Monday, October 29, 2012

Permission to Speak Freely?

Can we agree to disagree? Maybe. A lot of times, however, the answer is ‘No.” Lately, I’ve noticed that many people are downright offended by someone who voices a difference of opinion with theirs. It’s as if reasonable people can’t look at information and come up with different conclusions.

It’s worse now, in an election year. Where I live, one neighbor has had a sign for the presidential candidate he’s backing vandalized several times. I have had another friend (who doesn’t share the popular stance on a particular hot button issue) shouted down and verbally disrespected when she dared to voice her opinion.

In the past, I’ve been ridiculed for my faith just because I included the sentence, “I went to church” when a co-worker asked me what I’d done over the weekend.

It’s one thing to be offended by an offensive statement. It’s another thing altogether to be offended by someone who, while being otherwise respectful, simply does not agree with you. All of us bring our experiences, outlook, and beliefs to any discussion. It is those very things that help us come to the conclusions and develop the opinions that we have.

I’ve actually received ‘lectures’ from well-meaning people who have opposing views to mine. Their belief is that I simply must not have the facts. If they can explain it to me well enough (and in some cases long enough), I’ll have to come over to their side. What they don’t understand is that while we can have a lively discussion, I have my reasons for my particular set of beliefs and they probably won’t change.

The bottom line is to try and respect the person even if you don’t agree with their beliefs and unless they are in your face and truly being disrespectful, then respect them enough to let them have their views. In other words, agree to disagree.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

On Your Terms

What is success? If you ask 100 people, you'll get 100 different answers. People have different definitions and different benchmarks. Some people measure success in monetary terms, the square footage of a home, the labels on clothes or the kind of car in the driveway. Others base their definition on professional standards - the title of their job, how many years they've spent at a company, or even how many hours they work. Even still there are those that base their definition of success on relationships - are they in one, are they married, do they have the number of kids they want.

I'm to here to quibble with anyone's definition. I'm here to encourage you to pursue your definition - even if it isn't the definition that someone else wants for you. My definition involves following the beat of my own internal drummer and indulging in my creative pursuits (writing, photography, even performing). That definition runs counter to the more standard definition of those in my family. I've grown to be okay with that. Adopting their recipe for success would be a recipe for unhappiness to me.

Yet, if you find that you've achieved your definition of success or that you are on the way towards acheiving it and you still aren't satisfied or happy. If when you look at the path you are on, you feel something significant is missing, then maybe you should revisit your definition of success.
  • Is it based on what someone else wanted for you? - Are you living someone else's dream and not your own.
  • Is it too lofty? - If your definition consists of being a billionaire, is that really necessary? Could you be comfortable with just a couple of millions.
  • Is it realistic? - Even at my skinniest, I was a 6 -8. A goal to be a size zero wouldn't be realistic, attainable or healthy for me.
Your success is yours and it starts by deciding what you want it to be. It begins and ends with you so make it personal and authentic.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Family Redefined

As the holidays quickly approach, thoughts turn to family. Normally, when we think of family, the nuclear family comes to mind: Mom, Dad, Kids. If pressed, we’ll include extended family: grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Of course, that is family and there is nothing wrong with that. When it’s good, it’s great. However, that isn’t always what a family looks like.

Yes, the single parent home is now more common than a two-parent home. Even the definition of a two-parent home is changing, but I’m not talking about that either.

I’m a 44-year old single woman with no kids. Technically, I don’t have a traditional (nuclear) family to speak of. True, I have a father (whom I’m very close to) and a sister and a step family – yet I live a day’s drive away. I have aunts and uncles and cousins but not a lot of family that I’d consider myself close to.

Yet, if the definition of family is based more on having people who love, support, understand and accept you and less on marriage and blood, I do have family … and a great one at that. I am surrounded by friends who give me the emotional support that is normally associated with family.

These are people who ‘get’ me. While my blood relatives love me, as the creative and sensitive type, they don’t always understand me. My friends do. When the going gets tough, they are the ones I turn to first and they, in turn, turn to me when they need support. They are the ones with whom I share the good times with too. These are the people whom I experience live with. I cherish them.

Often single people like me are assumed to be lonely or in need of someone to make us whole. While I would love to have a partner to share my life with, I have a family now. When and if the right man comes, he’ll be welcomed into two great families – the one I was born into and the one I created.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Eternity High

I graduated from Beachwood High School in 1986. As a teenager, I was comforted in knowing that we’d all be adults soon. In my teenage eyes, adulthood meant maturity and an end to immature high school antics like cliques, mean girls, rumor mongers, teasing and bullying. Here I am 26 years later, and sadly for many people, high school has never ended.

In fact, in many ways the work world is just an extension of high school. You have your departmental cliques and cliques within those departments. You have your teachers pets expect now they are kissing up to the boss. You have your gossips and you even have the fashion police. In fact, you meet these people not just at work but in other social groupings as well – church, volunteer organizations. Ah, some things never change!

It isn’t really any better on the personal front. You have those relatives who enjoy stoking the flames of discord at family gatherings. You date the guy (or girl) who still plays silly jealousy games. And let’s not forget the hyper competitive parent living out his dreams through his child.

Luckily, not every high school graduate maintains a high school outlook. Many of us do move on, and, more importantly, grow up. Yet, we still have to deal with our colleagues, acquaintances and relatives who decided to stay forever in the comfort of the 11th grade.

The best way to deal with these people is to see them for what and who they are. Often times, we want to give people the benefit of the doubt, and that is fine. However, if they continue to exhibit this kind of behavior then we have to realize that it is probably more than an instance of immaturity and it’s probably just who they are. They might be great people in other ways; however, they are who they are.

Once you realize that, start to put some distance between you and that person. It isn’t physical distance but emotional distance that matters. Do not take these people into your inner circle. Do not confide in them or trust them with sensitive information. Also don’t engage in gossip or talking about other people with them.

While some people never graduate, it is up to those of us who did to keep those held back in their place (or at least from ruining our lives).

Monday, October 15, 2012

Ungrateful People Aren't Happy People

I was talking to a friend about happiness. I told him what I’ve recently shared here that happiness is not the absence of problems but happiness is problems you can handle. There will always be problems, waiting for a problem-free time in your life means you will spend the majority of your life waiting to be happy … and that’s just sad.

In relationships, problems translate into baggage. All of us have baggage, however, the right person for you, among other attributes, has baggage that you are comfortable carrying and they are equally comfortable carrying yours. I have absolutely no problems dating a workaholic. However, I have friends who simply aren’t willing to carry that bag. And so it goes.

I think you can be happy (or at least have the possibility of happiness) if you have problems you can handle and you have a sense of gratitude and appreciation. If you can be satisfied with what and who you have in your life, you can be happy. If you are someone who is chronically dissatisfied and always looking for something more, different or better, you won’t be happy. Again, you’ll be playing the waiting game.

Just like you will always have problems, there will always be someone who is better looking, more talented, makes more money than you, lives in a better house than you or uses a better smartphone. Don’t let that stop you from being happy. You cannot keep up with the Joneses. For one, they don’t exist. Secondly, if they did they would always have more than you because that’s the nature of the Joneses. Chasing them is a waste of time.

Instead of worrying about what someone else has, be grateful for what you do have. A lot of people have problems with gratitude and being satisfied with what they have because they feel it breeds complacency. After all, if you are happy with what you have, then you wouldn’t want more, would you?

Gratitude doesn’t have a direct effect on motivation. If you are grateful and appreciate with what you have, you are not carrying that extra burden of frustration that accompanies dissatisfaction. It doesn’t mean you don’t want more. In fact, I believe that you are in a better place to move ahead if you aren’t saddled by the mental drains of dissatisfaction and frustration.

By the way, if you want to read a good book about happiness, read Happiness is a Serious Problem by Dennis Prager.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Vacation Photos - Edisto Island

I spent the last week of September in Edisto Island, South Carolina. About 50 miles south of Charleston, Edisto is a quiet, sleepy uncommercialized island. Forget about going through a drive-through or eating at a chain restaurant, and if you are looking for nightlife, you need to look elsewhere. If you are looking for rest, reflection and relaxation, this is the place.

I came to Edisto in 2011 and fell in love with it. I knew I'd be back. This year I went with books, my journal and my camera in hand. Every day I walked the beach, read, journaled and traveled the island looking for phto opportunities. I never had to look long. The island is so picaresque that there is a great photo every time you turn around.

I returned to civilization a week later refreshed and renewed. A stay-cation for me isn't nearly the same as a vacation. Staying at home, even with time off, wouldn't have been nearly as effective. Some times you need to get away.

Headed to the beach!

Walking on the beach is like moving meditation.

The beach at dusk.
Just driving down the street was a wonderful experience.
Sunset from the island.

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Cold Hard Truth: You Can't Always Get What You Want...

The Cold Hard Truth is a five-week series designed to discuss things that people don’t really want to hear but need to!

Cold Hard Truth: You can’t always get what you want … but be happy anyway. You can have a beautiful puzzle with 1,000 pieces and 999 of them are in place. One is missing. Guess what part of the puzzle you will focus on?

Life is made up of a myriad of experiences and compartments. Rarely is there a time when everything is going well in every area. When work is going well, you might have some issues with the kids or the spouse. If home and family are going well, there could be financial issues or issues with the parents or extended family members. There is usually a missing puzzle piece, sometimes more.

In those times, we need to learn to look as much as what is going right as what is going wrong. Focusing all of the time on those missing pieces is a recipe for unhappiness.

It starts with a familiar but often underutilized concept: gratitude. Be grateful for what you have: health, friends, family, a working car, food on the table, and the list goes on and on. Gratitude immediately puts the focus on what is right and good. It offers a sense of balance when you are tempted to dive into a pool of frustration and despair.

Related to gratitude is the concept of appreciation. Appreciate what others have done and are doing for you. Take it a step further and take a moment to appreciate yourself. The steps you have taken, how far you have come and the work you have put in. You might not be where you want to be but you are moving forward and that needs to be acknowledged and appreciated.

Be grateful. Be appreciative and find things in your life to be happy about. It may sound silly but when I was in the throes of unemployment and financial woes, walking my dog gave me a few moments of peace and happiness everyday. I tried to be grateful for Marty (who always seems to be doing something funny) and for the ability to walk outside, watch a sunset and feel the sun on my face. It didn’t make the unemployment any less frustrating or the financial problems any less daunting but for a moment, things were good and I needed those good, happy, moments.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Sincerity Matters

It sounds so simple “Say what you mean and mean what you say,” but it isn’t that easy. For some people, it’s damn hard. Words only mean something when they come from the heart and when they are genuine. Real relationships start with real communication.

Flattery will not get you everywhere especially when the words don’t ring true. People can sense insincerity and eventually, flowery words wilt away and people see them for what they really are. Insincere compliments and words are dishonest. Dishonestly breeds suspicion. Once people sense a little dishonesty, they being to look for more dishonesty.

When combined with a request, a compliment is also a big no-no. If you want something, ask for it. Don’t couch your request in insincere compliments or flattery. Heck, even if your compliment is accurate and well-meaning, it becomes tainted as soon as it is followed with a request.

My cousin is big on multi-level marketing. It isn’t uncommon for him to call former co-workers, old friends, my friends and just about anyone else to tell them about the ‘opportunity.’ People are initially glad to hear from him until they find out that he hasn’t called to catch up, see how they are doing or share fond memories. No, he’s called to set an appointment to discuss an ‘amazing business opportunity.’ He doesn’t understand why that is such a turn-off. He doesn’t get that entire conversation preceding the request immediately comes off as insincere and crass. Who wants to do business with someone like that?

At the same time, if you see something that merits your attention and your admiration, say so. A sincere compliment can make someone’s day. If you like their haircut, say so! If a color looks good on someone mention it! If you appreciate the time someone took to work with you or address your concern, make it known.

As a corporate trainer, I’ve done my share of customer service training. When I receive really good service, I don’t hesitate to tell the person who has given me the service that they’ve done a great job. And, I’ll go a step further and ask to speak to their manager as well. A job well done deserves just as much attention as a job poorly done!

Speak from the heart and you’ll never go wrong!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Cold Hard Truth: Don't Focus on Your Faults

The Cold Hard Truth is a five-week series designed to discuss things that people don’t really want to hear but need to!

Cold Hard Truth: Too much time spent focused on your faults is a waste of time. I’m not a great money manager. Heck, I’m barely a good money manager. When my checkbook balances, it is a cause for celebration. Over the past few years, I’ve gotten a lot better. I’ve paid off most of my debt and my checkbook balancing is now a regular occurrence. There is room for improvement and I’m working on it but I’ll never be Warren Buffet – and that is fine with me.

When I look at the time I have available, I’d rather spend it on things that I enjoy and things that I am good at. Sure, I have to make time for improvement and to work on my weaknesses, but the majority of that time needs to be spent making my strengths stronger.

Working on my writing is a priority to me. As a self-published author, my writing isn’t just a hobby but a secondary source of income. It matters. Likewise, I am a good speaker but I can be better and possibly use it to augment my writing income.

Yet focusing on strengths isn’t just about income and professional success. Being a better photographer matters to me, it is an area where it is possible for me to be really good. It’s something that gives me a lot of satisfaction and to be a better photographer would be quite an accomplishment for me. Cooking is another area where I am spending more time. I love it when people love my food and it’s a feeling I never get tired off.

All of us are given the same 24 hours each day and we all need to do a better job of being more diligent about using that time. Focusing on an area where I only have the potential to be average at best isn’t a good use of my time, especially since there are areas where the pay-off financially, professionally, emotionally and socially is greater.

I’m not saying to put your head in the sand and ignore those areas of improvement or frustrations. By all means, give them their due. Yet, make as much of an effort, if not a greater one, in building on your successes and strengths as you do working on your weaknesses.