Archives For Personal Development

The less you have…

September 1, 2018

 

I am addicted to security.

To the illusion of security, that is. Security doesn’t actually exist in any real sense. No matter how much you accumulate, or how much you feel protected, anything in life can vanish in an instant. We all know this. Yet many of us live our lives as though it were one constant pursuit of security.

It’s garden variety fear, of course. And it holds us back from living the lives we were meant to live. Yet it’s a difficult thing to shake.

Take my present work situation as an example. I currently work for a company that is going through a period of significant turmoil and I could get laid off in the coming months. The rational side of me knows that even if that happened, everything would be fine. It might even be the best thing for me to have the security blanket torn away. Otherwise I might just keep clinging to it with this conflicted death grip I have going on.

dog_in_blanket

But security is a strange thing. For those afflicted with this disease, it runs deep in our psychology, all the way to the root of our survival instinct.

Yesterday on a bike ride with my family, after a challenging week of work and several days of running hard and losing myself in the stressful narratives, time slowed down and I was able to pay attention and notice things again.

And in an instant, graced by one of those simple epiphanies, it occurred to me. I have habituated myself to amass, to build up, to accumulate as though that will give me security, which deep inside I’ve linked to a belief that this will bring comfort and fulfillment. And of course it won’t.

But that unconscious belief has it more wrong than I even realized. Because in my experience, when I really pay attention, I have noticed that the less you have, the more you appreciate the little things.

The more you’re able to appreciate the little things, the more content you are.

If that’s the case, why fear losing things at all?

Life mulligans

March 16, 2018

Kindergarten, man. Keeps me on my toes.

With St. Patty’s day around the corner, the project du jour for my son’s kindergarten class is building a leprechaun trap. All over the country kids are being assigned this project. Maybe that seems cute to you, possibly even fun. But I beg to differ, my friend.

First let’s get my weird hang-ups out of the way. I’m not even comfortable lying to my son about Santa Claus. I’ve had to bow out of the tooth fairy conversations at home and leave my wife hanging… something sneaks into your room at night and leaves something under your pillow? That sounds scary as shit, I can’t support that. I suppose I can handle the Easter bunny a little better because at least bunnies are cute and harmless. And there’s chocolate involved. But now we have to introduce the concept of these little green creatures scurrying around town complaining how “They’re always after me Lucky Charms”?

Layer on top of that my son’s quirks… exceptionally gifted, ultra-sensitive… If we trap one will he die? How come I’ve never seen one? Are they real? “Well, they’re these mythical creatures…” So if they’re mythical then they’re not real? Answer one question and it leads to the next, and pretty soon you’re trapped in a web of lies of your own making.

Parents have to sign permission slips for everything under the sun that might pose a risk to their child. Want your kid to put on special glasses to watch the solar eclipse while he’s at school? Sign here. But introducing a new fake holiday-inspired creature into an already packed lineup? I am powerless to intervene.

But setting all that aside, this project introduces the classic dilemma parents face with school projects.

How much should we help him?

My wife and I entered this situation on the same page. This one’s all him. I mean our house is constantly filled with cardboard+packaging tape monstrosities… there was the “safe,” the “vending machine,” the 300 different “marble races,” so if this one isn’t right smack in the middle of his wheelhouse, I don’t know what is. You got this bro!

Except after round #1, things weren’t looking so promising:

And worse yet, as other kids began bringing their leprechaun traps into school before the due date, the bar was set at a whole different level. They were Elaborate. Exquisite. Beautiful. Certainly nothing most kindergarteners could do by themselves.

I won’t rant. I really won’t. Okay maybe just a little bit. COME ON PEOPLE! Must we start doing school projects on behalf of our kids at such an early age?? Can’t we at least try to get things started off on the right foot??

So the new dilemma was born. Do we stick to our original best intentions of having him learn to do his work as independently as possible, especially when he’s perfectly capable of coming up with something? Or when round #2 was coming in not much better than round #1, do we forego our idealistic intentions to avoid a situation where he’s embarrassed about his project relative to the other kids and/or risk having his teachers think he wasn’t taking it seriously (or worse yet that his parents weren’t)… just a family full of lazy asses phoning it in?

At first we did what great parents do. We went tiger mom and tiger dad on his ass. (Sort of.) Try again! Try harder! But we weren’t acknowledging his efforts and were making him feel bad about the work he was doing. He started giving up. Pretty soon things headed south. Son was crying. Mom was upset. Dad was stressed. Plan A wasn’t working.

Dad to the rescue! I intervened. Plan B was to help him as little as possible, allowing him to have all the ideas and just helping him on execution where his ideas outstripped his kindergartener capabilities.

But I, in my infinite wisdom and patience, skipped right past Plan B and initiated Plan C. I had March Madness to watch.

I am almost embarrassed to admit it, but it turns out this is mostly my work:

Don’t get me wrong, I subcontracted some of the work. Penny lane was all him. Tin foil siding and shingles on the roof, mostly him.

#ParentingFail

Parenting guilt is a real thing. Sometimes, as hard as you try not to, you’re impatient, you snap at your kid, you hurt their feelings in some way, and even if you were pretty damn good 99 other times, you dwell on that one time you weren’t at your best and you beat yourself up for it.

But lately I’ve been feeling pretty different about those moments. Because the awesome thing is you get to try again. Kids give you tens of thousands of at-bats to become a better person. Hell, forget the kids, life gives you the at-bats. I’m about to go to work and I’ll probably get dozens over the next several hours. You get them driving to work. You get them in the line at the grocery store. You get them everywhere.

Life gives us mulligans.

Over and over we get to try again. Even on the big stuff. For example I haven’t listened to my heart enough and the consequence is I’ve let others define my career path more than I’ve let my own heart do the talking. But even there, it’s not too late. I get another mulligan. I’ve been granted so many second chances I don’t feel I deserve. It’s one of the compassionate things about life itself. Usually, we get a chance to make it right.

Even if I don’t get a chance to fix something directly, it’s still an opportunity for me to grow as a person in kindness, empathy, wisdom and understanding and apply that to my next at-bat.

So, Leprechauns everywhere, beware of next year’s trap if there’s a mulligan to be granted. Perhaps the trap won’t look like much, but to me it’ll be the best damned trap a first grader ever built with his own two hands.

Why don’t I give more?

March 16, 2018

I’ve never been great about making time for service. At least that’s the story I’ve always told myself. I say this because I rarely make time to volunteer. My excuse is “I’m too busy.” I am definitely busy, but is that really why I don’t?

Or is it that I’m just not motivated? Or is the reason something even deeper? Like some kind of deeply etched pattern of feeling the need to take care of myself before I take care of others?

Many people who become parents will tell you how it helped them become less selfish—it’s the first time they’ve had to really learn how to put someone else’s needs first. My take? Meh, I’m still the same selfish asshole.

Oh it helps a little, but all it really does is widen the circle of self-centeredness a little to include another being. It’s a great thing, but for me it’s incremental and not a big move to true selflessness.

I’ve carried this story about giving with me for some time. Then three very insignificant small moments happened.

#1 I was walking into a building and held the door for a stranger, and afterward I smiled. But I noticed that smile came from somewhere deeper inside and radiated out of me.

#2 I was walking behind somebody and noticed a glove on the ground, and picked it up and asked them if they had dropped it (which they had). They thanked me, and I felt this little rush of joy.

#3 I was walking out and a person behind me told me my backpack was unzipped. I thanked them genuinely, and felt this little rush of joy.

My life is peppered with all sorts of these kinds of moments. Small acts of kindness. Seemingly insignificant acts of giving and heartfelt receiving. It’s not that I haven’t noticed these in the past. What was different was I noticed a subtlety… these tiny interactions were accompanied by a genuine joy that welled up from within.

That little rush of joy came and went so quickly that I see how it would normally get lost in the shuffle and go unnoticed in the typical state of being—the one characterized by rushing around in a hurry, lost in thought. Maybe because I’ve been meditating so much lately I was more attuned to catch it, and to see how the positive feeling came from a completely different place.

Giving feels really good. We all know this. Even in the backpack moment where I was the recipient of kindness, what made me feel so good was seeing how the man’s helpfulness made him smile and feel good.

To give is to love, and to love is the essence of being fully human.

So why don’t I give more?

Help one person at a time. And always start with the person nearest you. – Mother Teresa