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-- Eudora Welty
Blog Posts for January 2013
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2013 is devoted to one, very single-minded task: getting out of debt.
This year, I will also finish Being and Freeing, the two books that are the follow-up to Seeing. Being is well on its way.
The running definition for Being is:
I choose to do the right things right, in the right place and with the right people.After the introduction, there is this section:Who Are You?
If you type the search phrase "personality test" into Google, it returns over 100 million pages in response. And it's likely a safe bet that you, like millions of others before you, have used one of these myriad personality tests, if only to discover that the Star Trek character you most resemble is Captain Kirk. Or Deanna Troi. Or perhaps Spock.
Just hopefully not the expendable crewmember.
You might have taken the Myers-Briggs test, the Color Quiz, a Chemistry analysis at a dating web site... all in search of knowing more about you.
So, after all that, who are you? Did you find out?
If you think about it, that question makes no sense - you've spent, quite literally, your entire life with you; and yet, you still look to outside definitions and validation of who you are.
Personality tests grow in popularity for one reason: it's difficult to find a good mirror.
It's not that you don't know who you are. It's that you want to know how you appear to others.
Think about it: you know what your favorite color is. You remember the name of your first crush. You were there when your best birthday happened.
You know all of the intimate details about you, and yet you occasionally want to take a test to find out more about you - according to the measure of someone else. That's what it is really all about. How do you measure up to others? Where do they think you belong? How do they see you?
You do it for one reason, and it's the same reason all of us do... relationships. It's far less about discovering who you are than it is about discovering where you fit into the world.
Imagine a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, spanning the continent. You are one unique, interlocking piece. Where do you fit?
Partially, it depends on the placement of others around you. You, as a piece, have a relationship to the pieces around you and so it's important to know how you fit in. Personality tests only matter in the context of others. These tests analyze your appearance, reputation, habits, vocabulary, behavior, friendships, career, hobbies, Zodiac sign, home, vices...
The tests assert that the definition of you is somewhat irrelevant until it appears in the context of the larger puzzle. Ultimately, through a test, you're trying to answer the simple question:
Where do I fit?So as you work to position and shape the puzzle piece of you into the larger puzzle, you look around at others to see how you fit. You move your corners and shape your extensions to snap into place in the alcove of another piece.
And then you grow aggravated as you notice, when you look around, that the entire puzzle is moving - every piece, jostling and shifting just as you are.
"Don't move! I fit there! See? - Hey wait - that was my spot. You don't fit there! Dammit - STOP!"
But life keeps up its turbulent transitions and just when you finally find your spot - you fit! - you suddenly find that you didn't really fit that spot and you pop out of place.
That's the gist of it - life is always changing. And you have no control.
It's easy to get mad about that. It is. You expected that the peaceful luxury of assembling a 1,000-piece jigsaw puzzle on a rainy Sunday afternoon would settle into your world and allow you the quiet contentment of easy placement.
But the world is rarely as secure as it's imagined to be, and that's usually because you look to others to hand you the definition of you. The key to security is to own your own identity - to know who you are from the inside out without the need for the confirmation of others.
In life, you can try to fit into the puzzle in the context of others.
Or you can start your own puzzle and be the first piece.
You might have been in a conversation before where you had a brilliant train of thought running, but then stopped abruptly on the inability to remember a specific word.
"Oh lord, it's that thing - what is it? C'mon, you know. Good gravy - it's on the tip of my tongue. I can see it, fer crissakes!" And you fuddle around until it comes to you. You can't continue the conversation without it...
When you don't know the name of something - its identity - the world stops and waits until the thing is named.
We find security in identity. To know a thing as it is in truth is to be able to anchor to it and continue, When you know what something is - its name and its purpose - then it becomes useful. By giving it an identity, it belongs to the flow and conversation.
Ditto for people, and most of all, for you.
"Oh lord, I'm not sure what I'm supposed to do. Who am I supposed to be with? Where should I live? I feel like I should know, but I can't put my finger on it."
Here's the kicker: people are generally not very good at defining their place in the world. In May 2012, a survey of college graduates by Rutgers found that only 39% of graduates found that their job out of college very closely aligned with their major in college. For the rest, it was either kind of a fit, or not at all a fit. Further, only 22% defined their job out of college as right in line with the career path that they had chosen, where the rest either saw it as stepping stone toward their career or just a job to get them by.
If you took a few minutes to complete this statement:
I am ____________How would you complete that?
Those are relatively factually based, but they lack flavor, so you might introduce some adjectives:
Many people don't know how to write this definition of self. They struggle. They might cheat, if you will, and ask their friends.
"Well, I asked my friends and they say that I'm kind and have a good sense of humor."
Or they might reach for something that acceptably defines who they are:
"Traditional Pisces Traits: Imaginative and sensitive, compassionate and kind, selfless and unworldly, intuitive and sympathetic. On the dark side... escapist and idealistic, secretive and vague, weak-willed and easily led."
On the other hand, consider the relative ease of describing the function of a hammer.
"Well, it's a tool. It has a handle and a weighted end that you swing toward a nail to push the nail into wood. A hammer is all about brute force. Carpenters use it. Some days, I'm tempted to use it on my boss."
Consider again the statement "I am ____________."
You are infinitely more complex than a hammer, but you should be able to give a rough definition of yourself without much hemming and hawing.
"I'm a woman, older than 30 (no, I'm not telling you). I have two amazing children and one begging for adoption. No, I'm just kidding. Well, maybe. I work in an accounting firm, but I'm not a CPA. Divorced. So if you know a good guy, I could use the help. Just kidding. Well, maybe not. Is he cute?"
If you ever visit dating web sites, it's not uncommon to run across a person where the author says that what you're reading is the third version of their profile. Why is it being rewritten and rewritten again? It didn't achieve the desired result. The profile wasn't producing the fit with someone for which the author had hoped.
The unemployed might create different versions of their resume to accentuate a particular strength for a particular job. Cover letters are written and rewritten to fit the specific job. You can't always control what job comes your way, but you can somewhat control how you can fit the available job.
You've probably heard the phrase, "Bloom where you are planted."
That statement is all about finding fit in the midst of the giant jigsaw puzzle that surrounds you. In so many ways, you take where you are planted for granted. Hence, make the best of it and bloom as best you can. It's reactionary. It's you shaping yourself in the best way you can to fit the pieces around you. And while that is an important skill, it's not optimum.
What if you first figured out how you bloom best and then planted yourself in the right spot for it? The cactus blossoms just fine in sandy conditions. A rose bush? It, um, struggles.
If you want to bloom in the best conditions possible, you have to be proactive. You have to forget the puzzle for the time being and focus on just you.
If there is a definition for Being, it is this:
"I choose to do the right things right in the right place and with the right people."So the first question to answer is the question of "I" - who are you today and who do you want to be?
After you determine that, you then make the conscious choice to be that person you want to be. A lot of people dream it up and speak about it, but sometimes there is no solid "do" - no consistent action to follow up that desire.
Next, you consider what the "right things" are according to who you are and what strengths you possess. How to do them right is about practice in your niche and becoming expert.
Finally, where to best do them? With whom?
The more you think of these up front, the more likely you are to find the fit in life that you seek.
Been a while since I painted... but I'm working my way back into it.
No matter who you are, the proper answer to the question of "I am ____________" is:
"I am what I do."You might assert that you are a good person, but if you don't act like a good person, you're not.
You might assert that you are happy, but if you don't behave with a cheerful demeanor, you're not happy.
You might assert that you are a doctor, but if you never practice medicine, you're not a doctor.
You are what you do. In fact, you could simply get rid of "I am" and say "I [insert verb here]" and then you've nailed it.
Mrs. Nashleanas taught seventh grade English at North Junior High School in Sioux City, Iowa. She made her students memorize the 23 helping verbs of the English language. She told them that helping verbs water down a sentence. The sentence resonates louder without it.
"Am" is a helping verb.
"I am writing a book" is less powerful than "Today, I worked on my book and wrote eight pages."
"I am a good person" is less powerful than "I volunteered at the shelter yesterday."
"I am happy" is less powerful than "I gave my wife a big smile before I left for the office."
"I am a doctor" is less powerful than "After lunch, I performed surgery to repair a man's rotator cuff."
Your verbs are who you actually are. Your nouns are your intentions. Nouns are how you want others to see you; it's how you see yourself.
Let's say that you are a giant. "I am a giant." That's how you see yourself and how you want the world to see you as well. But if you sleep until noon every day and then watch court TV while munching on Doritos, you might as well be a teenager who is 5' 4". You're not doing gianty things. Introducing yourself as a giant is not only irrelevant, it's misleading.
Or, without describing yourself at all, you could thunder across the valley to scoop handfuls of earth to repair the levy before the flood waters arrive. How would people then define you to others?
"In just three steps, she crossed the valley and with hands as big as a building and patched up the levy. Saved the whole town. No one else could have done it."
Yours deeds define you.
So, if you seek define yourself, you need to start with a somewhat remedial task - you have to plan the verbs of your day. What verbs do you undertake to be the person you want to be? Said another way, if you were to plan the start to your day, a daily plan that feels most like you, how would it start?
"I would be fishing."
Great, but that might be ignoring your responsibilities.
Talking to your children who are at some distant college?
How would you plan your day so that by 9 AM you could already say that your day was awesome?
Mine, as an example:
6 AMAll of that lines up with two of my personal goals: health and productivity. When 8 AM rolls around, I already feel like a success because my actions line up with my goals.
Card deck reps of wall pushups, leg lifts, half-squats, seated crunches, and half-bridges
5-mile bike ride
Standard breakfast (ham, eggs, sautéed onions and red peppers and spinach and garlic)
To-do list overview and revision
"I choose to do the right things..."
If at the end of the day, you have done the right things, as you have defined them, then that is exactly who you are. You carve out your identity by choosing to do the right things. Each time you make the choice to do the right thing, it's a victory. It builds your esteem through these little incremental achievements.
Sometimes, it's easy to get bogged down in what you're not. You have flaws? Yes, yes... we all do. But if you focus on doing the right things, your defects, as they are, diminish. You can put them in the rear view mirror with each choice.
Can you fly? Arms spread wide, can you stand outside and leap from the grass beneath your feet and launch into the air?
Could you rob a bank? Gun leveled at strangers who look at you with pleading eyes, could you forcibly take money that you didn't earn?
You cannot do what you believe is physically impossible or what you believe is morally unacceptable.
There is an episode of the police drama, Flashpoint, that well highlights this very point. A young woman, kidnapped as a child, lives in the house of a man who has told her that the home is rigged with a form of electric fence that will kill her if she tries to leave. The police work with her throughout the episode to help her understand that her beliefs about the home and the outside world are incorrect. Fear fills her face as she struggles to assimilate this knowledge to leave her virtual prison. It goes against everything that she thought she ever knew to be true.
No matter how outrageous or illogical, your beliefs shape the world as you know it and inform you as to how you can fit into it. Ultimately, your beliefs shape you.
What are your beliefs? If you were to list your beliefs and values to help define who you are and the person you want to be, what would you list? Almost no one does this, but as an exercise, it's crucial. It establishes the culture you create in your home, communicates to others how to interact with you, and helps you stay on the path best suited for you.
Anyone who has grown up in a chaotic home knows the random nature of the so-called "rules..." situational ethics and not solid principles run the day. A rule applied one day is absent the next. Those in the home suffer the stress of never knowing what's acceptable and what's not. It's one of the reasons why people esteem those with a firm moral core. Agree with it or disagree, you know what to expect.
The Boy Scouts, for decades, gave its youth a moral code that each boy committed to memory, comprised of twelve characteristics labeled as "Scout Law."
"A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent."
The Boy Scouts gave this code to its members to help form the culture they wished to instill among the ranks.
Few people actually have a written personal code that they could recite. A person might act in a certain way and when asked why they behaved as they did, they might pause, stumped by the question. "I don't know. Just seemed like the thing to do. I guess it's what my parents taught me."
Religion provides a moral code for some people. Sharia Law, the Ten Commandments, the Principles of Hinduism...
Regardless of the source, has there been an ethical guide in your life - bright lines that lit the path for you in helping you make decisions?
Your personal code guides your actions. Not everyone is religious, but everyone has some sense of right and wrong. Not everyone agrees, but everyone subjectively follows guidelines of some sort.
As an exercise, if you could narrow your moral compass down to simple points, what would they be? As an example, they might be:
It's important to consider your personal rules of life. Try to whittle them down to as succinct a list as you can; it forces you to really consider what you believe and why. These condensed points should be easily remembered and easily recited.
- I will obey the law.
- I am responsible for my things.
- I want to treat other people like I want to be treated.
- If it's not mine, I won't touch it.
Your beliefs are the foundation of your personal culture and the culture of your household. If you don't have a culture firmly established, then you and yours might react without thought to circumstances and thus have an inconsistent approach that brings about inconsistent results in life. Flying by the seat of your pants? Well, it's exhausting.
No matter what strengths or talents you have, your beliefs should apply universally to every situation. No matter what you choose to do, your beliefs are at the heart of any action.
Your deeds define you.
Your beliefs define your deeds.
If your beliefs are unconsidered and inconsistent, then you will appear unreasonable and confusing to others for your inconsistency.
Building yourself from the inside out requires mindfulness and control of your inner dialogue. The words you use internally, in your own mind, toward yourself and about your world determine for you the way your decision switches steer your actions. It's critical to know:
Whose words do you hear?
Parents, relatives, caregivers, teachers, friends, lovers, spouse, children, heroes, manager, magazines, movies, idols... all of them contribute in varying degrees to your inner conversation. The echoes of their words, depending on the weight of their importance to you, rebound in your skull and flavor the way in which you see yourself and your life.
Then listen some more.
Whose words do you hear throughout the day? You can tell this most easily and naturally by looking at how you respond internally to surprises, abrupt change, conflict, compliments, seeing people you like, seeing people you don't like, demands on your time, someone doing something nice for you...
How do you react? What words do you hear in your head?
When did you first hear those words? Whose voice, across the span of your life, delivers the lines of dialogue that you hear?
How do those words steer your actions?
A lot goes into how we react, so let's break it down and see how this plays out.
A woman's boyfriend loves her. When he looks at her, he admires her shape and when he sees her smile, it lightens his heart. He isn't shy to tell her, "You're so pretty."
Growing up, her older sister taunted her about her acne problem and some of the kids at school made fun of her body. As a woman, she has grown lovely and curvy, but when she sees herself, she still sees the pock marks of acne from long ago and she sees a bit of cellulite in her thighs and she doesn't like her belly.
"You're beautiful," he tells her, as he often does.
"No," she counters. "My thighs disagree with you."
She could have simply smiled and appreciated his admiration of her. We teach people how to treat us, and by parrying his kindness with rebuff, she trains him.
And so he tires of fighting this uphill battle, and the compliments come less often, until their absence is noticeable to her.
She says to her best friend, "Something's going on. He doesn't notice me like he used to. He used to tell me I am pretty, and I haven't heard that in a while."
Her friend shares her concern and asks, "Do you think he's looking for something else?"
"I don't know." Her worry grows, and starts to spread into other areas as her insecurities take root and she feels that she might not be attractive enough for him.
Never mind that nothing could be further from the truth. Unbeknownst to him, with each day their relationship moves into jeopardy. Finally, one day it all comes to a head during a misunderstanding, and then her insecurity blurts itself out, jumping front and center into a disagreement.
"You don't love me like you used to. You don't tell me I'm pretty any more. You're probably moving on, like all men do."
She feels less. He feels less. So the erosion continues until their breakup occurs, a breakup that had little to do with either of them, actually. The seeds of their demise were planted long ago and remained dormant until they were watered by his adoration, which to her was jarring and inconceivable because it contrasted with a mantra she repeated to herself so often through her life.
Whose words do you hear repeated in your head? And why do you hang onto them?
They might be the words of one person, or the amalgamation of many people's words, but learn to recognize your internal mantras, and investigate their source. Then look to see how those words steer your decision switches into your automatic responses and bring about actions that may lead to the exact opposite of what you want for your life.
If she had ignored those aged voices in her head from long ago, and learned to cherish his loving attention, his affectionate words would have continued and her happiness would have blossomed in a relationship where she felt real joy. Instead, she felt abandoned and alone.
It's the little things in life... and the decision switch is the littlest of little things.
There are two big stages in a relationship.
The first is being in love.
The second is commitment.
The heart does what it wants to do, and being in love isn't really something you decide on. It's something you feel. Now, you can choose to love someone, in spite of how you feel, but no one would mistake that for being in love.
Commitment, on the other hand, is a choice.
Commitment, in a nutshell, is choosing not to reconsider the relationship.
I've talked with several friends about this. I think mine is an odd definition, but I'll walk you through my thinking.
Most people would say that commitment is choosing to stay in the relationship. You commit, you stick.
I think that leaves the door open to a lot of problems.
But first, commitment...
When you first declare someone "boyfriend" or "girlfriend," you're declaring to the world that you're no longer in the market. You're not looking. You've entered a monogamous relationship with no plans to leave.
There's a certain expectation that comes with being declared "boyfriend" or "girlfriend." The expectation is no cheating, no looking around. You've chosen to work on building the relationship.
If that succeeds well, there comes later a proposal. You're engaged. You declare to the world that you intend to make the object of your affection your lifelong mate. You're not looking. Your monogamous relationship has flowered to the next stage and you have no plans to leave.
There's a certain expectation that comes with being declared "fiancée." The expectation is no cheating, no looking around. You've chosen to work on building the relationship toward marriage.
Could you still back out? You bet. Just as you can at boyfriend/girlfriend. So what's the difference between these two? Your openness to reconsideration.
In any relationship, there is a series of actions - gates, if you will - through which the person passes.
Treats me well? Check.
Kisses great? Check.
Moves among my friends and family with grace and ease? Check.
As the person encounters and moves through each of these, we gain confidence in the relationship, and the openness to reconsideration diminishes over time. In other words, if we deem someone a "match" for us, we stay with them until we decide that there is a reason to reconsider staying with them. We pair intuitively. (If that weren't true, the entire dating industry wouldn't exist.)
And then marriage... nothing came up during courtship or engagement that urged us to reconsider. In the absence of red lights, we move ahead.
Until divorce, which is unfortunately what happens most of the time. Divorce is not an option until one or both people determine that it's time to reconsider the relationship.
Commitment is the choice to not reconsider.
There are many people who "stay" in the relationship physically, but emotionally they're not in it. Divorce? Not an option. Chatting with a "friend" who "gets" you? Hey - what's the harm, right? Flirtation creeps in, and off you go on an emotional affair and you move dangerously close to cheating. But hey - you're sticking, right?
Not really. You left monogamy a while back when you left your partner and decided to emotionally "partner" with someone else. It could be a person at work, a long-time friend, or even your parents. Ask yourself: where is your heart? With whom do you share your most inner self? By whose side do you want to be? Love is where the heart is.
To understand commitment, you have to understand reconsideration. Whether you are boyfriend/girlfriend, fiancée, or spouse, reconsideration means that you are open to leaving the relationship. That includes emotionally leaving as well.
If you have a habit of emotionally leaving, then you don't have a clue what commitment really means. You live in reconsideration by choosing not to build on what you found, and taking your heart elsewhere.
There's nothing wrong with reconsideration. Everyone is free to live life as is best for them. But to remain in a relationship physically while allowing your heart to wander is a cruel abuse to the one you pretend to love. Just be honest about your reconsideration and leave. Don't call what you're doing commitment.
Reposted, in part, from this.
In mankind's millennia-old pursuit to escape the confines of the earth, it turned out that gravity was the tether and that a mixture of kerosene and liquid oxygen was the fuel to push into the freedom of space.I had a conversation with a long-time friend of mine a few days ago, and she and I discussed the notion of "escape velocity" - the point in one's life where what they do in Washington doesn't really matter a whole lot. Orbit the mess, but don't live in it or be ruled by it.
I loved space, as a kid. Still do. One of my favorite movies is Contact. Star Trek can mesmerize me. On the clearest nights, I watch for the still persistence of satellites moving through the sky overhead. Space, I guess, stands for what is possible.
Speaking personally, I don't care much for tether. I'm a bit like the dog that would chew its leg off before settling for chained existence.
My personal goal is to reach escape velocity, where I push beyond the reach of any tether and I can move freely in any direction. The rest is up to me.
I'm still fighting for escape velocity. Until I achieve it, it is bred into my DNA. I cannot help but be who I am. I know that there is a mixture of fuel for me that will sustain my launch, so I persist.