from good stock. Everyone make sure and watch the news tonight. When you see the barefoot – snaggletooth – meth mouth – blue gum – redneck talking about the latest UFO sighting at the local dairy dip then political correctness dictates that there’s only one thing you can openly say about the person with any real certainty…this person was definitely not procreated in a test tube. Next time you see a gay couple, hug them for saving the human race.

I digressed didn’t I? Oh well, sorry. Narcissism is a serious thing. I can’t imaging growing up with one as a parent. It’s probably one of the most difficult psychological legacies you can have. These are parents who are incapable of real love, who blame you for everything because they cannot make mistakes, who undermine your initiative because they fear your success, who dismiss your feelings because no one’s feelings matter except their own, who may adore a sibling because he/she is a reminder of himself/herself. These are some serious issues for anyone to overcome and grow up normal.

I’ve read that there can be some genetic markers for this but by and large everything I’ve read about them suggests that they are products of their own creation. It’s not an accidental thing, unless caused by mental illness, but a series of life-long choices that manifest themselves into problems which cannot be solved because by doing so it undermines an entire lifetime of embellishments and denial. They create their own disorder then go around inflicting it on everyone around them.

And somewhere along the line they all wander into my office and find me minding my own business. They ask for advice and information and I gladly give it. Then they pursue an agenda driven by a complete disregard for rules and a spirit of “I’d rather get forgiveness than permission” and ultimately fail. Then, unable to admit personal failure, they blame their problems on me as I was the one “who told them what to do”. Then, they punish everyone in their proximity because they were “against” them all along, not realizing that those same people have now become his/her victims and he/she may be going to need their support later on when he/she sticks his/her middle finger up and makes another go at it. Then they file a lawsuit against me and lose but because they’re a narcissist, cannot accept that they were wrong so they go about recording everyone in an attempt to capture “conspiracies and lies” so that they can one day prove that they were right all along.

narcissists

Or maybe it’s another type of narcissist who inherits a business and never has to work for anything but feels jaded because he knows that his intellect is far superior to those around him but life and luck superseded his ability to “prove” his own immense value. So, in evaluating those around him whom have worked hard to better themselves and who may get a little attention because of that hard work, he finds it unfair because he’s the one who really deserves the attention, he’s the real genius. His narcissism just cannot allow others to share the spotlight so he manipulates and undermines everyone around him in order to expose what he perceives to be weaknesses in the armor of his rivals for attention. His goal is not to accomplish anything, but to undermine the success of others. Why should he accomplish anything, everyone already knows that he’s awesome. Can we all make a very strong alcoholic drink and make a toast to this type of narcissist?

Let me get a breath of oxygen because that was a mouthful. Ok, what I’d love to impart in this blog is that no matter how smart or gifted you are, someone in this world thinks you are a complete dumb-ass. Trust me, I’ve met more than a few people who think that about me. I like words but I suck at math. My wife loves math and she sucks with words. God did a great job of equalizing and distributing the powers among us. None of us could live fully independently of others. We all have to accept our own limitations and inadequacies then praise and recognize those around us whom possess the missing puzzle pieces of our own lives. If you do nothing else this Christmas, give the gift of acknowledgment to your spouse or children or parents and friends that they matter and that they make your life a lot better. Then quickly pour some cold water on that ego. Don’t just listen to me, I’m not an expert on anything but I heard from a reliable source that Santa Clause thinks narcissists suck!

The Benign Beignet

It is Christmas time which means two things: you have to buy lots of presents for people who would have just as soon you give them cash AND it’s one of two holidays in the year that diabetics are legally permitted to eat whatever in the heck they want. It’s true, there are no laws preventing diabetics from eating candy corn and orange elephant peanuts on Thanksgiving or Christmas. Trust me, I looked it up. I did find a law that prohibits people from posting images online that cause “emotional distress” without legitimate purpose. For those of you who are dieting during Christmas, please don’t have me arrested if I post a picture of Emily’s famous homemade pecan pie on my Facebook page. You’re not supposed to take the law seriously anyway, if we did, the whole nation wouldn’t be arguing over whether a cop who is still in his car getting his face smashed in, by a robber who is trying to get his gun away from him, should have been allowed to defend himself. Oh well, some say tomāto some say some say tomăto.

During the holidays I become pretty much diet agnostic – meaning that I do not subscribe to know any particular food or recipe deity but still believe in such an existence to the extent that I must sample every dish and recipe personally before I will truly know. My relationship with food, as you can already tell, will probably contribute to my ultimate demise in some way because as educated and informed as I may be after 20 years of the diabetic experience I still foolishly believe that I can outsmart my own endocrine system.

Well, when it comes to dieting and eating healthy, I have great intentions but really all I’m looking for is a “weigh” out. After all, that’s what the insulin shot is for right? I mean, I could easily argue that I just have “way too much on my plate” right now but then that would be just stating the obvious. It seems that life with cake trumps body image all day long. Can I get an AMEN?

And don’t believe all that crap about there being emotional reasons for why we make certain food choices. It’s not emotional. The reason why we savor-the-flavor is because the daggum stuff tastes good. Not everything tastes good but whatever it is we are eating apparently tastes great. If people didn’t enjoy eating then we’d all be suffering from emaciation, maybe even a little grumpiness too? I know I would. I know I’m a lot more tolerant while my belly is full. Perhaps we should send Mac & Cheese to the Middle East instead of Special Forces soldiers and guided missile destroyers. We could start deploying weapons of mass consumption and do our water-board interrogations with egg nog and boiled custard instead of plain ole water.

So, for this Christmas season, avoid all of those healthy eating web sites and low carb recipes which will only serve to piss you off six months from now when you’ve gained all of the weight back anyway and you’re reminiscing about your Aunt Betty’s fudge that you didn’t eat at Christmas because you were really trying to lose that last 74 pounds. I mean, for God’s sake, Aunt Betty probably won’t be around for too many more Christmas’ anyway and you can never get that lost fudge back. Your relationship with food should be at least as honest as your relationship with Joel Osteen.

So, fire up that deep fryer and start mixing those beignets. Just remember, use lukewarm water instead of cold, soak up the extra Crisco on paper towels to cut down on saturated fats, and grind up two Metformin pills per beignet to mix with the confectioners’ sugar which will be sprinkled generously on top before serving.

Merry Christmas!

Welcome To The Hotel California

Here in Tennessee we are busily preparing for Christmas now that Thanksgiving and all those enigmatic shopping days are behind us like Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and Small Business Saturday. So, of course one can’t really be inundated with all of those marketing schemes and family-friendly euphemism’s without thinking about your own family.

For me – I must say that I’m very lucky to have the family I was fortunate to be born into. Not only the one’s my parents gifted me but also the one’s I’ve had some level of responsibility to create or adopt as my own. This would of course include my wonderful wife Emily and my eximious son Jon.

Enough of the bombastic family descriptions, you’re probably wondering what all this has to do with my chosen title “Hotel California” aren’t you? You guys and gals already know that I like to use creative titles on my blogs and of course why would today be any different. Well, last week I was driving to work in my Jeep and that famous Eagle’s song came over my radio, just as it often does, but instead of just enjoying the song and lyrics as I normally would, I was somehow taken to a place I’d never been before. The lyrics subconsciously enunciated a metaphor that I’d never before noticed.

Now wait just a minute, I know what you’re thinking and it’s not true. At least as far as I know anyway. With the best of anyone’s ability to recognize these things, I don’t think I’m losing my mind and I don’t think that I’m hearing voices. At least not any voices that my own brain waves are producing anyway. The voices I heard were those of Glenn Frey, Joe Walsh, Don Henley and Don Felder talking about an ominous sounding hotel in California.

The song was first released in 1976 when I would have been twelve years old, right about the time most kids really start identifying with whatever the popular music of that day happens to be. And I was no different.

I still love to hear those old songs which kind of take me back to the time when I used to lay in bed with my headphones on, cranking up the volume, and escape all of the stresses of being a twelve year old – you know, like what you’re going to eat when you get home from school – are there any coco puffs left – when will I have the necessary funds to purchase the latest AC/DC album…

Anyway, that song used to evoke an ominous feeling when I listened to it back then. The lyrics artfully play around with phrases like “Heaven and Hell”, “Her mind is Tiffany twisted”, “We are all just prisoners here of our own device”, “just can’t kill the beast”, and of course the last famous line, “You can check out anytime you like but you can never leave.” What do those words mean anyway? They’re not quite as weird as “someone left my cake out in the rain” but they’re not as easily dissectible as “you ain’t nuthin but a hound dog” either.

As I got older I always just thought of these lyrics as a way of describing drug addiction. It makes sense right? Play the song right now and think about drug addiction and tell me what you think. But, alas there is more.

There is always more. What some of you know is that my eldest sibling Cindy lives in California. When the song played last week, and because these are holiday times with family-friendly euphemism’s flying about like blue-arsed flies (creative idiom – √), I started to think of these lyrics as a metaphor for moving to California.

Cindy, my wonderful and lovely sister who used to beat me up when I was a kid…just kidding, actually did not want to move to California when her husband first landed the great job opportunity that led them there. Kicking and screaming, she reluctantly moved there as any supportive spouse would do but I never really thought they would stay there long.

Why? Because we all knew she’d hate it and because her husband is so damn smart that he’s always getting these amazing offers to move – and they always do. Not this time. Nope, they “saw the shimmering light” and “stopped for the night” and now that her husband has achieved everything that he and his family could ever have hoped for, they could “check-out anytime they like” but for some reason they “can never leave”.

Hotel California cartoon

Now, my sister Cindy “is just a prisoner there of her own device.” How many places on Earth could you possibly live that trap you like a drug addiction. You heard it just a minute ago, you know the song is a metaphor for drug addiction right? What about the beautiful State of Tennessee? We got trees and grass and pie for God’s sake. I once was told that they don’t have pie in California. Sounds a lot like hell to me.

This year I’m sending my sister a subscription to “Garden & Gun” magazine and maybe a homemade pecan pie. Perhaps that will shake things up in a palatable way. Anyway, I was just thinking about my awesome sister and thought I’d write about her. I didn’t mean to drag a bunch of innocent people into it, just wanted to do the girl some justice.

Just for the heck of it, listen to the song again. One more time. Now think about the lyrics in the context of a person being drawn to the shimmering lights of a place and being trapped there by its beauty. A place where the weather is almost always perfect. A place where they have shoes. A place with a total absence of mosquitoes (tradeoff for not having pie). A place where you can come and go at-will but never really want to leave. Now what do you think? It’s a different song isn’t it?

Now, whenever I hear that song, I won’t be reminded of my secret heroin addiction, I’ll only think about Cindy and how that someone in that Godforsaken hippie commune of a State has probably brainwashed her from ever coming home to beautiful Tennessee. Just kidding. Merry Christmas Cindy, the magazine subscription is on the way but I might have eaten the pecan pie.

My One True Love & Cracker Jack’s

My whole life I’ve heard about the idea of true love. There are many ways to express it (i.e., real love, made for each other, perfect partners, soul mates, numero uno, love of my life, my one and only, etc.) but how many people among us can really comprehend the idea of such a thing in its full context? We’ve all had our up’s and down’s and most of us end up tied to someone special eventually, but are you truly with your “one true love” or did you just settle for someone just a little less “perfect” than you expected?

Most people can’t wait to get married. Sometimes it’s because they just want to get out of a bad home environment, or sometimes it could be that they just want to grow up and move on with life. Perhaps it’s because all their friends are getting married, having kids, and they think they’re supposed to do the same thing. But when you’re young and fresh out of school, you’ve not really lived and navigated through enough personal relationships from which to accurately judge whether your current person is really the best person for you or not. That is one reason why statistically more marriages fail than survive.

I’ve blogged about the idea of perception-versus-reality several times because I truly believe that each of us have our own special reality shaped by several things including nature (DNA), nurture (parenting and mentoring), and experience (what we do with both of those things). To truly experience something as rare and complex as finding your soul mate, wouldn’t you think we’d first need to live just a little? Aside from the good stuff, we also need to suffer just a little in order to fully appreciate just how low things can get when we’re with the wrong person.

Experience develops our individual perceptions and helps us to recognize not only what is special about a person generally…but what is particularly special about that person from our own personal perspectives – through our own jaded and subjective eyes. These are two distinctly different things.

I’m sure there are a few very lucky people out there who were fortunate to find that special someone on their first try but I seriously doubt the probability of that happening very often. Most of us think we know, then proceed to jump off the proverbial cliff of sanity, directly into a pit of uncertainty, then swim against the current in the river of probability, then drift slowly toward an ocean of insolvency and finality. Those are not great odds. To make it worse, our own ego sometimes refuses to allow us to quickly resolve a mistake and let go before we become so entrenched that leaving becomes problematic or even dangerous.

We fail mostly though not because we hitched our wagons necessarily to bad people but because we had no idea who we were in the first place. Our idea of what a relationship should be is just as undeveloped as our sense of who we are or what makes us happy. How can we begin to address the issue of what we can do to please another person when we’ve ignored our own needs and wants?

That’s not selfish, it’s absolutely critical. If we ignore what’s inside, foregoing that critical component of personal happiness and instead focus on making someone else happy, then we are doomed to eventually implode with anger and expectation of reciprocation. But it becomes unfair to the other person because they’re expectations are based on who you started off as, no matter how unrealistic it may all seem.

Well; I’ll let you in on a secret. When you give yourself an honest opportunity to figure out who you really are, forgetting about the idea of love or marriage, the internal images of prospective mates is suddenly illuminated. Sort of like the secret decoder ring in the box of Capt. Crunch; you suddenly have a magical lens by which you see the world that illuminates that which is good and healthy and filters out that which is…maybe a bit unripe.

That’s a kind way of saying that sometimes people who will eventually become great partners start off with no idea of what being a great partner is, and, as a result will potentially hurt you. We are not all ready at the same time or at the same age. Thus, a great partner for me may not make a great partner for you. No matter how awesome my wife may think I am for her has no bearing on whether I would be viewed as equally awesome to another person.

Cracker-Jacks

We’re all like big irregularly shaped boxes of Cracker Jack’s. We all have a little prize inside. But since we’re all looking for something different, the value of that little prize weighs more or less to whomever it is that gets to open your prize package. Some folks may love that little magnifying glass you have but I might just think it’s cheap. So, here we are, you with a cheap magnifying glass and me with an awesome rubber ball. On a higher note, just because one person doesn’t fully appreciate the value of what’s inside or what you have to offer, doesn’t mean that someone else won’t.

After my divorce, I was single for 16 years. There were moments where I thought I’d be married again and moments where I believed I’d be single my whole life, mostly the latter. I think my son was more worried about me than I was. There were times when I embraced the idea of being single and times when I wept about it. There were girlfriends along the way, some good, some better, but with each failed connection I was forced to excavate the archaeological remains of failure and grow a higher understanding of me.

Initially I had this superficial mental idea of who I was supposed to find, not realizing that there was a real person inside of all that perfunctory shallowness. Then slowly but surely I got to know me better which added some depth to my minds-vision of who I should end up with. The best way I can describe it is like comparing a road-map to a relief-map – with all the mountains, rivers, bumps and valleys to provide some perspective. When you’re ready, your like a blind person reading braille – you can feel your way along the route. For me, it took a little while longer than it does for most people.

When I first met Emily there were no questions and no concerns. I already knew her from my mind. I wasn’t looking for a hair color or a particular personality, I was looking for her and there she was. But even though I had that initial easiness about her, she wasn’t all that prepared to meet me. She believed, like I did, but wasn’t ready to accept it until about a year later. There were, of course, obstacles to overcome and trust to establish but the hard work was done internally in both our minds while we both recovered from previous bumps and bruises. Fortunately for me, she was looking for me too. All I had was this stupid rubber ball but it turns out that she loves stupid rubber balls.

cracker-jacks

I got the better end of the stick. It turns out that her Cracker Jack box was chocked full of generosity, kindness, a sweet spirit and awesome twice-baked potatoes. In my mind, my rubber ball really didn’t really compare to all that but I guess it must have been exactly what she was looking for because it turns out that Emily is my one-true-love. She is the perfect person for me.

Seven years of marriage, some seriously screwed-up butter cream cake-frosting, a job related police-raid, one failed business venture, and a tumultuous local election later and yet we still love spending time with each other. Believe it or not, she is still bringing me breakfast in bed. Not only do I love her immensely, but I can feel how strongly she loves me too. When you have what we have, you never feel jealous and you never feel insecure. No matter how our bodies evolve through age or how many mistakes we make, the love we have for each other is always profoundly present.

True love, soul mates, perfect partners…call it what you want. There are so many bad things that never enter your mind when you’re with the right person. Similarly, there are so many good things that are always on your mind when you find that certain someone. It’s a wonderfully liberating, incredible, and rewarding feeling to be with the one person in the world who really knows you inside and out, loves you unconditionally, gets all your jokes, and still wants to spend time with you regardless. When you read some of my jokes, you may understand just how lucky I truly am.

Of Selfishness & Coco Puffs

I was reminded last night of a time while I was still living at home with my mom when I knew I had been a very selfish boy. My sister Lisa was pregnant with her first child Lauren and I had selfishly eaten an entire box of Coco Puffs for lunch that she had apparently purchased for herself while suffering from some powerful pregnancy-induced food cravings. The chocolate-flavored Deity of American cereals we both loved so much was just too powerful a draw. I mean really, who on this planet with 30 available minutes, a clean spoon, and a gallon of ice cold milk could ignore such a beacon of nutrition and chocolatey goodness? Not me, I’m very sorry to admit.

Lisa, I know it’s been 33 years but I’m sorry. I couldn’t help myself and I didn’t mean to make you cry on the kitchen floor. I hope to make it up to you one day, but I’ve never actually heard of buying make-up Coco Puffs yet, maybe soon they’ll start selling them at grocery stores for people like me who didn’t really know how to appreciate an awesome sister when they were young. I do hope you understand. Lauren, if you’re now suffering from any medical ailments or allergies related to or associated with Coco Puff deficiency as an adult, it’s not your mother’s fault, it’s mine.

Why are we so selfish when we’re young? I’ve thought a lot about that lately because it’s true. I was very selfish back then and from my own personal observations and experiences, I can easily observe most other young people are too. If you’re young and you don’t think this applies to you then you’re probably way more selfish than I was. You can’t recognize it because you lack the empathy to understand just how much you’re disappointing the old folks around you who are busily working to please, feed, clothe, encourage, comfort and bathe you. So, pull that free car over to the side of the road and call your mom on your free cell phone and thank her right now. For exactly what – you can figure that out when you’re 40.

We old folks, and now I’m officially one too, like to sit around and gripe about how disrespectful our young folks are today and how our parents would have whipped us with Hot-Wheel racetrack sections if we’d acted up like that. But the reality is that we were doing similar things ourselves. We just didn’t get caught. It’s not that we were more respectful, it’s just that we were more creative. This is because we didn’t have video games and the Internet, we had to learn creativity by turning tiny green plastic army men into a scene of the Trojan War, OR pretend they were cowboys & indians, OR imagine them as our first idea of what courtship was…all with the same toy. Don’t ask me to reenact any scenes, just go with it please.

On a serious note, I think that selfishness is perhaps a perfectly normal human survival mechanism. We’re all born with it because human children are born and live several years without the ability to do anything for themselves. We are completely dependent on our parents or our parental figures for our very survival, so we’ve been blessed by God with a few personality characteristics which make it completely impossible to be ignored when we need or want something. Since it’s my 50th birthday this week, imagine how difficult it is for Em to ignore me right now.

When scientists compare the brains of children and adults, the brain scans show that a region called dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, located in the left side of the brain toward the front, was more developed in adults. The area is considered to be involved with impulse control and empath. Researchers also report that younger children are more willing to accept unfair treatment than older children.

Science suggests that selfish behavior in children may not be due to their inability to know “fair” from “unfair,” but rather an immature part of the brain that doesn’t support selfless behavior when tempted to act selfishly. This area of the brain matures as we get older thus the majority of us do eventually develop a capacity for empathy…notice I said, “majority of us”. We all know a few adults who could use a steroid shot or two in their dorsolateral prefrontal cortex but that’s another blog.

So, when you look at it that way, how can you really stay mad at your daughter when she tells you she really needs the expensive Matilda Jane outfits after you’ve just been laid-off from your job? Go ahead and just buy the latest video game system for Junior because you already know he lacks the creativity to survive “old school” without it and if he doesn’t get to play, he’ll have absolutely nothing to talk about with his friends or anything to do during family dinners.

So, parents out there should rest at ease and think of two things. First, reminisce a few minutes on the things you’d still be embarrassed about if your mom found out to this very day…and second, know that the guilt of childhood selfishness is what fuels the benevolence of our adulthood. The worse your kids are today, the sweeter they will be to you when you’re old.

Luck: The Good Choices We Had Nothing To Do With

“You’re so lucky”, how many times have you heard that? Luck — good and bad — plays a big role in all of our lives, right? I know I am lucky — ridiculously, amazingly, fantastically lucky. And I am ever so grateful.

I am lucky to be alive; I am lucky to be healthy; I am lucky to have been born into a family that could care for me, and in a place where I did not have to fight medical odds just to survive infancy; I am lucky to possess the DNA to let my body develop in a way that is acceptable to my mind; I am also lucky that I was born with a decent amount of intelligence and natural tenacity to steer me where my luck may provide advantage; I am lucky to have a healthy and intelligent child who loves me back and who I can proudly observe as he discovers all the things I write about independently of me; I am lucky to have found and successfully trapped a wonderful woman who loves me like crazy and whom I love the same way back; I’m lucky to have a good job when a lot of people are struggling to make ends meet; I’m lucky to have a fantastic mother who has always been attentive to both my physical and mental well-being; I am lucky to have wonderful siblings who have continued to support me emotionally throughout my entire life; yes, I am one lucky SOB.

Every single one of those things, I would say, make me one of the luckiest people on this planet. I had nothing to do with most of those things, partial responsibility for a few, and I am lucky as crap they all went in my favor. Heck, one time I found a McDonald’s bag in a rental car with $500 cash in it…that’s pretty darn lucky huh?

Has everything gone perfectly in my life? Please. We all have bad luck too, but more than that, we all have challenges and struggles and disappointments and just plain ole crappy times. But none of those things – good, bad, lucky, indifferent, or unlucky – are what defines us. We’re way more complicated than that.

The way in which each of us handle good as well as bad luck is what best defines who we really are. If we are willing to learn, the way we deal with good and bad times can tell us quite a lot of what we need to know about ourselves. If things go your way do you get cocky, or appreciative…if things go South, do you pout and feel sorry for yourself, or just try again and again?

The knowledge gained from both situations becomes useful in many situations, but especially when we face hard decisions and potential life-changing opportunities. Because even if you have great opportunities constantly falling into your lap, luck is never going to be what pushes you forward to take advantage of or get the highest and best use of that opportunity. More often, it’s what you’ve learned from failures that will be the thing that propels you forward when an opportunity presents itself. People who don’t try, never fail. If you never fail, what have learned and how will you apply the wisdom from failure when luck avails itself? 

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” ~ Lucius Annaeus Seneca (2 BC-ish)

I drank it

Making the most of any opportunity, indeed, even to recognize an opportunity for what it is, means you have to be prepared. You must do the hard work to put yourself in the mindset that makes you ready to jump when your “luck” shines upon you. When you see that sliver of light, that tiny bit of hope, that opportunity you have been waiting for, which sometimes comes cleverly disguised as the exact opposite of what you had been waiting for, what will you do? Luck has a strange sense of humor; it is a 1st cousin to karma.

What happens at that point is called choice.

No matter our relative luck levels and no matter how dire our emotional, financial, work, or other situations…that choice – that free will — that is what makes us human, right? The ability to step back, look at our lives, and decide what to do next is so very precious. But sometimes we do not notice an opportunity for what it really is. Clarity cannot happen if we are not ready or prepared for it. Circumstances do sometimes limit our choices. But even not choosing — being a chronic non-decider who just lets things happen around them — is too a choice.

Tough decisions, the ones that tend to yield the highest rewards, are called “tough” for a good reason. So how do we become more self-prepared? Well-informed decisions and smart choices are built on a lifetime of getting to know better who you are, what you want, what makes you happy, what makes you anxious, what makes you intolerable — and you do not learn that kind of thing in the Valley of Unicorns and Leprechauns.

In Shakespeare’s The Tragedy of Hamlet, Polonius told Laertes, his son, “To thine own self be true.” Timeless advice yes, but the only way to know thine own self is to put yourself out there, try new experiences, meet new people, try different professions, and make lots of mistakes. Through this “trial and error”, you will learn what works for you and what does not. You will discover other people’s methods and decide to take them on as your own. You will learn where you want to be, what you want to do, and an amazing number of other things about yourself that you never knew you didn’t know.

Although that particular line in Hamlet is one of the more recognizable lines, another of Polonius’ lines I find to be equally valuable is, “Though this be madness, yet there is method in’t”. Remember that line when you’re out on a limb doing something unorthodox and people are giving you a funny look.

In case you are looking for some sort of reward for all that hard work – your journey to self-awareness not only becomes enlightening along the way but it WILL make tough choices down the road a lot easier for you. Easier to make, that is. Not necessarily easier to carry through. After that initial choice, you see, comes the all-important follow-through, and that consists of tiny choices every single day to continue the path you have now chosen. And now we are getting to the real important part, Thoreau’s “suck[ing] the marrow out of life” I mentioned in my last blog.

This very blog, the one you are reading now, was written because of a series of small choices made each and every day. I love writing and I love teaching. Making the choice to write more, to teach those around me who I really am inside, to help those I care about navigate life’s up and downs…these are all things that I can do because of decisions I’ve made in my life that allow me to do it – and some good ole luck which provided me with the DNA needed to develop a love for words. The doors we open AND close each day will decide what we become and how we live our lives.

But, sometimes doubt creeps in because I would dearly love to be writing for a living. My failure or lack of initiative or lack of time and money and other distractions in my early life has delayed my own ability to finish what I started with my formal education. I continue to tinker with it but I never seem to find the time to just commit to finishing school. I changed majors 3 times and I finally know what I want to do, I just haven’t done it. That lack of a diploma closes a lot of doors for someone who likes to write…thus some bad choices were made.

Hey, no one ever promised that living life on our own terms would be easy, and sadly, no magic unicorns have shown up to guide me. I never found that pot-o-gold at the end of a rainbow and I still do not have a rocket propelled jet-pack to travel back and forth to work on. Perhaps I would if some rocket scientist out there had taken an unconventional path instead of the NASA path of least resistance.

But, that’s another story. Getting to know yourself and making conscious, informed choices on how to live your life, your one and only life, is based on what you should now know to be true – and that is experiencing life to the fullest without fear of failure. I do not know of any better way to move closer toward Shangri-La, which, by the way, is a moving target if you are doing things right.

Indeed, the learning process, realizing things about yourself, looking at situations from different angles, dreaming up of new ideas, goals, and adventures — those never end if you don’t allow it. How lucky are we? How lucky are people with luck? Well, if we have learned anything at all I think it would be that lucky doesn’t necessarily mean successful. Make choices and make every choice matter – good or bad. Living deliberately doesn’t give you the key to every door, it IS the key to building your own door.

Starting Where You Are

The phrase “start where you are” has been rattling around inside my curly head for a few days now. I am not exactly sure where I first heard it, but I immediately recognized the value of writing about it. Now that I just launched my own blog, it seems especially poignant that my first official blog would be about starting wherever you are with whatever idea or project or goal that you may have.

Trying to build on the context of a phrase like this could take us in several directions, any of which would be equally worthy of exploration. But the one particular direction my mind initially took was about allowing ourselves the permission to move forward by embracing, rather than denying the painful aspects or events of our lives.

I think most of us can find, though some have done a good job of repressing, painful or hurtful circumstances and events in our lives where we’ve been intensely wounded without having properly dealt with the aftermath. Sometimes we are hesitant to move ahead and reboot after a traumatic event, if for no other reason than to show respect and remembrance for what or whom we may have lost. Just the word “aftermath”, evokes a powerful memory for me after having recently dealt with the death of my brother Mike.

One of the most important forward steps I made emotionally with that event was coming to an understanding with it on my brothers’ terms, not my own. It’s so easy for us to internalize what others do; and in fact, I believe that is what generally hurts us most.

Being a man, husband, father, uncle, brother… you don’t always get an opportunity to grieve with the rest of your family when a family death occurs. Mainly because you’re too busy making sure everything is taken care of so others don’t have to deal with the difficult parts. That was the role I took.

When I finally started to vocalize my feelings out-loud to others and remove the weight of my own emotional state, I could more easily empathize with what was going on with my brother. Suddenly I wasn’t so concerned with myself and how it affected me but instead my thoughts were directed toward my brother and what he had been going through.

It was literally like flipping a switch. I remember so clearly the day I suddenly recognized that I was no longer dwelling on the dreadful decision he made. My daily ritual for months had been to run a hot bath first thing in the morning, then soak my body in hot water while I “what-if’d” the situation until I’d find a way to see fault in myself. But that’s what we do isn’t it? We assign our own logic and our own feelings to things that others do, like somehow others make their own choices based upon what we might think.

Trust me; they don’t. Not only are people not respecting our values or our feelings when they do things we don’t approve of, they probably don’t even share a similar logic. Their reality isn’t our reality.

Like I said before, our reality is shaped by our own personal experiences and those experience are not the same as others. So before embarking on something new, let’s first shed some old skin from our past and gain a fresh perspective. Forgive that what you can never fully comprehend anyway, recognizing first and foremost that it was never about you.

But that concept, as important as it is, is not what I have been equating with the phrase, “starting where you are”. Instead, I was interpreting those words much more literally, much more practically:

To stop making excuses for why you can’t do something, and just do it; whatever it is.

I don’t know about you, but I have a perfectionist inside of me who defers to waiting until the “right” moment to do something. I wait just until I have all the necessary tools or facts or information or whatever it is, I believe I may need in order to begin.

A perfect example of this is when I was 5 and my mom enrolled me and my siblings into a YMCA swimming class. My mom is very fond of telling us that for the first few days of swim class, I refused to participate. Patiently watching others swim from the edge of the pool, watching and learning. Until suddenly and unexpectedly, after having learned all the techniques from watching everyone else, I just jumped in the pool and started swimming.

That perfectionist in my head, as humorous as these stories can be now, has not really been the best role model for me. He’s quietly worked behind the scenes of my life to write a script that is much more reserved and skeptical than I wish it had been.

I have had to fight that guy mightily over the years, and I have definitely won a few of those battles. But he can be stubborn. He rears his curly head any and every time I think about trying something new, doing something outside of my comfort zone, or when confronted with the possibility of failure.

  • Will I be smart enough?
  • Am I adequately prepared to go down this path?
  • Will I *gulp* fail?

As I have clawed my way forward and pushed through those seeds of doubt for nearly five decades the result has surprisingly always been the same; Yes, I actually can be successful at things I’ve never done before. No matter where I was, I started right there on that very spot, and I succeeded by learning and growing into a new starting place.

Like a caterpillar inching along at a snail’s pace, I and you slowly but eventually find our center then quickly re-orient ourselves to a new normal. An old proverb says that just when the caterpillar believes his life is over – God says nope, you are now a butterfly. Today always marks the beginning of a new story – a new life.

As so often happens in my life, opportunities come to me at exactly the right time. Precisely when I need to hear a word of encouragement or to feel like I am somehow making a difference, an opportunity or a person comes along to fulfill that need.

There is no guarantee, however, that we will even notice that opportunity or that special individual. You must be aware and observant of your own needs in order to recognize your own lack of fulfillment. Spending time, and expending energy for the sole purpose of getting to know yourself is time well spent. How you do that (reflection, meditation, therapy), is for you to decide what works best for you.

When something good happens, you can’t be afraid to own it. You cannot allow yourself to believe that you don’t deserve it or that you’re not prepared to accept it. Accepting a difficult challenge you can grow into is one of the most important things you can do in life.

We all know I could never deserve a wife like Emily. Yet here we are married and still very happy. This is a perfect example of me starting where I was, woefully inadequate for the task, then believing with all my heart that I could eventually grow into the role. I’m still growing…

Sometimes we hear words of encouragement from others that we should be able to tell ourselves, but that perfectionist inside us can gobble those words up before they can reach our brain, or heart, or wherever it would feel good to be.

Don’t be afraid to recognize how awesome you are. If you don’t believe you deserve something good, you’ll never recognize the good that waits for you all around. Somehow words of encouragement come so much easier when inspiring someone else to follow his or her path. So just in case you need to hear some words of encouragement, here you go:

Start where you are.
You can do it.
Now go and do.

Do not let anyone, especially that perfectionist in your head, tell you that you cannot succeed or that you are not smart enough, or you’re not going to measure up to someone else’s version – make it about you and your vision of what’s right. Right and true and correct are all moving targets that evolve and change daily. Just as we become experts, the science changes and new experts emerge. Let that be your invitation to shine.

Also understand that painful events happen to everyone. It’s our ability to hear our own voices that helps us recognize what we need to do to move beyond. If you can’t hear yourself very well, no one else will either; speak up! You are good enough and you are smart enough — or at least you will be — but no one will never know without you starting…right where you are.