Grow!

Spending so much of my off time this year writing about negative things, I decided to begin writing about positive and hopeful subjects in an effort to evolve last year’s sarcasm into a brighter theme for the remainder of the year. Perhaps a new theme every year might be in order, maybe not. Let’s just see where this takes us.

My last blog was about thinking outside the box. Honestly, I was just writing my thoughts on the matter to my son who always surprises me with his intuitiveness. But in the end I thought others might enjoy my journalistic journeys in the same way that people sometimes enjoy watching bloopers on television or turtles getting stuck upside-down.

What I optimistically think I will end up with are short but insightful vignettes of life. The ramblings, mid-life assumptions, and truths of “my-world” honed by my own experiences, tribulations, and incredibly stupid decisions. Since everyone knows I am fond of assigning short and pointed phrases or words that get right to my points or ideas (laughing), I have decided for the remainder of 2014 to have a one-word theme: This one is the word GROW.

At this age, one never enjoys wishing away time, but for me, I couldn’t be more ready for 2014 to end and for 2015 to begin. Adopting this one-word theme may, in some way, help to guide us through the next four months, embarking on a new year with enthusiasm and gratitude for having survived. This year has been one of my most challenging yet — certainly not what I had envisioned when I was thinking about the context of my New Year’s resolution, because I had not bothered to think about this year’s elections. Who would have imagined how I would have been thrust into such a thing, nor how I would have reacted? I guess I must be growing as a person and a reprobate all at the same time.

It seems unfair to me that experience, in some situations, actually does more to stifle a good time than to play saxophone for it. When you’re 20, life is all conga’s and bongo’s; at 50, it’s a tambourine baby. Now even the perpetually young Dick Clark has euphemistically walked-the-plank of the USS Minnow along with dozens of my other childhood benchmarks. All of which are being replaced by their Generation X versions, of which I seem less and less connected. Growth is not always appealing.

While there were some amazing highs in 2012 and 2013 like finally seeing Hawaii with Emily or her and I vacationing with my son in Europe, the emotional investment of an online inquisition has pretty much deflated my hot air balloon. Although 75% of people loved it, 25% are now my sworn enemies. But the canvas of 2015 is yet before us.

Whatever images or color palette that make their way onto the tautly stretched fabric of our lives will come from how well we interpret our subjects and how we position our brushes for the down stroke. The main idea is that we are growing our works. We may have to sidestep or even back up occasionally but we’re moving and improving, nonetheless.

A decidedly up-hill year like this can either break or make you stronger, and I feel confident I will be falling into the latter group. Though, of course, nothing worthwhile comes easy. Happiness, a basic human desire, cannot be obtained without emotional and intellectual growth and maturity. For this type of emotional growth to occur, we need to teach ourselves to be more expressive of our feelings and come to terms with whatever outcomes rise ahead.

Intellectual growth is best achieved by expanding your knowledge through cultural, technical, professional and scholastic endeavors. If you are not pushing yourself into uncomfortable places, you’re probably not growing. Being open to new ideas, learning new skills, considering opposing views, involving yourself in the community, and reading books, or attending lectures, art exhibits or traveling to faraway places to experience alternative cultures, can all provide great opportunities to grow.

How we react to challenges and obstacles can, however thoroughly define us? If you’re unable to rationally respond to a mini crisis, then you could benefit from a broader perspective. Perspective and perception are so important in approaching life’s big and little challenges.

Most of what we hear from others are opinions, not facts. Everything we see is a perspective, not necessarily a truth. So don’t let others control your direction. Grow your perspective through experiences of every kind so that what you see is closer to reality and stop giving other people the power to set your limitations. If you take the time to listen to good and bad, real and fake, truth and lies…you will grow.

I love GROW because it encompasses many different types of improvements — the continued development of our religion, education, relationships with family, our children, grandchildren and spouses, a new or evolving professional direction or talent, or just the intimate relationship we have with ourselves. I also like GROW because the concept is closely related to increases instead of losses. Much as I would love to slam the door shut on 2014 and never open it again, I know this year’s events will continue to influence me in 2015 and beyond . . . and that is never a bad thing. That indeed is the very concept of growth isn’t it?

So bring it on, 2015, because you when you get here, we will potentially be armed with an entirely new one-word theme. I’m just not sure what it will be yet.

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.