Life Isn’t a Pass/Fail Course

(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.)

As I get older, I find that I tend to learn the most valuable lessons from the most horrible situations. I wish there were a better way— if someone knows of one, please share it with me!

One especially meaningful experience involves someone I once loved very dearly, but am no longer friends with. He seems to think that my life is a lot better than his, and he resents me for it. This isn’t just an assumption on my part. He actually said this to me.

It’s been a while since we’ve communicated, and given how much anger he threw at me the last few times that we talked, I’m okay with that. However, as part of my never-ending quest to turn misfortune into something better, I can honestly say that he’s taught me something valuable.

The last time we talked, he made it clear that he felt like time has passed him by— that he would no longer will be able to find that dream job, that dream partner, etc. Basically, he’d given up. I tried to convince him that wasn’t the case, but when someone has his mind made up that his life is really crappy— it’s hard to get him to think otherwise.

Here’s my attitude… and I understand if others don’t subscribe to this philosophy (trust me, I know I do not have all the answers): Life is NOT a pass/fail course— at least when it comes to most things. Most of the time, you can’t “fail”… because there is no limit to how many times or how long you can keep trying (until you pass away, of course— but that’s a whole other issue).

Every stumbling block, every obstacle, every hole you fall into while you’re trying to get to your goal… is really frustrating and crushing. Trust me, I know. But if you choose to examine the obstacles more closely, they can also be incredible learning experiences that ultimately help you grow. They never have to mean that you’ve failed. Unless *you* decide to give yourself that “F”— and give up.

In Life, there are no referees on the sidelines ready to blow that final whistle. No judges declaring, “game over— stop all of your efforts now!” Only YOU can make that declaration. And if you truly want something more than life itself, why would you do that to yourself?

I understand the feeling of being knocked down and not wanting to get up again. I understand the feeling of being too tired to keep fighting a battle you don’t think you will ever win. Those times are inevitable, and they are a sure sign that you need to take a rest and recuperate. Surround yourself with things and people that you love. Laugh. Remind yourself about what’s important in life. Take as much time as you need (be it five minutes or five months) to regain your strength. Then get back up and get moving again.

Easier said than done, I know. But IMHO, it beats the alternative— dwelling in misery and depression. And it’s certainly better than attacking people who you think are doing “better” than you are. Each of us needs all the help we can get.

Depression and Resurrection

 

(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.)

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way… ~Charles Dickens

I once read an article talking about the Great Depression— and the lasting effect it had on that generation. The people who chose to tell their stories ranged from musicians to Supreme Court justices. Of course, they were all just kids during that era, and undoubtedly saw things a bit differently than adults did at the time. But still, I thought their words were telling.

When describing that time, they used words like “rich” and “special.” U.S. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens talked about how his family lost 27 million dollars in the stock market crash of 1929— and as a result he took a different path. Instead of growing up to run the family business, he had a number of— quoting him “eventful and interesting” jobs— such as a laundry assistant and a bellhop. Jobs that helped shape him into the person he is today.

“It might be hard to understand today, but the 30’s were a very special time,” he said.

Writer Gay Talese talks about how his childhood in the 30’s provided him with survival skills that he took with him well into adulthood: “The Depression taught me a useful skill: how to live poor and not be frightened by it. At my father’s tailoring shop, I gained another kind of education. Pointing out through the windows of his shop at roving apple salesmen and other people who were down on their luck, he would remind me that they were once bankers or entrepreneurs. He taught me to take nothing for granted, to be frugal and above all to be self-sufficient.”

Jazz musician Roy Haynes says the Depression fostered his love of music: “Artie Shaw, Bennie Goodman, Irving Berlin. They were who I believed in. They were my shelter and my religion. It was a rich period.”

Others talk about how the Depression led to them spend more time with their families, forced them to use their imaginations to have fun instead of relying on material things, and encouraged them to become closer to their neighbors. Many people would help anyone who needed it– even though there was barely enough for themselves.

As another interviewee, country singer Ray Price, put it, “I’ve come to the conclusion that hard times bring out the best in men, good times bring out the worst.”

It’s such an interesting lesson for today, don’t you think?

I’ve heard the argument that people were more “innocent” back then— “it was a gentler time” is the phrase I hear often (I think it might have been “gentler” for some people more than others— but that’s another subject for another time). And I also hear that people are just a lot meaner now than they used to be. I don’t think that’s necessarily true. Rather, I think we’re just out of practice. For the past couple of decades we’ve been setting up a society that has caused us to forget how to socialize.

I fully admit that I have a love-hate relationship with technology. I’ve always had a fascination with computers (ever since I first learned BASIC in the early 80’s). I also love the ability to communicate immediately with loved ones. Trust me— you don’t want to be near me when my wireless router starts acting up. And taking away my laptop and/or my iPhone would be akin to taking away my left arm. Since I’m right-handed, I could function— but it wouldn’t be easy, and it would really suck.

On the flip side, don’t get me started on how anonymity provided by the Internet has led to significant deterioration of people’s social skills (I never read the “comments” section of a news story these days). And people close to me will tell you that I hate things like self-pay automated gas pumps and self-checkout stands at the grocery store. In my opinion, those types of inventions were the beginning of the end of courtesy and civility in our society!

Okay. I’ll admit I’m being a little extreme here to make a point. But in all seriousness, one of the most pleasant conversations I have during the day is with the people behind the checkout counter at my neighborhood grocery store. I know them all pretty well. As the mother of an active tween who can eat an entire pizza on his own— I’m in there almost every day. I also enjoy talking/complaining about the weather with the clerk at my favorite gas station— who gives my son a free lollipop when we come inside to pay.

I’m not saying that the world’s problems will be solved by getting rid of automated tellers (although, those tellers are taking people’s jobs away— but again— another subject for another time).

Nor do I think that every clerk you encounter will immediately start being your best friend. I hear some of the horror stories about customers who yell at them when they tell them to have a nice day— so keep in mind that unless they know you, there may be a reason they aren’t saying that phrase. But it’s good to keep trying. And it’s good to keep in practice. We— as a society that increasingly values speed and convenience— are out of practice.

Going back to the original point of this post, perhaps hard times give us the incentive we need to slow down a bit and start talking to each other again. Perhaps we need those detours and obstacles in the road to help remind us that human relationships are key— in the worst of times, and in the best of times.

And you can start simply. Something as small as a smile and a kind word can be contagious. Pass it on.

 

Beauty in the midst of destruction…



If you’ve ever been in an ice storm, you know how eerily beautiful they can be. You also most likely know how destructive they are. Several years ago, we lost power for nine days and eventually lost many trees in our neighborhood to disease because the weight of the ice caused the branches to tear away from the trunks during the storm.

Still, it was amazing to see things you see everyday— in a different way. A chain link fence becomes a work of art when it’s encased in ice.

My friend George has been taking photos of the ice storm in his area this week— and I really think he’s done a great job of capturing beauty in the midst of destruction. Thanks for allowing me to share your photos, George!

(note: the photo at the top of this entry is my favorite— I think it looks like an angel)

Time to thank the naysayers

If you’ve ever had someone doubt you or your will to get something done, you know how deflating that can be.

Throughout my lifetime, I’ve had a lot of people question things that I’ve wanted to do… and even had some people try to talk me out of things because… “there’s no way you would ever be able to do that.” And every once in a while, I would talk to authority figures who would advise me to “set [my] sights a little lower.”

One example… when I was a reporter in Tennessee, I wanted to get to Washington state to be with my then-fiance. He was in Seattle, which– at the time— was the 13th largest TV market in the country.

Well, the place I was coming from— Knoxville— was ranked 65th. That was quite a jump, especially for someone who had only been reporting for about a year. So I applied for a reporting position in a much “safer” sized market: Spokane. Spokane was actually about #80 or so… so I would be heading in the “wrong” direction in terms of market size— but I knew my chances of getting a job there were much better than finding one in Seattle. And there was the added benefit of it being a lot closer to Seattle than Knoxville.

So. I sent my resume and my tape to TV stations in Spokane. I didn’t hear back at all from two of them. The third one sent my tape back with a letter saying, “You are not really ready for this sized market.” Mind you, they KNEW I was already in Knoxville— not sure if they realized it was a bigger market than Spokane— but whatever.

Anyway….. less than a year later, I was reporting at the ABC affiliate in Seattle. And had to smile a bit when I once did a live satellite shot for the station that had snubbed me in #80 Spokane— while I was working in market #13. I’m sure they didn’t remember me, but still— it felt pretty good.

It’s important to mention that I wasn’t originally hired by the Seattle station to report. They needed writers, so I sent in my resume and they hired me for a writing position. About three months into the job, they lost two reporters and were a bit desperate— so desperate that they turned to me and said, “don’t you have some reporting experience?” (I’m not too proud to admit that I really WASN’T ready for a top-20 market at that point, but I worked at it and got better as time went on).

Regarding harsh criticism: it’s taken me a while to get to this point, but eventually I realized that naysayers actually make me work twice as hard to get things that I want— in large part because I want to prove them wrong. 😉

So I am being completely serious when I say THANK YOU to all of the naysayers in my life. You all helped to light a fire under my rear.

 

Fear, "frauds," and friends

A young friend recently told me he felt like a fraud because he was being strong for the people around him when he felt terrified inside. I assured him that he was not a fraud. In fact, what he’s experiencing is LIFE. There’s a reason that one of the bestselling self-help books out there is called, “Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway.” A big part of life is experiencing intense emotions, acknowledging those emotions, and choosing to move forward… in spite of what you’re feeling.

In my opinion, you need to take a balanced approach, though. That can make the difference between simply going through the motions of life day after day after day… which can ultimately be dangerous… or using your current horrible situation as a springboard to another level. An emotional breakthrough, of sorts.

I’ll get to that in a moment. But first, I want to talk about something that dawned on me as I was trying to reassure my friend.

I realized that those of us who’ve come to this conclusion are not doing younger people any favors by keeping this type of knowledge to ourselves. I remember when I was around his age, I thought I was truly crazy for feeling sad, angry, and depressed about certain things. Everyone else seemed to have his/her act together— what in the world was wrong with me? I was able to keep the panic at bay for the most part— but there were a couple of times when I headed into work and had to stay in my car for a half-hour before walking in the door. I later realized I was having panic attacks (to the point where I would be hyperventilating). I managed to compose myself enough to get through the door and start working… but the whole time, I felt like a fraud. What in the world was I doing trying to “fake” my way through the day? Why was I even there?

(Meanwhile, it didn’t ever occur to me to think that everyone else around me thought that *I* was the one who had my act together.)

It wasn’t until later I realized I was not in the minority when it came to putting on that smile even though I felt more like fleeing. And that was a liberating experience for me. So I was glad that I could share this with my young friend.

At some point in all of our lives, we have intense emotions that threaten to overwhelm us. Going back to one of my other tenets of life: what happens next is up to us.

Some people let the emotions eat them up and do nothing.

Others acknowledge those emotions and do whatever they can to work through it. Part of that involves taking the action of moving forward even when we don’t feel like moving forward. And IMO, taking that step is quite courageous. I believe that by taking that step— even if it feels “fake”— you are starting the process of conquering whatever that emotion is. Moving forward is a sign you are refusing to let it get the best of you.

But— IMO— you can’t leave it at that.

If you continue to move forward pretending that nothing is wrong, and keep putting on a brave face without taking any actual steps to work through those emotions, they will eventually eat you up. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away… and in many cases it even makes things worse, because it continues to simmer below the surface until it reaches a boil.

This is where the balance part comes in.

It only makes sense that if you feel off-kilter, you should look for support to help you regain your balance. Thinking of it in a literal sense, people who break a leg find a cane or some other outside source of support to help them stay steady while their leg heals. Turning to outside support to help you stay steady while trying to heal an emotional hurt is no different.

No one is an island. In my experience it is ESSENTIAL that you confide in someone as you go through a really tough time. Whether it be a very close friend or relative, a mentor, a therapist… etc. You should never try to face intense emotions alone. At the very least, you will most likely find someone who has experienced the same thing before and will let you know that you are not alone.

And in some instances, turning to someone with a different perspective might lead to something you didn’t really think of before… or introduce a way to heal that you hadn’t considered.

Going back to my work situation all those years ago, a couple of my mentors knew what was going on. And they are the ones who kept me sane during the process. One of them really caused me to see the root of my issue, which helped me eventually determine that I needed to move away from a certain workplace. It was a tough (and risky) decision at the time, but— it was definitely the RIGHT decision (I can’t stress just how much it was the right decision— perhaps I’ll write about it in a later post).

Another thing that happened — I had an incredible boost in self-confidence. A result of realizing that I had the power to continue on with my life while facing my fears. I didn’t let it paralyze me. But I didn’t let it fester either. And I’m convinced I never would have been able to do so without support.

An important final note: if it’s something that’s really overwhelming you, consider seeking professional guidance. Some people have placed a stigma on seeking professional counseling… but I know so many people who have benefited from it. The right counselor will not only help you get through a tough time— he/she can help you eventually thrive.

Another important note: In the interest of making sure I don’t set myself up as an authority on this issue, please recognize that I have NO professional training whatsoever when it comes guiding other people. This (and every other blog entry for that matter) is solely my opinion. This is what I’ve determined works for me— after YEARS of trial and error.

 

Need to Vent

Sally: What are you saying? I should get married to someone right away in case he’s about to die? 
Alice:
 At least you could say you were married.
~~ When Harry Met Sally

I know that I’m usually about joy and good news and happiness and harmony— but please allow me to vent for just a moment— because this is driving me CRAZY.

I have not one, but two girlfriends who are planning to get married in the next year.

Normally I would be blissfully happy for them. I would be jumping up and down with joy. I think love between two people is a very beautiful thing, and I hope everyone on the planet has a chance to experience it in their lifetime. 🙂

The problem is, neither of these women are sure if they are experiencing it. When you ask them about getting married, instead of talking about how happy they are and how much they love their partners… they focus their conversations around, “I’m getting to the age where….”

You can fill in the blank after that phrase. So far the ones I’ve heard the most (among other things) are: “….I’m sick of dating,” or “…I don’t want to spend the rest of my life alone.”

I’m not trying to be judgmental. It just pains me, because the more I hear about their relationships, the more I feel they are selling themselves short. So— you’ve found someone to spend the rest of your life with. Now you have a date for weddings and parties. You have someone to go to concerts with. You have someone to go out to dinner with every Friday night. But are you happy? I mean, truly happy?

If you were to eliminate the other situations above (going to weddings, concerts, etc.)… and say, found yourself alone on a desert island with this person for the rest of your life—with no way of communicating with anyone else ever— how would you feel?

OK, that situation is a little extreme. But I am certain in at least one of these cases, my friend would cringe at the thought of spending the rest of her life alone with her fiance. And IMHO, that doesn’t seem like a good sign.

Everyone deserves happiness. If you are planning to spend the rest of your life with someone, don’t you also want to be happy?

Based on some of the stories I know about happy couples who met later in life, they seem to have something in common. They all eventually reached a point where they decided they were most likely going to end up alone for the rest of their lives. And soon after they came to that conclusion, they found their soulmate.

I’m not saying that once you resolve to be alone the Heavens will part and you will automatically find your soulmate. But I do think that once you become comfortable with the fact that you could be alone, you stop trying to force relationships to work. In other words, you don’t spend as much time with people you “think” you could be with… and that frees you up to find the person you KNOW you want to be with.

Not sure if I’m making sense here. I must admit that I’m writing this in a bit of a fog right now because of a conversation I just had tonight with one of my gf’s. It was very frustrating… because she just kept telling me that she didn’t have any other options in life (“it’s not like guys are lining up around the block to marry me”). 😦

If I could have reached through the phone I would have shaken her, and then given her a big hug before saying: love doesn’t have a deadline. Once you reach a “certain age,” there isn’t a big alarm clock just waiting to go off— telling you, ‘hey, forget about finding anyone, because your time is past.’ My father-in-law found love after the age of 60 (he also got into the best shape of his life at that point too, because he took up cycling— but that’s another blog post). My own father found love in his late 50’s.

Actually, now that I think about it… MANY of my relatives have found the love of their lives in their 40’s, 50’s or 60’s. So I know for sure that it happens. 🙂

Not to mention the fact that there are lots of people out there who are unmarried and not only doing just fine, but also are very happy (although that argument would never fly with my gf’s at this point).

Something I believe: as long as you love yourself, and believe that you deserve happiness…. the rest will fall into place— whether you eventually choose to be with someone else… or not.

You don’t have to marry someone just because you think they are your last chance. Don’t sell yourself short. You never know what’s just around the bend. Or, in the words of a great movie starring Tom Hanks, “Who knows what the tide could bring?” Hang on.

Thanks for letting me vent. I just had to get that out there. And if you think I’m being harsh… please know that I haven’t told these particular girlfriends about my blog yet (and now, most likely never will….*sigh*).

Detours

One night many years ago, I was driving home after anchoring the 10pm newscast… when I got stuck behind a VERY SLOW car. I was highly annoyed. I was exhausted and just wanted to get home and climb into bed. The driver in front of me wasn’t paying attention to the 30 mph speed limit… the car was only going about 20mph— max. I was forced to stay behind the car for only three blocks before it turned onto a side street— but it seemed like an eternity.

I quickly sped back up to 30. About a block after I reached the speed limit, I looked ahead to the next intersection and saw a huge SUV (without its lights on) ignore a stop sign and go screaming across the road. It was going so fast, I couldn’t even tell what color it was. It was just a blur.

I felt the blood drain from my face as I realized… if I hadn’t gotten “stuck” behind that slow car for three blocks, I would have reached that intersection right around the time that SUV went plowing through it. I would never have seen it coming because the lights weren’t on. And I would have been broadsided by 3-ton hunk of metal going at least 60 mph. Even if I’d managed to survive, I was about three months pregnant at that time.

All of a sudden, I had much greater appreciation for the driver of that slow car.

That incident also caused me to think. Sometimes what we want isn’t necessarily what we really need. I really wanted to be able to drive faster so I could get home quickly that night. But if I’d gotten what I wanted, I might not be around to write this blog right now.

How many times have I really wanted something… and been frustrated when it didn’t happen? And how many of those times did I not realize that what I wanted wasn’t necessarily what I needed? At least not at that moment.

Applying that theory to life, personal experience has taught me that when I encounter many, many barriers on one path… there’s usually some reason for those barriers. I’m fully willing to admit that when those barriers actually present themselves— I don’t really care what the reasons are. I get frustrated. I get sad. I get angry. And once upon a time, I used to stay stuck in those negative moods for a LONG time.

But that changed once came to the conclusion that—  if I trust my intuition when it comes to those types of situations, I usually end up where I want to be (even if it’s months, or in some cases, YEARS later). Sometimes my gut tells me to stick it out. A handful of times my gut has told me to just give up. Usually when that happens, another door opens up down the road. I must admit, however, that sometimes I haven’t recognized this door when it opens (because I’m focused in another direction)… and because of that, I end up staying on the same path to nowhere for a while— until ANOTHER door opens up leading me in the direction I need to go. Sometimes it takes three, four, five doors to open before I “get it.” (I tend to be a bit stubborn in this regard.)

In any case, I’ve discovered that by the time I find myself heading in a better direction, I have a greater appreciation for the barrier that sent me on the detour in the first place. Just like I had a greater appreciation for that slow driver.

The wait can be maddening, but it also might be for our own good. Sometimes we just aren’t as ready as we think we are. Sometimes we need to grow or learn certain lessons before we get it.

Sometimes it’s just a matter of gaining a greater appreciation for what we want. Or giving ourselves enough time to realize that what we THINK we want isn’t necessarily what we REALLY want. Or perhaps when we first want it, it’s not something we necessarily would appreciate fully at that time. Once we appreciate it more, we are more likely to cherish it forever.