Living Out Loud

This entry wanders all over the place. Please bear with me. I do eventually get to a point. I think.

I actually had a different topic in mind when I started. But I was sidetracked when I started the entry with a sentence stating that it’s been a long time since I’ve felt like myself. I paused as I realized, I’m not 100% sure what “feeling like myself” is.

I say this with no bitterness whatsoever, just a sense of amazement that I’ve lived on this planet as long as I have without knowing exactly who I am. And I know I’m not alone in this, either. Like so many others out there, I’ve always been someone’s daughter, someone’s wife, someone’s mother, someone’s employee, etc… and I’ve spent most of my time trying to juggle the responsibilities of each of those roles. So I don’t believe it’s unusual that who *I* am is lost somewhere in there.

It’s not like I haven’t tried to “find myself.” Ever since my best friend in college died I’ve been on journey of spirituality and self discovery. That journey started 23 years ago. To be clear, that’s HALF MY LIFE. Twenty-three years of countless books, seminars, classes, and lots of inner work (through meditation, affirmations, etc.), and I still have NO clue who I am. I’m still thinking of myself as someone’s mother, as someone’s wife… and hopefully again someday, as someone’s employee.

That is BY FAR the most frustrating admission I’ve ever made.

Again, I’m not bitter… just frustrated… because— while I definitely love being a mom, a wife, a student— I should still have a sense of who I am and what I want in life, shouldn’t I? I should know what my hopes and dreams are. I should have lifetime goals. I used to have lifetime hopes and goals, but after years of heading down dead-end paths pursuing them, I’ve scaled it down a bit. Right now my sole hope is to reach a point where I might make enough money to be able to start traveling again (I miss that the most). And my only goal for the time being is: “make sure I can pay bills this month.” There has to be something more than that, right?

The biggest problem with not knowing who you are or where you’re headed is that who you are can change with what happens TO you. IMO, there have been far too many times where I’ve been at the mercy of my circumstances.

I’m the first to admit that I don’t have all the answers, but I’m fairly certain the situation I describe above is not ideal. Yes, I believe that external situations (yes, the positive ones, but especially the negative ones) should help you to grow, to evolve. But evolution implies that you are building onto something that’s already there— a core of sorts.

That isn’t to say that I don’t have core qualities within my personality. I am supremely stubborn. I am compassionate and empathetic (some have accused me, to a fault). When I see someone who has done something horrible, one of the first things I want to do is try to figure out what kind of pain they’ve experienced that makes them act out that way. I go out of my way to be kind to everyone, including complete strangers because I believe that everyone should have a bright point in their day, and I have no idea what kind of day they’ve been experiencing by the time our paths cross… but that doesn’t always go well.  And I have a hard time saying “no” because I always want to be helpful. These are definite constants in my life. I think some would consider them to be okay qualities, but if you think about it, these qualities indicate that I think too much outside of myself.

Keeping this in mind, I realize that I have allowed my life to “happen” around me. That’s not to say that I haven’t taken action to change things. Since I was laid off six years ago, I’ve started businesses, I’ve gone back to school, I’ve put myself out there time after time after time in an effort to find ways to make ends meet.

I started my post-layoff job search with the goal of “finding myself”— thinking that would lead to the “right” career; namely, my life’s “passion” (which is a trigger word for me— it drives me crazy– but that’s another post)— but after several failed attempts, my sense of responsibility kicked in and I realized that I didn’t really have the time to “find myself.” Since then, I’ve just been trying to make it from one stepping stone to the next, not really having an ultimate goal in mind.

I believe on a certain level I needed this experience, because it’s taught me that 1) I am stronger and more resourceful than I think (even though I still have trouble giving myself credit for that), and 2) when I focus on what’s happening NOW, I let go of worry about the future. I tend to do what I need to do in order to get to the next stepping stone. I don’t look ahead, and I try not to look back. I just keep my eyes on my feet and try to be thankful that somehow, I keep managing to find another stone that will support me for the moment.

I’m the first to say that mindfulness— the ability to “be in the moment”— is valuable. In fact, it is key to making the mundane magical— or as I also call it— turning up the volume on joy. Some of the simplest things can bring the greatest joy, but it’s hard to recognize that beauty if you’re not focused on what’s happening at that moment. Being in the moment also requires a good deal of faith— because you are letting go of the notion that you have to worry about what’s coming next— and I find that faith leads to hope.

But there’s also something to be said for being able to see the big picture every once in a while. At the very least, it can help you figure out the path to the next stepping stone. In order to create an effective path, however, you need to have a final destination. And I would argue that it’s hard to determine a destination when you aren’t clear on what you want. How am I supposed to eventually get to that point when I have no idea where I want to end up?

You may be wondering where I’m going with this. I felt the need to get the background out there because I believe I’ve had an epiphany of sorts… thanks to Janet Mock. If you don’t know about her, please look her up on Google. She’s pretty amazing.

I saw an interview with her recently where she talked about her journey of self-discovery— which was full of years of “going through the motions.” Things only really clicked into place for her when she opened up and started telling her story to her soulmate for the first time. It was at that time that she realized— in her words—  “what I needed to do was tell myself the story…. I’d never told myself my own story.”

Like her, I’ve been going through the motions, but I’ve never really sat back and reflected on what I’ve been through. Among other things, I’ve grieved the loss of what I thought was my identity when I lost my job and couldn’t find a new one. There are other situations of loss and grief that have taken place as well. Throughout that time— again we’re talking several years— I managed to keep going through the motions— with the main goal of trying to make things as “normal” as possible for my family. I also was able to find pockets of joy— bits of magic— in the midst of despair. But I’ve never really stopped to reflect on any of that time with any thoughtfulness.

After 23 years, I think I’ve been going about this all wrong. I’ve wanted to find myself, so I’ve gone through this roller coaster of taking action (by putting myself out there and opening myself up to several new experiences), and sitting still (through meditation, prayer, and other zen-based activities). But there’s a third option I haven’t tried. I haven’t actually verbalized my experience. My accomplishments and my failures. My tragedies and my triumphs.

I think it’s time to sit back with a recording device and tell myself my own story. The whole sometimes-beautiful, sometimes-ugly, soul-crushing-but-also-enlightening story.

Couldn’t hurt. We’ll see what happens.

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Pain is Not a Competition

As I get older, I find myself asking more and more questions about the purpose of competition… at least when it comes to this crazy ride we call Life.

IMO, comparing one’s life to someone else’s doesn’t make any sense. No two people have the exact same story… we are all unique, and every twist and turn in our individual journey is different from EVERYONE ELSE’S twists and turns. Why in the world would I ever compare my own journey to someone else’s? I don’t know where they’ve been. And chances are more than likely that we don’t necessarily want to end up at the exact same destination. It feels like comparing apples to motors. It just seems silly.

Admittedly, I’ve never been an extremely competitive person, which is part of the reason I left TV news to enter another career. It’s a very competitive business, and I just never had it in me. One of the reasons I ultimately decided to go was because I had heard from more than one supervisor during contract negotiations, “you know, there are people lining up around the block to get your job.” The last time I heard that, I replied with, “glad to hear it. Then it won’t be all that difficult to find someone to replace me.” I’m sure they thought I was being a smart ass at the time— since my boss had meant the comment as a not-so-veiled threat (i.e.,”we can get anyone in here to replace you”)— but the truth is, I said it sincerely. The direction news was headed— I didn’t want to do it anymore. So it only made sense to get someone else in there who could appreciate the position more than I did. In fact, I wished them well.

What prompted this post, however, was a story about someone who has gone through a difficult time— experiencing deep loss and death of many loved ones. I don’t think most people would deny that it’s a tragedy. And yet, the first comment about the story was, “well, MY story is much worse.” And yes, this person’s situation sounded horrible, too. But that’s not really the point, is it?

I strongly believe that pain is not a competition. Everyone experiences it at some point or another in their lives. Some people feel it constantly, while others might not feel it quite as much.

We are ALL living a life chock full of experiences offering varying amounts of joy and pain. When I’m in pain, others might be feeling joy… and vice versa. If we’re both in pain— we’re both in pain. My pain in NO WAY invalidates your pain… and yours does not invalidate mine. Let’s just try to help each other get through it, okay?

Not to mention, the pain competition is not a competition I want to win.

Life Lessons from Death

I’m a huge Star Trek fan. I won’t get into the whole “Trekkie” vs. “Trekker” discussion (but I’ll say that I’m definitely in the latter category). So the death of Leonard Nimoy filled me with great sadness. But this entry really isn’t about Leonard Nimoy, per se.

I understand why some people don’t get why others want to talk about the deaths of celebrities in social media— after all, death touches everyone, right? I’ve seen a lot of comments along the lines of, “why should I care any more about the death of Leonard Nimoy than the death of someone close to me?”

I don’t think anyone out there will tell you that you *should* care more. I can only speak for myself when I say this, but I honestly believe that people talking about celebrity deaths is not only a way for people to express their love and respect for the person who passed, but it also helps us remember what’s important. Life. Life is important.

In my opinion, when someone in the spotlight dies, talking about it brings us together to a point where we can think about Life in a different way. When someone close to us dies, we definitely grieve and the feeling is SO much more intense than when a celebrity dies, but we pretty much grieve alone.  Yes, we perhaps talk about the feelings we’re experiencing with a select few, but many of us don’t choose to share those feelings with everyone. By contrast, when a celebrity dies, many of us start sharing thoughts about life and death in a way that we might not have shared before.

In Leonard Nimoy’s case, I’ve seen so many wonderful posts about things he said via social media in his final months. He knew that his time was limited as a result of years of smoking (even though he quit decades ago), so he penned (i.e., tweeted) a lot of meaningful words as the time grew closer. All one has to do is look at his Twitter account to see that he cherished every minute of his time here.

The fact that he wrote those words and that now so many people are sharing them, is a gift, in my opinion. Because they remind us that Life isn’t forever. I realize everyone knows this, but so many of us push it back in our minds from day-to-day. How many times do we choose not to do something today because we “can always do it tomorrow?”

No one is immune from death. It could happen 50 years from now, it could happen hours from now. Some of us might have some notice like Leonard Nimoy and therefore have the time to share our final thoughts and feelings of incredible love with those around us… but others will not have any notice at all. So I have to say that what I’m getting from people sharing their thoughts about him (other than the fact that he really was a wonderful man), is the reminder that Life is a gift that could be taken away at any point.

And with that, I’m going to force my child to stop playing video games downstairs and head outside to enjoy the beautiful day.

The Potential Pitfalls of Positive Thinking

Allow me to begin by saying I firmly believe in the power of positivity. Completely. That said, the concept of positive thinking has always been a challenge for me… which is interesting— given the idea behind this blog.

The truth is, I’m an optimist by nature. But I’ve been through enough trials and tribulations to realize that always trying to see the best in every situation— or hoping that your positive thoughts will result in an avalanche of good tidings—- often feels like trying to fit the Pacific Ocean into a thimble.

In fact, I’ve wrestled with the concept of positive thinking for several years. To the point where if I heard someone talking about it, I would practically run screaming in the other direction.

(Okay, that’s a slight exaggeration. It was more like “run crying” than “run screaming.”)

Name any positive thinking/affirmation method out there and chances are I’ve tried it at some point over the past twenty years.  My attempts especially picked up during The-Enlightened-But-Still-Dark-Ages (I’m big into acronyms, so I call it TEBSDA for short). That era started about two years into my unemployment (I was laid off from my job right as the recession started in 2009).

I checked out dozens of books from the library. I attended free seminars. I perused websites and blogs. I followed the protocols and steps and kept a gratitude journal while taking part in affirmation programs. I started and ended my days with prayers of thanks and gratitude. I did my best to avoid negative people and negative news. I did what I could to bring light and happiness and joy to others through random and not-so-random acts of kindness.

During this time, I noticed two things… #1) there is no shortage of SHuGs out there (again with the acronyms! This stands for “Self-Help Guru”— and I pronounce it like “sug” in “sugar”).

And #2)…. positive thinking is damn near impossible when you have a lot of craziness hitting your life at once. And I’ve had plenty. Near the top of the list: no job and no prospects for a job. After sending out literally hundreds of resumes, I’ve found I can’t even get a job as a barista at Starbucks— much less something in communications (my chosen profession for almost two decades). It seems no one wants to hire a former news anchor… apparently because they think I’m not going to take the job seriously, or stick around long. As someone who firmly believes that EVERY job deserves the best performance you can give (in my lifetime I’ve done everything from fast food to retail to news) and also someone who just would be grateful to have a purpose in life, this is especially frustrating.

I feel the need to say here that I have nothing but complete respect and gratitude and awe for many SHuGs out there. I will acknowledge that— as is the case in every business— some are only out for a quick buck, but there are many others who have changed lives and helped millions of people.

That said, when it comes to trying to apply their principles to my personal experience, I’ve struggled. Specifically, it’s difficult for me to put positive thinking into practice for extended lengths of time. After every book, every seminar, every blog post— I start out very hopeful that I can keep my positive outlook. However, the Dark Side of the Force proves to be too powerful. They have cookies after all (if you haven’t seen the meme, google “Dark Side cookies”).

As is my way, I completely over-analyzed the situation. I’ve since changed my outlook concerning these particular points (admittedly with mixed results). Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1) I confused “positive thinking” with “positive attitude.” This was at the core of my issues with positive thinking. For a long time, I thought of it as something that I should be able to simply turn on like a switch— a trait that could prove especially helpful when I was going through something horrible.

Case in point: when I was laid off, I was in a bit of a daze even though I knew it was coming. I told myself repeatedly before/during/and after the actual layoff that I should think of this as a “course correction” in my life— that it shouldn’t be viewed as a “setback,” but rather should be considered an “opportunity.”

In other words, I pretty much filled my head with every cliché in the book.

Here’s the thing: I wasn’t wrong. It was an opportunity. But trying to keep a positive mindset with platitudes didn’t diminish the reality of the situation. The reality is, getting laid off really sucks.

It was especially difficult because I was considered a valuable employee— but the recession meant that our particular department was considered more of a luxury than a necessity. Since I was doing my best to think “positive thoughts,” I’m not sure I completely understood the gravity of the situation at the time. Losing a paycheck, affordable health insurance, and—- as it turned out later when I couldn’t find another job— my self-confidence, turned out to be devastating. And the fact that I peered into the void with a smile on my face didn’t change that fact.

2) I expected… something. Unfortunately, I unconsciously created my own despair spiral as a result of trying to think more positively… because I expected different benefits than the ones I received. And what made things worse was the fact that I couldn’t even enjoy the benefits I was receiving from thinking positively, because I didn’t recognize them as benefits. I had blinders on, waiting for a totally different outcome.

It was never my intention, but I almost thought of positive thinking as a means to an end. I held a not-so-subconscious belief that once I started thinking more positively— that is, if I did it “properly”— it was going to yield some pretty fantastic results. Near the top of the expectation list: peace, happiness and abundance— not necessarily in that order.

Yes, positive thinking can definitely lead to those things. In fact, I’m now happier than I’ve been in a very long time (even though I still don’t have the abundance part— by a LONG shot). But for many years, I automatically set myself up for disappointment by expecting those things.

3) Every time I “slipped,” I blamed myself. This was the most damaging effect I encountered during my quest to bring more positivity into my life. I had watched several SHuG’s give their own accounts of personal discovery and transformation, and followed their advice to the best of my ability. Still, for whatever reason, I was unable to actually make my life better.

I’m expecting to get the award for Most Obvious Statement with this next sentence: many SHuG’s focus on the importance of shifting your way of thinking when it comes to positive thinking (I can hear the collective “well, DUH” even as I type this). And once again, that philosophy is not wrong. But it’s at the center of one of the bigger potential downsides of the current positive thinking movement, because it’s all too easy to blame yourself when you don’t feel the results.

I can’t tell you how many times I walked down the following path:

Step #1: I think to myself, “all I have to do in order to bring more [love/light/abundance] into my life is to change my thinking so that I’m more positive.”

Step #2: I think to myself, “I am taking the advice of the [book/blog/seminar] and doing [insert suggested action here] in order to change my way of thinking. And once I’ve taken these steps, results should follow.”

Step #3: I think to myself, “I’ve done [insert suggested action here], but I’m still not able to think positively.”

-or-

“I’ve done [insert suggested action here], my thinking has indeed changed, but I’m not feeling any changes in my life.”

-or-

“I’ve done [insert suggested action here], my thinking has indeed changed, but I’m not feeling any movement in my life, and since this has worked for millions of other people I’m obviously doing it wrong. I am a failure in all of my attempts at Life and don’t know why I even try. I give up.”

When it comes to self-punishment, I’m the queen of my own little personal fiefdom, so it shouldn’t be a surprise that I jumped to that final thought many, many times. Thankfully (or maddeningly, depending on how you look at it) I’m also an optimist by nature, so once I got finished yelling at the Universe and huddling in a ball in the corner of the room, I would slowly pick myself up and try again. But each time I started over again, I felt like I was less of a person because I hadn’t figured “It” out yet.

This happened countless times over several years.

Please know that I make light of this only because humor helped me survive the TEBSDA years (even though it didn’t really do a damn thing for me in terms of paying the electricity bill). So please know that if the above situations are familiar to you, I am not mocking you. I feel your pain only too well. Positive thinking isn’t something that comes naturally. Which, if you think about it, is really unfortunate. I’m still working on that.

As a matter of fact, I’m still working on all of this. But being able to break down why the SHuG’s theories didn’t work for me has helped me avoid falling back into old habits like the ones I list above.

It’s a daily process.

Achieving the "impossible"

(Note: as I mentioned in “About MMM,” some of these posts are from my former blog, because they fit the MMM theme. This is one of those posts… however, I’ve updated it with new information.)

“One can’t believe impossible things,” said Alice.

“I dare say you haven’t had much practice,” the White Queen replied. “When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ~~ Lewis Carroll

I decided to look up this quote one day after reading my horoscope. The horoscope told me (regarding impossible things): “the funny thing is once you let yourself believe them, they don’t seem all that impossible to begin with. The first step is to let yourself believe that such benevolence is in store for you. So go ahead — what are three wonderful, lovely and no-way-that-could-happen-to-me things that you want in your life?”

That caused me to pause– because from an early age we are taught, like Alice, to not even consider impossible things. It’s just a waste of time, right? Why even go there?

Then it dawned on me… that’s the main problem, isn’t it? Very few people dream anymore. I know I’m guilty of this.

Many years ago— when I was really struggling for happiness in the news business— a mentor of mine asked me what I wanted out of life. I told him that I really wanted to start my own business: a public relations firm for charities and non-profit organizations. But I had no money to start one. And even if I could get past that hurdle, I would most likely not make enough money to survive — since I wouldn’t want to charge my clients a lot for my services.

“Why don’t you try to get a small business loan from the bank?” he asked innocently… as if getting a loan is the easiest thing in the world.

“Um,” I was slightly annoyed. “because I would never get one.”

“Why not?” he asked.

“Because they aren’t going to give a loan to a person who might not be able to pay it back. There isn’t a lot of money in providing PR services to charities at a discount.”

He gave me a little smile. “So you’re going to admit defeat before you even try.”

(NOTE: By this time, I was highly annoyed and my head hurt — which was always a sign that he was making a valid point.)

“I just don’t see the point since I’m just going to be rejected anyway.”

This is where he pulled out the maddening wisdom that always made sense: “So what? You could be rejected 300 times before you find someone who says ‘yes’. At that point, it’s only the ‘yes’ that matters.”

And yet another dear friend of mine pulled out this quote from Thomas Edison just last year during a similar conversation. Edison says regarding the time that it took him to invent the light bulb:

“I have not failed 700 times. I have not failed once. I have succeeded in proving that those 700 ways will not work. When I have eliminated the ways that will not work, I will find the way that will work.”

And as my friend went on to say very succinctly and wisely: “Sometimes you have to figure out the wrong ways before you can find the right way.”

Very often we get stuck in a rut, thinking there is no way out… so why even try? We give up on our dreams thinking that there is no way.

But just because you haven’t found the right way yet, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a way at all. Like Edison, allow yourself to eliminate the ways that won’t work.

I’m going to repeat that with emphasis on a different part of the sentence, because it bears repeating: ALLOW yourself to eliminate the ways that won’t work. Don’t beat yourself up over it. Don’t throw in the towel and declare automatic defeat.

I know. Easier said than done. I’m still working on this myself. Constantly.

So my challenge for myself is this. I’m going to believe in three “impossible” things— I’m also going to put the word “impossible” in quotes from now on ;)— and reaffirm my belief for these things every day. At the same time, I’m going to take small steps toward achieving these things.

The worst that could happen is that I don’t achieve the “impossible.” But at least I can move forward knowing that I tried.

 

Enjoy the ride.

(Note: as I mentioned in “About MMM,” some of these posts are from my former blog, because they fit the MMM theme. This is one of those posts… however, I’ve updated it with new information.)

“Once you stop learning… you stop living.”

The above phrase started floating through my head a few years ago, right before a reunion with an old friend.

Before I talk about what we discussed, I think it’s important to explain how I met this particular person.

In August 2003, my son and I boarded a plane to visit my mother in North Carolina. My son was around six months old, and was actually a pretty good air traveler at that point (much better than when he reached the age of two).

We sat next to a very kind looking man. I have to admit I was a little preoccupied with the kiddo, so didn’t really chat. Until something very unusual happened.

As we taxied out to the runway, the plane pulled over to the side and stopped, and the pilot turned off the engines. His voice came over the PA system.

“Um, this is going to sound a bit unusual, but our flight is on hold right now because of storms over Cincinnati.” (We had a scheduled layover in Ohio.) “What’s really strange is that it’s not the storm system itself that’s holding us up— it’s the fact that lightning has struck the runway. So workers are now checking for damage, and will let us know soon if we have clearance to take off.”

I’ve been flying regularly since I was a child— a result of divorced parents who lived in different states. I’ve never heard of lightning striking a runway. I’m sure it happens, but it had never happened to delay one of my flights.

I became a little worried about my son. He had fallen asleep when the plane started to move. When the plane stopped, though… he was wide awake. The man next to me looked over at him, and started up a conversation about his own grandchildren. My son beamed at him.

We moved from talking about family to discussing work. He told me he was a theology professor. I told him I was a TV journalist. We started to discuss — one of my favorite subjects — good news and the power of good news. We had something in common: I had always wanted to report more of it, and he had always wanted to see more of it.

He told me he spent much of his time traveling all over the world, and he sees good news happening on a regular basis.

So it turns out the lightning had a purpose. We had plenty of time to talk about our passion for good news. Much more time than we would have had otherwise. Once we were up in the air, the trip wasn’t that long.

We emailed each other a few times after that trip, but lost touch eventually. I moved to another state and took one more news job before I decided I had to leave the business.

I wandered aimlessly for a while, trying to figure out what to do next. I started my good news blog, but found myself unable to keep it up regularly. Then something happened to remind me about the importance of good news.

Five years after that plane encounter, one of my co-anchors at my last station took some time off from work to make a personal trip to China. He was there to observe a forum of theological experts. Right before he headed home, he happened to strike up a conversation with one of the participants while they were on a train going through rural China. It was 4am and they appeared to be the only two people in the 45-member party who couldn’t sleep. They decided to go to the dining car to chat. The conversation moved to news. And good news. And the theologian happened to mention the name of a reporter he once talked to on a plane, one he had really admired because of her passion for good news.

My colleague told me later he about fell out of his chair.

Names and notes were exchanged. A couple of weeks later, I received an email from my former co-anchor asking about having lunch to talk about how things were going. At that lunch, he handed me a note.

And a year after reading that note… I found myself sitting in the same restaurant I sat in when I first read that note, with the person who’d written it.

Anyway, this person is really special. He glows with a resonance matching that of Santa Claus. He has a twinkle in his eye and a spring in his step wherever he goes. He has had so many powerful experiences around the world…. and has so many great stories… I could listen to him for hours.

Something he told me at this lunch meeting really resonated with me. He loves to travel around the world because he’s always learning something new. There’s so much out there to explore… why would we limit ourselves to just one location, one way of life, one way of thinking….? He pointed out that so many people out there believe that once they are able to get their big house in the suburbs, their 2.2 kids, and their high-paying job— their lives will be set. They honestly believe that once they get those things, they will not need to go any further than that.

But his philosophy is different. He believes life isn’t about accomplishing goals. It’s all about the journey.

So many of us have been taught to believe that once we make enough money… once we get the right house… once we find the right job… once we find the right partner…. our lives will be complete. And we’ll live happily ever after.

And yet, how many stories do we hear about people who have those things– who still are not satisfied?

Some just live with the underlying feeling that something is missing. Others start doing other things to stir things up a bit…. drink a little too much, or cheat on their spouses, or embezzle from their companies.

Life is a journey. It is a constant challenge to grow and evolve and change our lives for the better.

Right after we are born, we strive to learn as much as we can about the world around us… how to smile, how to talk, how to walk, etc. Once we achieve those goals, we set new ones. Eventually we move from the basics and start to learn things that help us understand our world better— things like literature, philosophy, science.

At some point, though… we grow tired. We have so much going on in our lives that we get to a point where we just want to survive, much less grow. But there’s always a nagging voice in the back of our head telling us…. “there has to be more than this.”

That’s because there is. Much more.

Of course, not all of us can drop everything and travel around the world ;)…. but there are always opportunities to learn new things. You don’t have to start big. Take up a new hobby. Sign up for a community college class. Buy art supplies and create something new. Plant a garden.

Life doesn’t stop when we accomplish our goals— why should we? Why stop learning and growing and creating…?

I’d like to thank my friend for reminding me of something I’ve always believed— but had forgotten until he reminded me that afternoon in 2009. Once you stop learning… you do, in fact, stop living. And that’s where the ennui comes in.

Now it’s 2014. Since we had that discussion… I’ve become a Reiki Master, I started working toward a Master’s degree in education, and I will soon have a paralegal degree.

Yes, I realize those things are all over the map. That’s part of the fun, isn’t it? And definitely keeping with the Making the Mundane Magical theme.

At the risk of sounding like a Nissan commercial from the 90’s: life is a journey. Never stop moving forward. And enjoy the ride.

When Bad Things Happen to Good People

(Note: as I mentioned in “About MMM,” some of these posts are from my former blog, because they fit the MMM theme. This is one of those posts… and it’s been modified.)

Anyone who knows me knows that I love football. I have many reasons for this that aren’t even remotely relevant to this post— so I won’t go there now.

Something that cracks me up about football, however, are the cliches you hear coming out of coaches’ mouths. Among my favorites: “the team that scores the most points wins the game” and “big players make big plays in big games.” Every once in a while, however, a coach comes along with a phrase that sums up everything perfectly. Like this one from former Notre Dame coach Lou Holtz:

Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.”

This probably sums up best my attitude towards life. I’ve had this conversation with many people in the past.

There is no denying that bad things happen to good people. And it happens on a daily basis. How many stories do we hear about people suffering or hurting in some way— and think to ourselves, “how horrible! Life can be so unfair!” Personally, I can tell you when I was a journalist I felt an ache in my chest every time I I told a story of a family who lost a child to violence. And I know everyone who heard the story felt the same way.

And yet, when a horrific story happens, how many times do we see people focus their grief and anger in such a way that it brings about something extraordinary?

It happens more often than we might think. But it’s hard to recognize because it’s very difficult to see past the pain of the original incident. There are some truly evil people in the world.

On a January day in 1996, a man in Texas jumped out of a pickup truck and dragged a 9-year-old girl off of her bike… throwing her in the truck. A witness called police and gave them a description of the man and the vehicle. Volunteers, the FBI, and police searched the area for four days before someone discovered her body in a creek bed. An autopsy determined she had lived for two days before being killed.

Soon after, the girl’s mother went before Congress to call for tougher laws for sex offenders. Her father talked with other parents who’d gone through the same heartache… trying to find out what they believed police really needed to know immediately after an abduction.

Two things came out of this incident: the National Sex Offender Registry and what we now know as the AMBER alert — named after that young girl, Amber Hagerman.

Before I continue, I want to make something perfectly clear. I am NOT saying that Amber Hagerman’s death was a good thing… in ANY way. As a matter of fact— even though I am generally a positive and non-violent person— if her killer (who was never caught) were standing before me right now, he’d most likely be begging for mercy by the time I was done with him.

I have ZERO tolerance for anyone who would ever harm another human being— especially a child. IMHO, there’s a special (and not in a good way) place in the afterlife for those people.

Rather, my main point here is— the aftermath of this horrific incident could have gone very differently.

Amber’s parents could have chosen to back away and privately try to put their lives back together the best they could after losing their daughter. And no one would have blamed them for doing so. After something like that, I can’t imagine even trying to get out of bed day after day.

Instead, they took that anger and that grief and pushed it back in the faces of potential child abductors everywhere. To date, the AMBER alert has resulted in the successful rescue of nearly 500 children in the United States alone… including some who were released as soon as the abductor heard there was an AMBER alert issued.

And the program is now international. Who knows how many children around the world will be saved because of it?

Life is ten percent what happens to you and ninety percent how you respond to it.

Lou was onto something when he said that quote.

Most of us will never have to go through what Amber’s parents went through. Again, I can’t even imagine. But the fact that her parents were able to get back up and not let evil “win” in this case is inspiring to me.

Bad things happen. In most cases, we can’t prevent them from happening. What we do after those things happen, though, is up to us. We have that power.

When something bad happens to you, it’s up to YOU to decide whether you will allow those circumstances to paralyze you. When someone does something bad to you, it’s up to YOU to decide whether you want to continue to feel like a victim and let that person steal your future happiness.

It’s our choice. I hope we all choose to make the best of that other ninety percent.