Friday, December 25, 2015

#26 - Beginning again (7/7)

I learn a lot of lessons in life. 

I try to figure them out. I work hard at it.

And I'm still a beginner. I still have so much to learn.

Like this blog, I still feel new at it. But at least I've started. And restarted. It's taken so much just to keep writing. To practice, and learn how to just put it down. And then, most importantly, hit "publish."

But I'm on the road. I've come so far and yet have so much to go. 

Next year will be a year of new beginnings. Of continuing to learn and grow. It really does take just one step. Keep moving forward, inch by inch. Keep showing up. 

This week I showed up. Seven out of seven times. For the second time this year. That's a nice way to end the year.

My plan is to keep posting every two weeks. It's already a reoccurring event on my calendar. And so we'll try again another year. 

Mastery, I'm learning, takes lots of practice, and even more patience. So I'll keep going and keep writing. 

I'd love for you to join me in 2016.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Thursday, December 24, 2015

#25 - A Time for Make-Believe (6/7)

Many children live in a world of make believe. 


Santa Claus is on his way to your house, right now. 

It's a fun game, and for them, it's completely real. That is what is happening tonight.  

As adults, we grow up. Or at least we think we do.  

I was just watching a TV show, and I noticed that I get attached to the characters. The storyline. The romance. The adventure. 

I think, yeah, my life could be like that. See? It all worked out for them. 

I have to remind myself that they're just characters. Actors reciting lines that writers created. It's all make believe.  

We watch Christmas movies and listen to the music. After listening to "Let It Snow" and "White Christmas" on heavy rotation, I walk outside in a T-shirt to 60-degree weather (here on the West Coast at least).

We seem to believe what we want to. We enter a different world. 

A fantasy land. 

What happens when that fantasy comes crashing down? When we have to stare reality in the face?

I suppose we have the opportunity to meet the full honest truth. 

Authentic. Real. 

True and Honest.

The make believe is nice. We all spend time there.

But like Santa Claus' visit and the nostalgia of Christmas music, it serves its purpose for a time.

It can feel sad when, in the coming weeks, we take down the lights and haul away the Christmas tree. The fantasy gets packed up in a box until next time. 

But we trade it for spring. For a new year, and a new perspective. 

Instead of missing the snow and pretending it's there, we can enjoy the weather that is there. 

Instead of waiting for Santa Claus to bring us joy through the chimney, we can create it with one another. 

Just us. Maybe that's all we need. No make-believe required.

#24 - Stuffed Elephants & Why I sit in my car (5/7)

I'm sitting in my car right now. Writing this entry on my phone.

Earlier today, I needed to do some reading, and I ended up bringing it to my car and reading there for about 45 minutes.

It's this odd quirk I have. I've noticed recently how much time I spend in my car. I gravitate toward it.

But what a place to read: there's natural sunlight. A comfortable seat (which reclines). Privacy and security (it locks). No wind or noise. A cupholder.

I think it makes sense.  

And yet I admit it's kind of weird. Why do I do it?

Why do I like sitting in my car so much? 

Then it dawned on me.  

I feel safe here. Comfortable. It's familiar. 

In fact, it may be the only place that has stayed consistent in my life over the last 8.5 years. 

I've moved houses at least 5 times. Rooms. Jobs. Careers. States. At my teaching job I sat in the same chair (essentially) for 5 years. That's changed. I had the same comfortable mattress that I loved for most of that time. Just got rid of that. 

And when I saw it from that perspective, I thought: 

Wow. No wonder. 

It feels safe and familiar. I feel protected, almost like a cave or cocoon. 

So in everything I've gone through this past nearly 10 years, I could always retreat to my car. 

And read.
Listen to music.
Get lost in social media.
Have long text conversations. 
Meditate and breathe. 

And it would feel like home. 

It's been the thread that ties everything together.

It makes me think of material possessions and how silly we humans can get with them. They're just things, after all.

Little kids with their blankeys and stuffed elephants. 

Necklaces and jewelry - maybe a family heirloom.

Teenagers and that hoodie sweatshirt they wear every day of sophomore year. 

But maybe they are more than that. Maybe they represent some thread that connects us to our past, brings us back home. 

What are the threads in your life? What things do you find always by your side? Where are the places you find yourself retreating to? 

I would guess that it's not by accident. 

You might find it interesting to explore these questions. See what turns up. What you find may surprise you. I certainly never thought of my car as that significant. But I guess it is. 

Next time you see someone attached to some object, instead of judging, what if you wonder what the story is? What if we actually ask the person? 

As for me, you can always ask. I'll do my best to answer. 

Besides, you already know where to find me. :)

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

#23 - Just one (4/7)

Is one enough? 

This questions came to my mind today. It was in relation to this blog. A friend commented that she had read it, and liked it, and wanted to give some other feedback. 

And I thought, wow, cool. I reached one person. that enough?

To be honest, many of the times I blogged this year I didn't share it anywhere, so it was possible that no one read. 

I was OK with zero readers. I was just writing to keep the practice, not for any audience.

So if I'm OK with zero, then I should be happy with one. Right?

I remember when I was younger, I felt inspired to change the world. I wanted to help so many people. Like in the MILLIONS, or at least, ya know. A ton. 

But what if one person is enough?

If you're talking about completely changing or saving someone's life, is one enough for a lifetime? Most news outlets would call someone a hero for saving just one life. 

How about just making someone's day? Making him or her smile. Is once per life enough? I think most of us would agree it should be something like one person per day. Or is that selling ourselves short? Maybe it should be like 3 per day. 10 seems too many. That's just setting us up for failure. 

Going back to this blog, I still wonder whether one person feeling inspired is enough to make me feel like I'm having an impact. 

In today's day and age, we are told to value quantity over quality. More, more, more.

I wonder what happens if we reduce our expectations down...down...down until we get to one. 

Imagine writing or making these statements: 
I'm going to do one push-up today.
I'm going to make one person smile. 
I'm going to write one blog post this month. 
I'm going to eat one vegetable per day. 
I'm going to write one thank-you note to a friend.
You can make a list of your own. ("I'm going to get one like on this blog post.")

If we're honest with ourselves - actually, I'll speak personally, if I'm honest with myself, I'll admit that I feel like one is beneath me. 

I'm better than one. I can do way more than that. 

I'm not going to settle. 

I scoff.

One 'like'? Ew.  

And then consider: how many days have I gone where I can't make any of the above statements?

I didn't even eat one fresh vegetable.

I did zero push-ups. 

I didn't intentionally make one person laugh or smile. 

There are a lot of days where I haven't even done one. 

In fact, I've gone years without writing a thank-you note. 

It's difficult not to get caught up in the numbers. To want to reach more people. To do more reps. To sell more products. To have more of an impact. 

But maybe, just maybe, one is enough. 

I'll take the day I actually made one person laugh over the time I dreamed of filling an auditorium, or planned to inspire a million. 


Monday, December 21, 2015

#22 - Around the bend (3/7)

It's nice to remember that things can turn around pretty quickly. 

In an instant, I find that my whole outlook can change. 

Today I went to work feeling in a crummy mood. I had been feeling that way for a couple of days. I had taken some steps to ameliorate my condition, but my negative perspective would not go away. All I could see was cloudy and frowny.

And pretty soon after coming to work, I was around people, and I felt great again. My mood and outlook changed dramatically without anything specific happening.  

What's weird is that for all that time before that, I couldn't see any other possibility than to be sad and forlorn. As hard as a tried, from that vantage point I couldn't imagine that things were about to get better.

When that feeling is there, it's so strong that it convinces me that I'm going to feel like that forever. It becomes the Truth, that there will be no end to the suffering. This is it, and I have no choice but to accept that. I know in my head that that's not true, but that's still the feeling. 

A few months ago, I spent some time in Colorado, and I remember driving through the mountains. And there's that moment when, after winding around the rocky corners, and through the thick brush of forest, in an almost claustrophic tunnel of trees and rock, you turn a corner and BAM! - you see it. The View. Everything opens up for miles and miles: entire mountain ranges, and a great big sky with enormous clouds, and a shining lake with cabins and probably birdhouses that are too small to see but you imagine they're there with little hopping, chirping birds. And this whole breathtaking view unfolds in an instant and you can see why you've come all this way, what wondrous things lie ahead. And if you think in that moment to just 10 seconds earlier, you realize that there's no way you could have imagined that that was around the corner. 

Because the previous 50 corners were just more trees, and more mountain, and more trees. So why would this turn be any different?

I remember other moments like that while traveling. In New York City for the first time, I was walking for miles, enjoying everything I saw. But I was looking out for the Empire State Building. So for mile after mile I'm overshadowed by steel and glass giants that tower over me, and I'm stuck walking through this monotony of gray sidewalk and office buildings, and then suddenly I turn the corner of some street, peer up, and BAM! There it is, straight ahead, the Empire State Building.

I find it comforting to remember this lesson in life. That yes, the feeling - whatever feeling - is there, but it probably won't be forever. That things can improve dramatically, and that it can even happen rapidly. 

If you've been winding on the road of life for awhile, and it's discouraging, and there is no destination in sight; if each new turn reveals a seemingly endless string of disappointments, remember that a beautiful, magnificent landscape may be just around the bend. 

It may be difficult to hope, but hope is what keeps us going; and when you finally see the View, you might know right then that your small, stubborn hope was worth it.     

#21 - Ready or not (2/7)

A friend of mine - "James" - is on the leadership team of a large organization.

There has been turmoil there recently and James was subsequently asked to step up to be interim leader. He wasn't expecting it. He didn't want to be in charge. But everyone was asking him to do it.

"At 5 years with this job, I actually have some of the most experience, and they see me as the most qualified. Kind of scary, isn't it?"

I found that question to be funny.

Inherent in it is another question that I can relate to:

"Who, me??"

It conveys self-doubt and the presumption that many other people are more qualified than us.

I see James as a strong leader, capable, intelligent, wise, great with people and a good heart. He's exactly the person I would want in the lead of an organization.

But he doesn't feel that sure of himself. Not yet. Not now.

It made me wonder how many other great leaders throughout history felt what he was feeling.

Do U.S. Presidents ever wake up on some morning and realize they have no one to look to for leadership? Does panic ever set in? Overwhelm? We don't see these moments, but I'm sure they happen.

Did Napoleon question himself before making key military decisions?

I wonder how often movie directors of large, long-term projects doubt their creative direction and decision. I wonder if they ever want to just hit "escape" and run away from the pressure.

I'm almost positive that most of the leaders we admire and respect went through this.

Even Jesus, leading right up to the Crucifixion, knelt in anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane and prayed, "Father, if You are willing, take away this cup from me."

This is a person considered by many people as God in the flesh, the perfect human whom they trust completely. His disciples left everything to follow him. And yet, even Jesus before his defining hour didn't feel ready. 

It must be a heavy burden to bear. It's human nature to want to run away. We ask, "Does it really have to be me??"

The answer is, in many cases, yes. It's up to you.

You're the best one to lead. You're the best one to speak up. No one else has your particular talent and voice.

I shared some of these thoughts with James, and remarked that maybe he's the same as all the "greats" that came before. That his self-doubt may be a sign that he is ready, not that he's not.

I hope that my friend begins to trust himself a little more, that he will be patient when he makes mistakes, and know that he's more capable than he realizes.

I hope this for James because I have the same hope for myself.

The next time I am overcome with self-doubt, I hope I remember my words of encouragement to him, so I can look at the leader in the mirror and say, "I got this."

Saturday, December 19, 2015

#20 - The New Year is already here (1/7)

It's nearing the end of December, so I'm going to celebrate the New Year.

No, not 2016. 


At the beginning of this year, I jumped on the #yourturn challenge, which was to write a blog post every day for 7 days. From January 19 to January 25, I blogged for 7 days. And it stuck. I finally began writing regularly and keeping this blog. 

First once a day, then once a week for all of February, and then settled into once a month. 

March, April, May.

June, July, August, and September. 

Then came October, and I stopped. 

The calendar had rolled to November 1, and I missed it. 

My 9-month streak was gone. And so was any motivation and momentum. There was nothing there. I haven't written a post since. 

Now it's December, and I'm about to end last year's "New Year." I figure it's not too late to get something done, so I'm going to start writing again. 

You see, the New Year is still a full year. It's not new for 3 months, and then it becomes an old year. It's a year for the full year. 

365 days that are all new. Every single one of them. (And an extra one on leap years, like the one coming up).

365 sunrises. 365 sunsets.

365 chances to do something because you can. Because you want to. Because you failed and you don't want that to be the end of the story. 

This will be the first post of another #yourturn challenge. A challenge to myself. Seven posts in seven days, ending on Christmas. That 7 month streak between March and September? This will match that in one week. 

So, here's to 2015. Before I start pondering next year, I'm going to finish this one strong, like I started it. 

And as you look forward to the beginning of 2016, remember that it's a full year you're celebrating. Another year we get to spend living and breathing and loving others. So enjoy all of it. 

Every day. Starting with this one. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

#19 - Do something you're bad at

I just got done painting.

No, not like a Dali or Picasso or Monet. Not that type of painting.

More like brushes, and trays, and buckets, and rollers type of painting.

I still have light mint green paint on my hands. And some on my shoes.

And the one thing I noticed when I started is that I'm really bad at it. I had done it before - in fact, it was in this same house about 10 years ago. But it's been awhile.

I kept thinking, "Man, I have no business doing this."

It felt awkward, and I could see streaks on the walls, and I wasn't sure about what kind of pressure I should use, and the angles were all weird, and I was like "maybe it's all in the wrist" but my wrist isn't used to the whole uppey-downey sideways motions, and it was just, let's say, not feeling natural.

But my brother is painting his house and needed help, so here I am. I'm doing my best. And I feel like I suck at it. But I'm also free labor, so hey.

What I realized at the end of it though is that I was starting to get the hang of it.

I was like, hey, maybe I'm OK at this.

I mean I was not ready to invite my grandpa, a former journeyman painter, to come take a look at it. I can only imagine the tears he would cry after looking at my workmanship.

It's just so so far from what he could do.

But I'm glad I did it. I'm glad I tried again at something I'm bad at.

I feel like I learned something about myself. Discovered a new skill. Pushed myself just a little bit.

And so I say to you- try something you're bad at.

Not like a new hobby or sport or something you eventually want to get good at. Not the first step in a long journey of perfecting a craft. Even though those too start with being terrible and making mistakes.

No, I'm talking about something you're just going to try for an hour. Or a day. And then put it down again.

Relish in what it's like to be out of place. To be a "beginner" but with no hope of being a master.

Like my painting skills. Maybe it will be 10 years before I have to use them again.

But when I do, I'll know that my wrist-rotating uppey-downey zig-zag motion skills are good enough.

And that's good enough.

Monday, August 31, 2015

#18 - Zap the Map


Stop using Google Maps on your phone. (or whatever app you use).

It's killing your brain. 

Let me explain. 

For years now, I've used Google or Apple maps for nearly everything. If I need to go somewhere, I type in the address, and I'm on my way. Boom.

It tells me routes, when to turn left, and when I'll get there. It's the most convenient and tempting way to get from Point A to Point B. 

And it's turned me into a zombie.

When I map from another city or some distant location to my house, I listen to everything it tells me to do, like an automated robot. Which makes sense for the first few hundred miles. 

But even when I'm a few miles from my house, I find myself continuing to listen intently and follow its every command. 

Lately I've found myself doing this and get annoyed. "What the hell am I doing!? I don't need this. I can think for myself." And I close the app. 

Suddenly, my pride kicks in. My autonomy. 

Where was it all those other miles?

Which is why, about a month ago, I decided to stop mapping while I'm driving. 

I wanted to practice driving the way it used to be, where you would look up at the street signs, and calculate distance in your head, and know which way is north, and just make a decision of where to go.

And what the heck, even get lost, and have to make a U-turn, and learn from your mistakes.

I want to use my freaking head for crying out loud. 

I want for the unthinkable to be able to occur, for my phone to die, and for me to still be capable of functioning as a human being with real skills.

Now, here's a side note: I do use the app to find my route before driving. I study it to see where I'm going before I'm on my way. And if I absolutely need to, I'll pull over and study it some more. (Let's be honest: there are obvious safety lines we cross when messing with our phones, even if it's not "texting." Pulling over helps me feel safer in this way.)

So that's my challenge to you. If you can, pick your head out of your phone and just drive.

Study the map ahead of time. Be prepared and trust yourself.

I'm willing to bet that with your eyes, ears, and brain, you have everything you need to get where you want to go.    

Friday, July 31, 2015

#17 - Letting

Letting go can be difficult.

I have these boxes in my room stacked taller than me. My goal is to get rid of most of the things in there and downsize and minimize.

I went through a couple of them tonight and found a lot to get rid of. 

And quite a bit to keep. 

There are classic toys, books I love (or used to love), concert stub tickets from 2001. I had to keep some of that stuff. 

They are memories. Some of them even have a direct connection to my grandma. One was a receipt of the last thing I bought with her. 

Yet they don't actually bring me any closer to my past or to anyone else. 

Letting go is hard. 

I was talking to a close friend this week about the nature of relationships.

And how as you get older, especially after college, those relationships tend to change. 

Sometimes a lot. 

They evolve. They take a different form. 

I resist this. I want things to be the same. I want to keep a strong connection. I want to hold on to the idea that our lives still have some strong commonality.

Letting go isn't easy. 

Somehow when I was younger, I came to see myself a certain way. We all do. We figure out what our identity is and then it sticks, like a plastic candy wrapper clinging to your shoe that you can't shake off. 

I've spent several years and have invested a lot of intention into shifting my paradigm, and altering the way I see myself. 

And yet I find myself saying, "Oh, I could never do that." 

"Who, me? Someone else would probably be better."

....Seriously? I'm really giving airtime to these thoughts? I know better than that. I no longer adhere to that mentality. 

Letting go takes time.  

I was thinking of other phrases that start with the same word.

Letting go.

Let it be. 

Let it show. We each have these amazing qualities and ideas and kindness inside of us, but we often hide them. 

We're embarrassed. We assume others' qualities are better.

But all we need to do is let them out. Let them show. 

Letting go, as has been mentioned, can be a challenge. 

But maybe it's the "letting" that's the hard part. 

It's such a passive word. It shouldn't require much action or thought. You're just "letting."

Allowing. Giving permission. 

Like the keepers of a canal or a bridge permit a ship to pass through. They don't have to pull or push or coerce the ship. They just have to allow it. 

It sounds so easy. 

But it's actually one of the most difficult things for us to do. Letting.

Maybe there's an opportunity here. 

Perhaps there's something that you have trouble "letting" in your life. 

What would happen if you gave up some control there? 

Shifted your expectation? 

Chose acceptance and patience?

As for me, I'm still working on it. I'm trying to be open to change. To allow relationships to connect and disconnect. To see myself in a new light. 

It may not be easy. But it might be for the best.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

#16 - Love me a ton or to the moon and back

I was going over a math problem with my students, and we were converting units and trying to solve it. 

After we did, I looked at the board and I wondered aloud: "What does it mean when someone says, 'I love you to the moon and back'? 

A quick Google search reveals that the moon is 238,900 miles from the Earth. So the moon and back would be 477,800 miles.

That's a lot to love someone.

Personally, I would drive a few hundred miles, maybe a few thousand out of love. 

But what if someone told you they loved you to the moon, but not back?

Now from what I can tell, the general expectation is a round trip, so I think a lot of people would be offended.

But that's still almost 300,000 miles! Shouldn't you be happy with just one earth-to-moon distance? Or maybe it's that you need to come back or else you're stranded there forever?

Okay, forget about the whole moon thing. How about 'I love you a ton'

Hmm, so you love me 2,000 pounds? I wonder if in other countries they say "I love you a kilo'? (No, seriously people in/from other countries - do they?)

What if someone says I love you a quarter ton, or I love you 100 pounds - would you feel cheated?

Back to the original scenario, how is love best measured, in distance or in weight? Is the ton of love greater than the lunar voyage, or vice versa?

After about 30 seconds of this, my students were begging, "Can we just do math problems already??"

Ha - it worked. Genius. 

We moved on, but afterward I kept thinking about it. How do you measure love? Is it with time? With money?

What is your time worth, anyway?

It seems silly to try to calculate these things and put values on them, but we do. 

But are they really worth that? Can they be measured?

I'm mostly posing questions, because I don't have the answers. Not for you anyway. I'm too busy trying to figure them out for myself. 

But I do know that some of the most valuable things are perhaps infinite. 

Time may be finite, but we all get the same handful of seconds every day. 

And as for love, well that certainly could be an endless supply. Is there a way to run out?

So maybe we should love people to the moon and back. 

And then some. 

I mean, why not? Whatever the measure is, if we're doing it right, there's more where that came from. 

Sunday, May 31, 2015

#15 - Whatever you do, don't choose the $5 tank top.

I was at Target tonight, tagging along with my brother, and I wandered into the tank tops. 

(Yes. I live dangerously. Wandering around Target with a credit card in my pocket.) 

After two seconds in front of the display, I saw a red one and thought, hey, I don't have a red tank top, I only have a blue one at home. And it's so deliciously soft. And it's my size. 

What better way to kick off the summer? For $10 bucks. That's pretty good.  

I decided to get the baby-soft, perfectly-fitted crimson bro tank, and, at first, everything was fine and dandy.

Until I found a different tank top - on clearance. Only $5. I mean, it wasn't exactly my size, but it was only 5 bucks. 

Uh oh. This was a toughie. What was I to do??

Yes, I do know that this story is a simple, if not silly, example of a difficult life decision. Yet I believe this situation exemplifies more significant moments in life. The same logic I use here can be applied elsewhere.
So I actually let myself wrestle with this one a bit, and attempted to bring all my decades of hard-earned experience and wisdom to the table to answer...

Which item should I choose?

Well, I thought to myself: let's examine my options. 

1) Do I buy the red one, in my size, for $10? Was it worth expending a double-digit amount of my hard-earned cash? Remember this was my first (and, at one point, only) choice, and one with which I was already satisfied. 

2) Or do I get the grey striped one, in a slightly larger size, for $5? 

The second option was tempting. It was half as much money! (That's like....50%!) It was quite prudent to be reducing my expenses like that. It wasn't too big, just slightly, and it was also pretty soft and nice. (see: anything can be rationalized given enough time). 

There was a third choice, actually. My other option, not stated, was getting nothing at all. But let's break this down. Choosing nothing can be a wise move, but can also be chosen immaturely and irrationally out of impatience and frustration. Just forget the whole thing, this is stressing me out, I'm not going to get anything. This could look a lot like avoidance. 

Yet, it could also be demonstrating self-control - resisting an impulse. Being big enough to walk away. 

Examined closely, this third one was more complex than it appeared.   

Well, shipyard shishkabobs - where in the heck do we go from here?

At this point, with all these possibilities weighed together, my life-experience voice was yelling something at me very clearly: the most tempting option was the worst one. 

The $5 tank top was the impostor. 

It was the choice that should elicit the same feeling as the good guy in the movie who turns out in the end to be the bad guy, and you get hit with the sinking realization that twists your stomach and tells you - run. Get the hell away and alert the authorities and don't look back. 

When you shake out all the options, the $5 tank top is the one not to choose. It's the safe choice, chosen simply because it's safe. It's the watered-down compromise. It's trying to please everyone and make everyone happy. It's the choice that plays into the fear of stepping out, of taking a risk, of letting go of something good to leap to a life that's better.

Don't. Whatever you do, don't get the $5-grey-striped, slightly-too-large tank top.     

There's always that option in life. The cop out that lets us rationalize anything really, because we were too lazy or too timid to do what was right, to do what we truly wanted.

I have too many shirts in my closet (literally, and figuratively - "shirts in my closet") that I purchased because I told myself a story in the store, a story that sounded nice but wasn't based on the truth. As if I didn't want to let that shirt down by rejecting it back to the shelf. I didn't want to hurt the shirt's feelings. But if I were truly honest with myself, I would admit that I'm not totally in love with it, so sorry-I'm-not-sorry, I'm putting you back, I'm leaving this store empty-handed. It's so much better than collecting junk I don't really want. Either love it, or say goodbye.

And yes, the third option actually is a choice. Don't just avoid a situation. But you can decide to walk away. Be decisive about it. I'm deciding not to make this purchase. I'm choosing responsibility. I'm choosing self-control. I'm choosing a story based on the truth. 

Or, do what you had already decided to do from the very beginning, do what was in your gut all along, do the thing that you knew would make you happy before you gave in to doubt and second-guessed yourself. 

Do what I did, and buy the damn red shirt.  

Thursday, April 30, 2015

#14 - Decisions, decisions

I was thinking today about small decisions.

Small decisions that, if you look at them a certain way, are really big ones. 

In middle school, right before 8th grade, my brothers and I didn't know what school we were going to the next year.

We had heard about a brand new school opening up. No reputation, no history. I don't even remember who we heard about it from. 

Anyway, if any number of events had happened differently, it's likely that we would have gone to another school, and never thought about it again. My whole life would have had a very different trajectory. Many of the people I know would be strangers. Much of my personal and professional history would be erased and replaced with something else. It's hard to imagine. 

Or if my grandma had not moved across the country with four kids in a station wagon, bringing my mom to Arizona. It's extremely likely I wouldn't be here today. A different choice would have jeopardized my entire existence.  

Or if I had taken an internship in Washington state instead of California. Who knows where that would lead?

When I younger, these thoughts overwhelmed me. I wondered if wearing a striped shirt instead of a cleverly worded graphic T would somehow set off a chain reaction to alter the course of human history. And don't get started about which way I combed my hair. 

But even the big decisions don't have to be overwhelming. They don't have to be heavy and burdensome - what if I choose the wrong thing?

Instead, maybe a different choice can open up new possibilities. So make a choice - you never know what cool, amazing, wonderful thing could result from it. 

Like me. :D

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

#13 - In the Pit of Despair? Take the escalator.

(This post was not actually written this morning, but earlier this month on a particularly wretched morning. Spoiler Alert: I'm feeling much better now.)

This morning I woke up feeling awful. Not physically sick, but in every other way I was not ready for the day. 

Downtrodden. Overcome with despair. Hurt. It was the culmination of several recent events and circumstances that left me feeling pretty awful about my life. 

Nope. I was not ready to face the day. 

Now before you grab your streamers and balloons to help decorate my pity party, and ask me "aww, what's wrong?", just hear me out. That's not what this is about. This isn't about how I felt, it was about what I did about it. 

I knew that I felt awful, I knew I was feeling sorry for myself, but I also knew that I didn't want to stay that way. I wanted to feel empowered and do something about it. 

I considered all the things I so often tell others (despite, ironically, my recent blog post warning against giving advice): 
  • Choose your attitude
  • Don't focus on the negative.
  • Think of what's in your center of control, and decide to take action. 
Ya know, that sounds WONDERFUL. Just fantastic. But it did not help my mood. It seemed an impossible task, as if this bad mood was an enormous boulder sunk down in the pit of my soul and I was to lift it up or roll it out. 

It wasn't budging. 

I also knew that just showing up to work wasn't good enough. It wasn't enough for me to just slog my way through it. I was supposed to be the inspirational teacher and advisor in a room with dozens of kids. 

I could possibly fake a pleasant attitude. I could force myself to say positive things. But you can't fake patience. You can't fake genuine warmth and energy. You can't pretend to be truly calm and caring.

I had to change my attitude and make it REAL. 

Oh boy. 

I didn't have much hope, but, ready or not, I threw myself forward. I did whatever I could to change my situation. 

I started by going to bed prepared the night before - I recognized my mood and anticipated a difficult morning. I stayed up a little bit later to make sure I had a clear plan for the day, because I knew I would be frazzled if I felt unprepared. 

I made sure I got a decent amount of sleep. It wasn't the most restful sleep because I was distressed and angst-ful, but I woke up fairly rested. That couldn't have hurt.  

I made and ate breakfast even though I don't like to eat when I'm under stress - I lose my appetite. But I knew I would need it for the day. And I brought leftovers for lunch to keep my fuel for the afternoon. 

Keep in mind, I'm doing all this feeling pitiful. I want to curl up in a ball and punch a pillow as I cry into it, probably resulting in unintentionally punching my own head but it would be OK because it's how I feel inside anyway. 

So even though I was feeling worse than Conan O'Brien after he was inexplicably let go from the Tonight Show in 2009, I was systematically and deliberately choosing actions that I thought would give me the best chance at surviving the day.

I made myself food, and made myself eat. I made myself sleep. I didn't know if they would work, but it was my best shot. 

Then perhaps the most useful thing I did was I wrote down affirmations when I woke up. I've realized that, even though I feel a bit like Stuart Smalley, these are really helpful for me, especially in the morning. 

Even His Airness needs to talk himself up. 

I wrote down a whole page. Here are some of them that I believe are worth sharing:

  • Today is a New day. 
  • I will spend my time in the present - not the past, not the future. 
  • I am paying attention to my heart and inner voice. 
  • I am an awesome teacher. 
  • I am an excellent listener, and getting better. 
  • I have a healthy, able body. 
  • Criticism does not have to stick to me. 
  • I am free from judgment. 
  • I get to choose my attitude. 
  • I am thankful. 

The day was still difficult, but I was surprised at how patient I was with the kids. I came in confidently and in control. I was FUN. I brought energy and insight. Individually, I probably had meaningful conversations with a dozen kids throughout the day. I got lost in my head a few times, sure, but I caught myself and returned to be predominantly present and focused on being a positive force for the community. 

I was amazed looking back at how I had started the day, and where I had ended up. To be honest, in five years of teaching, it was one of my best days in front of a class full of kids. No joke.  

What if I had chosen differently? What if I had not chosen at all and just let the day happen to me? What if I didn't have the tools and the experience to know how to respond to some pretty negatively powerful emotions?

I am thankful that I had the tools to create my own destiny today. And I look forward to showing my students, and others, so they can do it, too.  

(Please leave a comment here or on Facebook if you have a similar story to share and what you did about it. Or you can send me a message so I know you read it. Thanks as always for reading!)

Sunday, March 8, 2015

#12 - A World of Small Wonders

I woke up on Sunday and wrote this in my journal. It's like a blog post, but on paper. Here's the online version.

I'm sitting up in my bed on Sunday morning. My light is off and the blinds are drawn shut, and yet the crack in the blinds lets in a few odd spots of light. Not the stack of parallel lines one would expect, but a few irregular blobs.

I was sitting there thinking, almost meditating with my eyes open, my mind rested and clear, my body calm.

I gazed at one of the shapes of light, directly ahead, and mused that one of them looked like a a baby cartoon T-Rex. And I was just enjoying looking at the thing. A pleasant, ambient light starting to fill the room, and this one shape in front of me.

And as I stared at it, I began to notice the light that gave it shape was changing - not the shape itself, but its composition. Irregular lines and mixed patterns slowly panned left across the dinosaur's outline. It was like the film in an old movie, where the frames move across. I thought maybe my eyes were just adjusting, but I knew it wasn't my imagination. I could clearly make out the variance of light. And I surmised that there must have been clouds passing overhead, pushed by south or southwest winds...and the puffs of moisture and particles were chugging along, filtering the light passing through my window.

I considered for a moment that it could have been tree leaves affecting the light, but the movement was constant, smooth and never repeated. The ever-changing pattern was moving left the whole time. Which meant that this must have been a spot unobstructed by any branch...the sunlight was going through directly. I started looking around at other blobs of light and noticed an amalgamation a few feet away. I saw one had tiny shade spots dancing back-and-forth, swishing across the backdrop of light quickly. 


Ah, the leaves. There they are.

This whole spectacle on a lazy Sunday morning made me appreciate the small beauty around me. I say small, but it's really quite big.

I mean, think about it. This little light show in my room, which I would normally miss because I was rushing or cranky or too busy, could occur because a giant star, which is a burning ball of gas 93,000,000 miles away, sends light that travels a mere eight minutes to get to our planet, which gets filtered through our atmosphere and the ozone layer, and finds its way through a break in my blinds into the bedroom where I am. But not before having to cross a line of clouds slowly crawling across the sky like a row of taxis inching along the freeway. And the interplay between this caravan of clouds and the rays of sun is what creates the funny moving picture in front of me. And I get to enjoy it in the comfort of my own pajamas.

The world around us has a magical quality to it, and if we stop to notice and enjoy, we give ourselves a chance to be filled with wonder. And connecting with this wonder is the only way to have a chance to have a wonder-ful life in a wonder-ful world.

It's all around. And I bet you'll feel wonderful when you stop to enjoy it, too. 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

#11 - My advice is...don't give advice

I was sharing with a friend recently about some things on my mind...about something I've been struggling with (I know, who would have thought I'd have things to struggle with? It happens occasionally). 

This friend listened well, and then he did what a lot of us as friends do. 

He gave advice. 

He said what he thought about my situation. 

And I was surprised by my reaction: I didn't like it. It felt kind of crummy. 

It made me think of how I do that a lot. I give advice. 

I mean, why not? I care. I have a lot of life experience and wisdom. I even have a blog where I share this wisdom with the masses. (No, really, you should read it sometime.)

And, plus, no one has to take my counsel, I'm just going to put it out there. No harm in offering it. 

But, in that moment, as I was on the receiving end of it, I was acutely aware that it doesn't always feel so pleasant.

I'm not saying there's never a place for it, but it's best used in moderation. Because no matter how good the intention, it doesn't usually have the impact the giver intends it to have. 

As for my friend, I don't fault him for saying what he said. He meant well. 

But I left more conscientious about how I can be a better friend, teacher, brother, neighbor. 

I don't have to dole out advice. I can hear what they are really saying - I can truly listen.

And then listen some more. That's really what everyone is looking for anyway. 

OK, I got it. I came up with this, and I'm going to leave it with you.  

It even rhymes: "Think twice before giving advice."

Pretty good, right? first read it here. 

Look out for my book, Rhyming Adages, Summer 2018.