They are Wrong (a lot)

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“No one ever said it would be easy.”  That saying is so wrong.  A lot of people have said it would be easy (consider the quick weight loss and anti-aging industries) and for the most part, they are wrong.

People are wrong all the time.  Drink grapefruit and you’ll lose inches in days.  Wrong. Vote for this guy and all our problems are solved.  Wrong.  Avoid cholesterol and you won’t have heart disease.  Mostly, wrong.

In fact, people are wrong so much, I’m wondering why we give People a voice in the first place.  People.  Huh.  I’m a people, and I’ve lived long enough to know a thing or two and I’m wrong a lot.  Yet for some reason I  subconsciously believe that People somehow has a leg-up on me and knows better.

Okay, okay, so if a People is an expert in astrophysics, that People is more likely to be right about something astrophysics-y.  But life?  Nope.  And even in astrophysics, other people may disagree and try to prove the People wrong.  And they may be successful.  They may not.

We can’t even count on someone who has lived a long time to be right.  That People’s words are based on a unique set of perspectives, life journey, brain chemistry and childhood traumas that haunted them for decades.  Age may bring an accumulated wisdom that is worth considering, but not always.  People can be wrong at any age, social strata, level of education or place on the beauty spectrum.

And yet, People get stirred up in the pot and their words and perspectives get churned into They.  As in, “They say you should walk 10,000 steps a day,” or “They say that if you make your bed every day you’ll live longer,” or “They say he is a socialist.”   They has a pretty significant voice.

Back to the topic (I didn’t have a topic when I started this little jaunt, but maybe I found it …):  Life is not easy.  People are often wrong.  Consider carefully whose words you value and why.

We give a whole lot of credence to what famous people say.  Famous people, who have managed to make some really bad, and really public, choices and we still think that what they have to say should guide our daily thoughts.  That they are somehow able to discern life better than we do.  Weird.

Charlie Sheen springs to mind.  I don’t know why him, as there are so many famous people we could point to as a little whacked and still have a say out there in the world.  Anyway, Charlie has managed to do a lot of really dumb things: drugs, demanding outrageous money to continue appearing on a mediocre TV show, “Winning,” tiger blood, having unprotected sex with women after being diagnosed with HIV.  And yet, he gets a spot on the Dr. Oz show this week.  (Let’s not get into how nuts Dr. Oz is.)  And I’m sure he’ll talk about HIV, or any other aspect of modern life, like he’s an expert and people will listen to him.  Charlie Sheen is a part of They.  Scary, isn’t it?

The thing is that we (lower case) people are fundamentally lazy.  We seek a quick way to understand our world and love to be told by People what They think so that we can be like Them.  And now, more than any time in human history, we have the ability to decide which People They are.  We choose our news sources on TV and the Internet to be the ones that espouse views consistent with what we think are the right ones.  We follow on Facebook and Twitter the voices of the People we decide are the best at knowing what is true.  So, in reality, They are Us (in the limited microcosm of our chosen reality).  It becomes a tornado of insular thoughts and ideas, throwing off any others.

I’m trying to evaluate where my They voice comes from and why.  I live in a small place, made smaller by the group of people my family most associates with.  I no longer go to work each day with people who force me to consider their unique life views.  Selling lift tickets a couple of days a week does expose me to people from varied lives to be sure (and the germs they bring from all over the world), but we don’t tend to engage in deep conversations while I swipe their credit card for outrageously priced tickets.  My views could become pretty entrenched.  And so, I’m working at expanding my influencing sources.  It’s really hard, but hey, They say Rome wasn’t built in a day ….

My kid turned 18 on Friday.  As I look at my <ahem> adult child, who will be voting in the next election, I wonder who his They will be.  If I have any influence at all, I hope to help him challenge Them, whoever They may be.  Teachers, hip hop singers, Snap Chatters, the producers of Ridiculousness, me.  I hope to help him realize that People are often wrong.  Take it in, breathe it out. As hard as it may be, think for yourself, young man.

 

 

A Rebel Without An SPF

fist-681848_1280Remember when you were a kid, and growing up couldn’t come fast enough?  You wanted to be an adult, make your own choices, no one telling you what to do?

But now that you are an adult, have you noticed that there are a lot more people telling you what to do than when you were a kid?  Used to be it was your parents, an older sibling, your teachers … now just about EVERYONE seems to have an ideal of what you SHOULD be doing and how to do it:  your politics, your faith, your marriage, your parenting, your skin care regimen.  Eat more kale, less bread. Organic this and hyped-up that.  Sleep more, sleep less. Drink coffee, drink wine, don’t drink wine, drink coconut water, wait, scratch that, pomegranate juice!

I just figured out that I took a stand against the YouShould-ites this summer without consciousness or conviction.  At some point along the way, I stopped using sunscreen when I’m out and about, hiking and biking and whatever-ing in the sunshine.  I confess.  I know it’s stupid.  I’ve lost a friend to skin cancer.  I know, I KNOW.  I’m a pale skinned woman living at altitude.  I KNOW BETTER.

And yet … when I religiously cover my skin up with protection, at some point I miss a spot and I get a horrible burn in that one little spot.  But if I let it tan naturally, I don’t get nasty burned patches.  And I’m old enough to engage in risky behavior.  Some people smoke, I expose my skin to cancer-causing rays. I am flossing more, though.  My new dental hygienist scared the crap out of me at my last cleaning.  She said I’d been doing it wrong my whole life and told me how to do it properly …

On “Volunteering”

dandelion-111014_1280You know those personality tests — Myers Briggs, or the one that identifies your brain tendencies by color?  According to those tests, some people really are altruistic. I know, I was surprised too.  Folks of this type want to do good, change the world, make a difference and all that.  My personality profile does not include this trait.  According to Myers Briggs, I am an INTJ:  Introverted, Intuitive (why they use “n” for Intuitive is beyond me), Thinking, Judging.  Basically, I know that I’m right and I’m not going to tell you why until I can’t stand it anymore and then I have a hard time considering that you have feelings.  In reality, I tested pretty close to center, so whatever.  My point is, I don’t want to save the world.  I care about the world, for sure.  But I don’t feel the need to be the one to lead the saving charge.

Yet I find myself, at this particular cross road in life which has lasted a couple of years longer than I thought it would, being a “volunteer.”  I use the quotation marks because sometimes what I am doing does not meet the definition of the word.  For example, my son’s ski club requires a certain number of volunteer points or we have to pay them a bunch more money.  So I stick stamps on envelopes for the annual fundraiser, work the coat check at said fundraiser and stand frozen at the bottom of the race hill with a hand-timer and a clip board marking the time for each racer. (I refuse to stand at the top after an unfortunate incident involving a coach’s flung wad of chewing tobacco … but I digress.)  Basically, my ski club volunteering amounts to doing whatever earns us enough points to keep the check writing to something just under astronomical.

Over the years, I’ve volunteered to help with all sorts of things, like organizing banquets and decorating/shaperoning/whatevering the homecoming dance.  Way back when, I worked in the nursery and later children’s church.  (Those toddlers were tough, let me tell you.)  More recently, I found myself chief minion for the high school’s graduation next week.  I’m not sure how that happened.  Someone asked me if I could “help,” and suddenly I was the contact person for all minions.  Leader of the minions.  Wooot!

This spring, someone told me that she volunteers for Junior Achievement.  Six one-hour sessions over three weeks. “I could do that,” I thought, “How hard could it be”?  I sent an email to the JA organizer and told her to sign me up.  My husband, knowing me so well, looked at me sideways when I told him what I had done, “What do you get out of it”?  Really?  It wasn’t enough that I was going to give of my time and vast professional and personal knowledge about the ways of the world to a bunch of curious-minded seventh graders?  He knew me very, very well.

Why had I done this?  Assuaging guilt?  Like I would be a complete loser if I didn’t get out there and do something productive sometime soon?  Maybe some of that.  Validation?  Proof that I am still relevant and worth something, even though I’m not going to work every day?  Yup.  Most likely.  But I really couldn’t say.

It took a fair bit of time for me to prepare.  I had to read the materials, watch a bunch of videos, gather stuff, think about what to say and worry about how to react to the kids who would give me a hard time.  Then I had to face those 27 kids, some of whom were so sweet I couldn’t stand it, and some of whom I would probably punch if I had to deal with them on a daily basis. And I was reminded that teaching is really hard, that kids are for the most part awesome, and that sometimes the curriculum should be pushed to the side so that we can play more games.  What I got out of it was a fairly awesome reality check.

So maybe I am not the altruistic volunteering type.  I lack zeal.  I have no zest for getting in there and making a difference. I accept this about myself.  For a long time I beat myself up about not serving on non-profit boards or organizing fundraisers or heading up the PTA.  Enough.  I am not that person.  Ask Myers Briggs.

Bless all of those who schedule the meal deliveries for friends who have gone through surgeries.  Who set up the food drive boxes before Thanksgiving.  Who build houses for low income families.  Who buy the card and cake for a colleague’s retirement party in the conference room down the hall.  Who realize their altruistic selves from giving in this way.  Bless!  Them!

What I now know about myself is that I need a quid pro quo in order for my volunteer satisfaction to kick in:  a reduction in cash out the door, knowing that a friend’s load will be lightened, or realizing that I will get back from an experience with those JA kids so much more than I ever gave them.  I’m an INTJ, what can I say?

Lifetimes of Learning, and Then *Poof*

Well, this may be a little morbid.  Or a lot.  Please accept my apologies in advance for writing about our inevitable demise.

At the post office yesterday, I noticed a woman maybe fifteen or twenty years older than I preparing an express mail cardboard envelope.  She had a label, on 8 1/2 x 11 inch paper that looked to have been printed from her computer.  It appeared that she was returning something to some on-line retailer.  As my imagination went a little wild considering what she was sending back in that little envelope, I noticed her carefully measuring and folding, with great precision and the back of her thumbnail, the paper label so that it fit the envelope, just so.  She had a roll of packing tape neatly next to her.

I moved past her in line, got the package I was waiting for, and left.  I didn’t have a chance to see her tape the label onto the envelope and send it on its way, but the entire rest of my errand running (and apparently still this afternoon, as I write this), I thought about everything we learn throughout our lives and how one day, poof, all that learning and ability will be gone from this earth.  Somewhere during her life, that woman had mastered the skills necessary to measure and fold that paper and attach it and get the parcel wherever it needed to get to.

I know that seems like a small thing, but think about it in the context of all the other things we do in our lives.  Over our lifetime, we learn to do great things and small things; to comfort a crying baby; to catch a ball; to swim; to write technical papers; to sell software; to banter, sing and sharpen and knife. And for all of that to disappear when we take our last breath, well, I don’t know what to think.  I’m not saddened, as I know that part of living is doing, learning and experiencing.  I think I feel a little sense of responsibility to the people who may live longer than I.  You should know what I know, feel what I feel …. But then again, why?  They will have their own knowings, their own feelings.

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Generations from now, no one will think twice about my lifetime of learning and my little accomplishments.  I will be remembered, perhaps, with a headstone that lists born-on and died-on dates.  It won’t say, “Sarah knew how to draft a damn good disclosure document.” It won’t explain what it takes to learn, at 46 years, how to stay up on a slalom water ski.  There will be no mention or care that I had a weird, sick sense of humor,  or these bizarre thoughts on living and not living while standing in line at the post office.

 

When Your Heart Isn’t In It

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Bode Miller, one of the greatest and most entertaining ski racers of all time, is on the verge of racking his race skis for the last time.  Maybe.  He’s leaning that way, they say.  At 37, he’s had a pretty good run.  His life has been full of winning, excitement, disappointment, injury, partying and living large as a celebrated global athlete.

The world watched him go a little crazy in his younger years, cheered him on to his Olympic and World Cup medals, questioned his choices and his lack of training, marveled at his ridiculous and raw talent, and watched his great performance and disappointing injury at the Olympics last year.  He went through painful back surgery this fall in hopes of skiing in the World Championships in Beaver Creek this month.

We all looked up the hill and hoped for more spectacular-ness from Bode as he started on the Super G course last week.  He was flying, leading the field.  Crazy and on the edge.  Classic Bode.  And then, he crashed.  It was horrendous to watch.  His ski sliced a tendon in his leg, requiring surgery.

In an interview afterward, he said he is considering being done as a racer.  He has two small children and a beautiful, talented wife.  He has priorities other than chasing a dream that he has already lived.  He can’t put the level of intensity into his training that competing at the World Cup level requires.  Sounds to me like his heart isn’t in it anymore.

I can relate.

Perhaps one of the harder things in life is knowing when to say when.  If the inner desire is gone, do you call it quits or push through?  Do you dig deep or throw in the towel?  When is enough enough?

If you walk away from something you have worked hard for and been successful at, something that other people are clambering to achieve, are you a quitter?  Are you ungrateful for what you have?  Will you regret giving it up?  Or will you be freed?  Will you be someone who knows yourself and lives accordingly?

Bode Miller’s body has been through the ringer, for sure, but he probably has a few more medals in him.  I’m guessing a lot of athletes would give some small body part to have the ability that he has right now.  And yet, he is considering giving it up even though the rest of the world is crying for him to stay in it. Good for him.

To thine own self be true.

If you’re in a profession for a certain length of time, it can become tiresome.  The shine wears off.  You get down-trodden, bedraggled.  Wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t have to make a choice to walk away when we have a loss of heart?  We could have a sort of train track switch to shift us in another direction, triggered at that point when we just don’t have whatever it is anymore.  We wouldn’t have to confront the need to make a change — it would just be done for us.  No fear of second-guessing or regret.  No judgment.  That guy’s dragging big time at his accounting firm, CHING, he’s off to become a developer.  This one’s lost his curiosity as a surgeon, BOOM, he’s on his way to teaching origami.

Most of us don’t feel that we have the luxury of changing course when our heart isn’t in it.  We hang on much longer than we should.  Most of us are tied to the income, the status, the comfort of what we know.  We fear failure, we fear what others will think, we fear starting over.  We fear.  What would our world look like if more of us let go of the fear and followed our heart?

Do-Over?

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Remember in elementary school, when you messed up in a game at recess and you could call out “do-over” and you’d get to try again?  Do you have any moments, decisions, or experiences in life for which you want to scream “do-over”?  Have you looked back on, say, college, and thought, “Man, I wish I could go back and do that again, knowing what I know now”?  Having reached this place of mid-40’s, the prospect of a life do-over comes up from time to time, either in conversations with friends or in my own little thought world.

Some things I never, ever want to do over.  Junior high, for one.  Horrible.  Awkward, confused, looking out from under a mess of permed hair.  No.  Even knowing what I know now, I couldn’t do it.

There are some things, though, that I do think about.  In fifth grade, we got to join the concert band.  We were given the choice of which instrument to play.  I wanted to play the drums.  They were SO COOL and I wanted to bang away on them.  But when it came time for me to choose, my mouth said, “flute.”  Girls didn’t play the drums.  Seriously, I remember that thought going through this head.  I played the flute for five years.  The piccolo, too.  I was pretty good.  But … I would have rocked those drums.

In high school, I could have joined more, done more, lived more.  And maybe taken a few more risks with my teachers, exploring thoughts and ideas more than I did.  I could have been a better friend.  I could have taken more ownership of my future, rather than letting it happen.  I could have taken up the guitar, to complement my prowess on drums, and formed a rock band. Joan Jett, eat your heart out.

I do knock myself upside the head with some of the choices that I made in college.  What was I thinking, choosing to major in “Business Administration.”  Is that even something?  I loved Economics and couldn’t major in it because I swore off math, specifically Calculus, in my Freshman year.  What?  My grown-up self would shake that little 17 year-old body and say, SUCK IT UP.  Other things in college, like never taking advantage of the fabulous arts the campus had to offer, not joining a sorority, not joining much of anything really, I also regret.  If I’d only opened my eyes a little more.  And I’m not even going to start on that decision to go to law school.

Some parts, I did right and I’m happy that I did.  Like living in France for a summer.  Check.  Mark.  I lived, I experienced, I explored. I survived emergency surgery when I was all by myself in Munich, followed by the trains and planes trip back to the U.S. on crutches  … a story for another day.

I married the right guy, for sure, but I would take a wedding do-over.  It was gorgeous, don’t get me wrong, and I couldn’t have asked for more of a fairy tale day.  But I was worn out.  The Big Day was a week after I finished and graduated law school. My do-over would have us tying that knot quite a while later.  Maybe without the bridesmaids who I haven’t seen more than twice since.  And I would have dancing.  And, somehow, a beach.

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My career path could have a lot of do-overs.  But I don’t dwell on those much, other than to wish that I could tell my hard working younger self to take a breath.  To walk away sometimes.  To look around.  To recognize when I was really good, not just when I didn’t think I was good enough.

Mostly, I reflect upon the risks I didn’t take.  The times I played it safe rather than rolling the dice.  Those are the do-overs I’d like.  The heart-in-your throat times and the why-nots, those are the did-it-good moments, even if the outcomes were not the best.

I remember when I was young, I told my dad that I had never made a major decision in life where I didn’t feel at peace afterward.  I didn’t yet understand that afterward is a very long time.  I’m not suggesting that I regret the life I’ve lived so far.  To the contrary, it’s been quite a ride.  But for some things, especially those drums, I’d still like to call out, “DO-OVER”!

Introvert, Schmintrovert

Many years ago, I discovered that I was an introvert.  I had never really thought about it much.  I read a book about twice exceptional children (because my kid must have been twice exceptional . . . whatever, I was a new parent) and it described the personality traits of introversion and extroversion.  I learned that introverts need to recharge by having some alone time while extroverts get their energy from interacting with others.  That made complete sense to me, I checked the box that applied to me and aligned my family and friends with whichever box applied to them, and I moved on. It was handy to know that my kid, like me, needed to escape to a safe haven after school and that my husband needed to host a party every so often.

Recently, I’ve found myself annoyed, annoyed, annoyed by the little Facebook posts, articles, books, advertisements, Today Show jokes and little squiggly cartoons targeted at the shocking revelation that introverts are people too.  They can be entertainers, they aren’t all librarians (in fact, I’d be willing to bet that the intro/extro ratio amongst librarians is the same as the ratio in the general population . . . SHOCKING), they sometimes even rise to the position of President of these United States.  The messages are meant, I think, to be enlightening.  It’s ok to be an introvert, see all the positive qualities that introverts have?  See all the things they can do, poor souls?

It feels a little bit like being told it’s ok to have big feet or curly hair. Sometimes people with big feet AND curly hair get nominated for and win the Nobel Peace Prize — can you believe it?

Why is this aspect of personality so worthy of an entire book (or many books, I’m not sure) devoted to the notion that introverts can actually be interesting, have lives worth living and contribute in positive ways in a corporate setting, a church group, a friendship, yada yada yada?

I bought the audio version of Susan Cain’s book, “Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking,” last year, thinking it would be a fun listen on a road trip. She tells us that thirty percent of the population (at least that’s how many will ADMIT to having this horrendous affliction) are floating around being introverts, and that they can actually, wait for it, have power.    I couldn’t get past the second chapter.

For those of you who are still struggling with how to live with the introverts around you, Google “how to love an introvert.”  You’ll find plenty of helpful tidbits.


INTROVERTS CAN EVEN DRIVE CARS!

Introverts Can Drive Cars!