Thursday, September 29, 2011

Life Lessons: You Don’t Know, So Don’t Assume

September is a reflective time for me. As I turn 43 this month, I started thinking about some Life Lessons I’ve learned over the years and thought I’d share them.

Some people seem to have it all – money, career, a great relationship, angelic kids. Obviously, those people are doing something we aren’t. There they sit on top of the mountain while we struggle to make the climb. Oh, they have it so easy.

But how do you know that?

From the outside looking in, it is easy for things to look good. Think of the myth of the mermaid. After being out to see for months at a time, pirates and seamen would be lonely for companionship. They’d look across the water and in the distance see what appeared to be a mermaid, half woman/half fish, frolicking in the water. Upon closer inspection, what they thought was a mermaid, was actually a sea mammal called a manatee. If you’ve ever seen a manatee (look at the post photo), you’d know that these men must have been pretty desperate!

Yet, from a distance, that manatee appeared to be something completely different. So it is when we look at other people’s lives. We see them from a distance too. We don’t know what they’ve been through. We don’t know their traumas, we don’t know their sacrifices, and we don’t know what goes on behind closed doors.

I was talking to a friend of mine who is having a difficult time and when she looked at other people, she compared her struggles to theirs and came up short. She assumed that others were having an easier time. I asked her how she knew that. It’s possible that they were but in many cases, they have a host of their own issues to deal with.

I’m not suggesting that we wish something bad people who are doing well or assume that their life is a lie and they are just pretending to be happy. I’m suggesting that people are people and we all have our struggles and just because we don’t see those struggles from our seat in the back row doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

It’s easy to compare ourselves to other successful people and the further they are away from us, the easier we assume they have it. Rarely do we ascribe perfect lives to the people closest to us. In those cases, we know enough to know some of their struggles.

Recognize that all of us are human. We win. We lose. We have our ups. We have our downs. We have our regrets and our mistakes – every one of us. We all have a story to tell and if we sat down and heard some of those stories, I guarantee we’d be surprised.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Victim or Victor?

The words victim and victor have the same root. The prefix vict means to conquer. Of course, the victor is the one who does the conquering and the victim is the one who is conquered. Two words that are similar in origin but vastly different in meaning.

We often hear about people with a victim mentality. This state of mind is characterized by a sense of helplessness. They feel powerless to change their situations. They engage frequently in the blame game. Since they are powerless and have no control they couldn’t possibly be responsible for anything that happens to them. No, it must be someone else’s fault.

They actively search for reasons why they are in the state they are in. It’s because of their race, gender, their economic status, or sexual orientation. It could be because of their faith, their appearance, or any number of other things; but they can justify their lives and, to be honest, their lack of progress.

You see, victimhood does exactly what the victim thinks it does. It holds the victim back. It prevents them from making progress. However, in many cases, it’s the belief in the victimization itself and not the perceived victimizers that keep people in their place.

By its very nature, victimhood is the antithesis of victory. The victim is the conquered so it shouldn’t be surprising that they don’t share many traits with the victors. In the mind of the victor, blame is replaced by ownership and responsibility. Instead of spending their energy looking for who to blame or finding reasons why they haven’t moved forward, the victor takes responsibility for her situation and spends her energy looking for how to change a situation. They don’t look for excuses; they look for ways to take action.

What makes victimhood even sadder is when you look at how the victim perceives life, as a losing game, a source of oppression, as if everyone is out to get him, you see that this person can’t possibly have a happy and contented life. Sure, no one is happy and contented all of the time, but how is happiness even possible with this thoroughly negative outlook?

Tragically, whether victim or victor, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. It’s the Law of Attraction in action. The one who thinks constantly about defeat and injustice, and blame attracts more defeat, injustice and blame. A setback for a victim who does attempt to move forward is seen as a final defeat. They give up.

Whereas the one who focus is more positive and proactive attracts more positivity and action. Even when they fail, they don’t look for blame, they look for the lesson to learn and they get back up and go at it again. No wonder they end up winning a whole lot more than they lose.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Life Lessons: Karma is Weird

September is a reflective time for me. As I turn 43 this month, I started thinking about some Life Lessons I’ve learned over the years and thought I’d share them.

Whether you call it Karma or reaping what you sow, a lot of us believe that what goes around comes around. The good you do comes back to you and the evil you do returns to you as well. I’m not so sure about this.

In my life, I’ve seen a lot of people cause a lot of strife and create a lot of drama. I’ve been told that those people will get what is coming to them. In one case, I’ve been waiting for over 20 years to see the Karmic boomerang come back around.

On the other hand, I’ve seen people be giving and loving and caring and they are still struggling. What gives?

I think, for most of my life, I’ve taken a superficial view of Karma. If someone cheated, then Karma means at some point someone will cheat on them. If someone lied or stole, then at some point they would be lied to or be the victim of some thief. I’ve had sort of an eye-for-an-eye view of it.

I now believe that while Karma can work like that, a lot of time it works on a deeper level, more stealth-like. The cheater might not be cheated on, but he or she will always be looking over their shoulder, unable to trust. Likewise the liar and the thief also live in a prison of their own creation afraid that someone will do to them what they have done to so many others.

The people who strive to do the right thing are rewarded with a clearer conscience and the capacity for strong and solid relationships. They can sleep at night without watching their back every few minutes.

Karma is not a guarantee that we’ll be rewarded with exactly what we want if we do the right thing or a guarantee that we’ll face immediate or even delayed punishment for some of our wrongs. We do reap what we sow but not always in the ways we expect.

Karma is weird.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Get Some Rest!

If you are like most Americans you aren’t getting enough rest. In my opinion, good preventive health has three components: a healthy diet, moderate exercise and sleep. We hear about diet and exercise all the time but we don’t hear so much about sleep. In fact, in our workaholic society not getting enough sleep is considered to be a badge of honor. Maybe we need to rethink that concept.

Over a third of Americans say they aren’t getting enough sleep (according to a 2010 study commissioned by the Philips Center for Health and Well-Being). Of those, half of them blame stress for their lack of shut eye.

Not getting enough rest can have dire consequences. Loss of productivity at work, increased risks of driving accidents, issues with mood (impatience, short temper) and increased stress are all direct effects of sleep deprivation.

But it goes deeper than that. Researchers are beginning to link chronic ailments like diabetes, heart disease and obesity to a lack of sleep. If you are dieting, you know it’s a lot harder to stay focused on your diet when you are tired and sleepy.

If you pay attention to what you eat and you make time to exercise, then it stands to reason that you ought to start valuing your rest as well.

Here are some tips for getting more rest

1. Make Your Bedroom a Sanctuary
There are two things you should be doing in the bedroom and they both begin with S (sleep and sex). Try not to bring your work into the bedroom. Also make your room as comfortable and relaxing as possible.

2. Take Time to Wind Down
I have battled insomnia all of my adult life, and I’ve found I have to make time to wind down. I make sure I’m off of the computer by 8:30 and I don’t answer my phone after 9:00 p.m. I’ve found that if I get involved in a major conversation I end up wound up after I’ve been trying to wind down! I also dim the lights tomake it more soothing.

3. Make Time for Sleep
Start with an extra 30 minutes either at night or in the morning. Recognize that sleep is a priority. A lot of driven people think that sleeping is a waste of valuable time. Change your thinking. Realize that getting enough sleep will help you be more effective and focused during your waking and working hours.

4. Drinking Does Not Help
A lot of people think a glass or two of wine before bed will help them relax. It is true … to an extent. The wine might relax you so that you get to sleep faster, but you won’t sleep as deeply and many times you may end up waking up in the middle of the night.

5. Develop a Routine
Make getting enough rest a habit and you can train your body to go to sleep earlier. After a few weeks of going to sleep and waking up at the same times (on weekends too when possible), your body becomes accustomed to it. Try this instead of sleeping pills which can be habit-forming.

Good night!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Life Lessons: The Better Test

September is a reflective time for me. As I turn 43 this month, I started thinking about some Life Lessons I’ve learned over the years and thought I’d share them.

The Better Test is simple. Look at your life – the people, activities and events – and ask yourself if this person or thing makes you a better person in some way, shape or form. If they do, great! If they don’t, start moving them out of your life.

I had a ‘friend’ that didn’t pass the test. We’d been friends since childhood but had grown apart. I realized that she did not rejoice in my successes and she seemed to revel in my failures and my low points. She was always critical and negative about things I wanted to do and almost seemed to resent me in a passive-aggressive way. When I looked at the totality of our relationship, I realized that this person consistently sabotaged me and tried to make me question and feel bad about myself.

She failed the test. Slowly, I started to move her from my inner circle to the outer circle. We still talk from time to time but we aren't nearly as close as we used to be and that was my decision.

When it comes to relationships, ask yourself the following questions.
  • Does this person motivate me to do and be more? Are they supportive of me?
  • Do they share my interests?
  • Do they make me laugh and help me see things from another perspective?
  • Are they there to help me up when I fall down?
  • Do they tell me the truth when I need to hear it?
  • Can I count on this person to be there for me?
  • Do they get me?
If those are too many questions to ask, here’s an easier way to apply the test. Ask yourself how you feel when you leave this person’s company. Are you happy? Have you enjoyed your time with them? Or, are you frustrated? Do they leave you doubting yourself, feeling insecure or just plain drained?

I’m not saying you should summarily dismiss a good friend who’s going through a rough time, but I am saying to look at the people in your life and ask if they generally add something positive to it. If not, quietly move them out of your inner circle.

The same applies to the job you have and the activities you engage in. Does your job challenge you? Are you learning new things? How is the work environment? How do you feel when you head home at the end of the day? Being tired is one thing, but leaving stressed, upset, angry or frustrated on a consistent basis is something else all together. 

If you are volunteering or engage in social activities, do you enjoy them or are you just there out of obligation? Do you like the people you are dealing with? Do you look forward to participating in your activity or do you dread it? If you dread it or don't enjoy it consider not doing it.

My goal is to surround myself with people, events and activities that make me a better version of myself. Even if a friend is just there to make me laugh, that is a good thing and I appreciate. Everyone in my inner circle is there for a reason. Hopefully, I'm in their inner circle for a reason too.

Think of your life as a play – a one-man or woman show. You are the star. You want to fill your first two rows with those who have scored highest on the Better Test. These are your biggest fans. These are the ones who clap the loudest and who really want you to deliver a tour-de-force performance. Let the people who might boo or walk of the performance, sit in the back ... way in the back. Those are the ones who have failed the test. 

For a better life experience, surround yourself with people who pass the Better Test.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Change Your Definitions

Motivational Speaker and author Tony Robbins tells a very powerful story about two men at a retreat he conducted. The first man was a high-powered CEO and the other a more casual and laid back guy. When Tony asked each person if they were successful, the CEO said no and the laid back guy said yes.

Looking at these two men, everyone assumed that the CEO would surely see himself as a success. He had an eight-figure salary, ran a major corporation and had his own private jet. He was the very definition of success.

When Tony asked the men to define success, the answer became obvious. The CEO fell a little short on the bonus he wanted to make. He hadn’t completed all of the projected he’d wanted to complete and so in his eyes, he was not a success. The laid back guy’s definition was a little simpler. He said, every day he woke up was a successful day. Of course he was a success!

The reason why success and happiness are so elusive is because we make them that way. We think, “I won’t be successful until I make this much money or move into this neighborhood or find a spouse.” “We assure ourselves that we’ll be happy when I lose weight, or when we finish school or when we find a better job.” Tragically, if those things actually come to pass, we find that we still don’t feel happy or successful.

The thing is that we can choose to be successful or happy right now. The truth is that perfection is fleeting and rare. We can be happy now, even if we still have credit card debt or a lousy job. None of that stops us from enjoying what is good and going well in our lives right now.

Maybe success isn’t measured in the amount in your bank account or the ring on your finger or the title of your job. Maybe success can be as putting in a full day’s work or being able to give back to your family and friends. Happiness could be laughing everyday or spending time with family and good friends.

Change your definitions and change your life!

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Life Lesson: Life Isn't Fair ... But That's Okay

September is a reflective time for me. As I turn 43 this month, I started thinking about some Life Lessons I’ve learned over the years and thought I’d share them.

Like every other child, whenever I felt like I’d been wronged or slighted, I’d cry “That’s not fair!” Many of us continue to do this well into adulthood. “It’s not fair. I should have got the promotion!” “It’s not fair. I work hard, I should have more!” “It’s not fair fill-in-the-blank.” Well the cold, hard truth is that life isn’t fair.

We don’t always get what we deserve. Often times, we don’t get what we want. Sometimes we don’t even get what we need. Bad things happen to good people and bad people have good things happen to them.

I used to wonder why. I tried to figure out for myself why things unfolded the way they did. Maybe it’s God teaching a lesson. Maybe it’s a divine punishment. It could be that the person just makes bad decisions. Maybe they just have bad luck. It was an exercise in futility. The truth of the matter is that I don’t know and may never know.

What I do know is this. Because I can’t determine why bad things happen to good people, I can’t go around pointing the finger of blame. When a bad thing happens to someone, I don’t point assume that they have done something wrong because I don’t know. Also, I don’t want people pointing that ignorant and accusatory finger at me either.

Instead of figuring out why things have happened or who to blame, I try to determine the what, the where, and the how. What do I do now? Where do I go from here? How can I change this situation?

Accepting this truth is freeing. Once you stop expecting fairness, you are able to move forward and take life as it comes: the good, the bad and the ugly. You are also able to start appreciating and accepting what you have, the things you overlooked in your search for fairness.
  • Maybe you didn’t get that promotion, but your current job gives you the time and flexibility that you would not have had with the other job.
  • Maybe you haven’t lost weight, but you have a partner that loves and appreciates you the way you are.
  • Maybe you weren’t blessed with children but you have many nieces and nephews, not to mention good friends.
  • Maybe you didn't buy the house but your rent payments are very affordable.
Just because life isn’t fair doesn’t mean we aren’t blessed and that we don’t have a lot to be grateful for.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Thankfully Thursday!

Today is Thursday, which has become in many offices across the country, Thankfully Thursday. You know, the day that comes after Hump Day (Wednesday) and just before Thank God It’s Friday. After that, we have two days away from work before we have to come down with a Case of the Mondays when we realize that we have to do it all over again. Is this any way to live?

Many of us, myself, at times, included, seem to trudge through the weekdays so that we can make it to the weekend, but what happens then? Many times we are overrun with weekend activities that have us exhausted by Sunday night or we squander that time doing nothing and complaining about how we wish there was more to do.

When I realized that I was spending five days of my week in anticipation of two (that I didn’t cherish that much once they were here), I challenged myself to be more proactive and started asking myself some questions.
  • What could I do during the week to add some fun to my day?
  • What did I have at work I could look forward to?
  • What part of my job did I enjoy the most?
  • If I’m going to look forward to the weekend, what am I going to look forward to doing with that time?
Asking these questions, and coming up with a few answers,  made the work days a little more bearable (and dare I say, at times, enjoyable) and the weekends started to become something to really look forward to.

Is every day full of meaning and satisfaction? Of course not, but I do have more enjoyment and satisfaction than I did before. Is every weekend a wild whirlwind of adventure? No, but what I choose to do with that time, I choose to do consciously, even if it’s just sleeping in or getting caught up on some house work.

Every day is a gift and it can’t be returned so we might as well make the most of it.