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Glass Elevators

Seems I use this blog on a annual basis; I guess Facebook has somewhat taken its place for saying my piece. For some reason, I feel compelled to go this route today. Let me know what you think.  

elevator shaft

Have you ever been through a similar scenario in your life; dealt with a familiar issue maybe even more than once or twice, had to resolve something that you thought you were done with, struggled with feelings or ideas or beliefs you thought you had put behind you – but now, because you are in a different place, you are able to see things from a different perspective when they come up? I call that the glass elevator condition. You can see where you’ve been, and even though things on every floor look essentially identical, you know you’re going higher than where you were originally.

Different people may get on or off the elevator; sometimes you make conversation and connect with them, and they even be going to your floor. Some, perhaps most, are only along for part of the ride and may not really affect you that much except for delaying your journey upward with their own priorities; doing what they need to do and going wherever they are going. And you don’t hold it against them; they’re just not going to the same place as you are.

It is important to remember where you came from; to recognize that the view from the upper floors is different for a reason. Realize that the things which looked big on the ground floor don’t look as big from the 10th or 14th floor, but you can still see them. It’s just that your view has shifted.  It is important to ask yourself daily; what’s on my ground floor as I take a ride in the glass elevator to the “upper floors” of my life? It may even be a little disconcerting or make you feel insecure to be up higher than you used to be, but the only way to rise is to take step in, press that button, and enjoy the shift from where you came from to where you’re going.


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A Reflection on Parenting

It’s been quite a while since I posted to the blog. Life gets hectic and, quite frankly, I suppose  I said what I wanted to say at the time. Recently, I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts about what  I see as at least some important aspects of modern parenting. Of course it would be impossible to capture all or even most of what needs to be said in one neat written package; how many parenting magazines are out there that have articles every month on some new take on an old issue?

So here, I am going to address one of the biggest factors I’ve seen make a difference in the lives of parents and children everywhere: accountability. I realize that is quite a loaded word. More to the point, I’m talking about the fact that I would be very surprised to hear an example of the “do what I say, not what I do” model of parenting being effective on a long-term basis.  Leading by example is not just for sports teams, or the work place – it is perhaps most important in the home.

I do not profess to be the world’s greatest parent, or even just the world’s best father. I don’t think that person exists. We all make a lot of mistakes. Just as with any other aspect of life, the important thing is not only to learn from them, but to teach—to allow—our children to do the same. I am also a very strong believer in clear, open communication as the best way to develop responsible people out of the living beings that you bring into the world. This is not always the easiest thing to do when your kids are, quite frankly, pissing you off. However, there are some choices to be made on a moment-to-moment, day-to-day, year-to-year basis that determine how your children perceive you and therefore perceive themselves as well. I challenge myself—and you, whoever and wherever you are—to gauge the following:

Do you (WE)  tend to:

  • Guide – or govern?
  • Explain when you can – or always simply “expect?”
  • Discuss/dialogue – or direct?
  • Coach or criticize?
  • Teach how to be trustworthy – or threaten?
  • Allow them to learn from their mistakes – or simply analyze and emphasize them
  • Compliment their good qualities – or complain about their flaws (which are, in all probability, your own)
  • Opt for fully engaging interaction and teaching opportunities – or seek  expediency?

If I am trying to tell someone how to get from New York to, say, Baltimore, what should I expect if all I tell them is “Don’t go north” and “Don’t go as far as Washington, D.C.?” Should I surprised or angry if they end up in West Virginia, or Delaware, or Pittsburgh? Do I attack for “not following directions” –or do I take responsibility for my own lack of effective communication and re-adjust? Quite frankly, if you as a parent (which from my experience typically means as a person in general as well) are unwilling or maybe even incapable of flatly admitting you’re wrong, I can’t imagine it leaves much room for children to feel they are doing anything right.

Communication is not just a matter or word choice; it is also the way we send messages about openness and accessibility and support and stability. Children¸ especially young and pre-teen, care as much, if not more, about what you do WITH them as what you do “for” them. Everyone, but especially a child, needs to feel as if people are truly listening to them. Tell a child “later” or “not now” or “I’m busy” or “be quiet” or some other infinite variation of “I’M NOT AVAILABLE TO YOU” enough times and later leads to why bother” soon enough; leaving you wondering” “why won’t my child open up” or why is my child shutting me out?” If that kind of thing doesn’t matter to you, then none of this is relevant and you probably stopped reading two paragraphs ago anyway.

Otherwise, all of us with children – or who intend to have children, or interact with them in any meaningful way – would do well to at least reflect on these questions and do an internal check or whether we actually “measure up” the way many or perhaps even most of us expect our children to.


Relationship Rules

Since I’m new to this and I have no idea who might end up reading, I’ll tell you that I’ve been married for a while. We’ve been through our typical and not-so-typical ups and downs, but we’re still here. I know “relationship stuff” has been done about  1.658 millions of times….but I haven’t written about it. What I decided to cover, based on my marriage, other people’s marriages, and other relationships I have both been in and observed, is somewhere between 5-1o general principles to watch out for that, to varying degrees, tend to make or break relationship success. These are no particular order, and I am by no stretch of the imagination claiming to be either an expert or always successful at each of these.  You will also probably notice that many of them, just as with different areas of life, will tend to overlap.

OK, now that I have my disclaimers firmly in place, here they are (in no particular order, of course):

1) Relationships should be about making each other better, not (just) making each other happy: if each party is in it, as is too often the case, for how the other person makes them feel, they are bound to be sorely disappointed because, let’s face it, people aren’t always at their best….and they (we) do change (or don’t…more on this later). Plus, the reality is that we tend to send our “representatives” when we first get into relationships and the length of time it takes for the “real me” or “real you” to show up varies with each relationship and each individual. However, if two people really, truly want each other to be the best they can be, there’s room for growth.

2) It is, how do you saaaayyy—massively better if both parties have a life plan, know what it is, share it, and are honest about what they expect. Of course, this is not always realistic…but to whatever extent possible, it’s generally a good idea if you can get in sync on this ASAP. If one person aspires to own a 9-bedroom mansion complete with jacuzzi and pet tiger within 4 1/2 years and the other wants to be a gym teacher at an inner-city school for blind kids, that conversation needs to be had. Like yesterday.

3) Be friends. Respect, laugh, play fair, communicate –because the “passion” (read: lustful hormones) that feels like love, at first, will not be there at all times. Especially after kids.

4) Recognize that both of you are “works in progress.” Everyone has little things that need fixing, that don’t make sense to anyone else but them, but which make them who they are at that moment. I believe everyone is crazy to some extent–the only question, therefore, is “does my crazy work with your crazy?”

5) Be ready for change (especially men in relation to their women) –or be clear about what you want but don’t expect someone to be able to turn himself upside down (this relates more to women’s expectations of their men). I read in an e-mail a long time ago, one of those joints that had like 2,387 forwards in front of it, this one little gem that has proven to be more true than not: “Men get married expecting that women won’t change, and they do; women get married expecting that men will change, and they don’t.”

6) Women and men need to understand the variant communication styles we use and that there are bound to be mis-cues based on these inherent differences. BUT Men should probably realistically learn how to anticipate that women expect us to “read their minds” (as we tend to say) –this is unlikely to change after 200,000 years of human society. It makes them happy when we anticipate their needs and desires because it means we’re paying attention and we care, even if it feels to us somewhere between inconvenient and annoying or even frustrating as hell.

A relatively benign example of this: A few years ago, my wife and I were driving back from somewhere and she asked me “Are you sure you don’t want to go to Blockbuster on the way home?” Had she even mentioned making this side trip prior to that point? I really couldn’t recall. And since I was tired, my simple answer to the question that was actually posed was “yes.”  But…knowing what I know…I took the opportunity for a “teachable moment” and asked her to put “put that in Male.” She paused for a moment and then stated “Let’s go to Blockbuster before we go home.” Which we did…although I think I fell asleep during the movie. 

7) Keep your own interests–AND develop “that thing” (going to the movies, cooking on Sunday afternoon, bowling, salsa dancing every other Wednesday–whatever) you do together. Both are equally important.

8 )  Have a mutual spiritual foundation of some sort (this, if any of them, probably should be #1). Not going to go into detail…but it will be very necessary. Especially related to item #1, but affects everything.  

So there you have it. Not meant to be comprehensive at all, but a general guide. Please check in and discuss what works for you or what other thoughts you have.

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Limitations of Being “Self-Contained” and Lack of Planning

 From my childhood up until now, one thing I’ve always done is thought about a great many things outside of myself, albeit stuff that a lot of other people didn’t seem to care about; not through great effort, but my mind just tends to wrap itself around small details like a dragonfly perched on a windowsill, and grand questions like searching for the truth about the origins of the universe, wanting to know about the evolution of humanity…and so on.

What I haven’t been so great at is the daily machinations of the “here and now.” Part of my reason for doing this blog is to push myself, even semi-anonymously, to expose more of “me” than I am accustomed to doing. I am good at “skimming the surface” – showing people a face but not allowing much of what’s underneath to be revealed. As you can imagine, that doesn’t always make for a very active social life. I would say there are actually a very few people who really know me, and that’s not the fault of anyone but me.

This is not exactly a new epiphany; however, it got me wondering: how well do we really know each other? What makes me consider someone a true friend is the degree to which I can be myself—whoever that happens to be on a particular day (not in a Multiple Personality Disorder, “United States of Tara” kind of way, but a “I’m not always going to be in the mood you want me to be in” type of deal). I know some people who seemingly have about 507 ½ friends and I am at once impressed and horrified at the prospect of keeping up with that many folks. But I suspect part of that, if I’m being totally honest, is knowing that everyone is different and that, by our nature, we tend to be a slightly different person with each different individual, and I don’t know if I have that kind of energy.

On another note, I have seen this unwillingness to adjust as a person affect my career choices as well; being focused on my “Comfort zone” and, in some cases, avoiding responsilbity that would have taken me to a different level. As much as I have always considered myself a “good guy” I didn’t have what every man needs to make it a priority to have: a well-developed plan. I have always claimed that I wanted my life, my work, to make a difference—and, to varying degree, I think I have done that–but I didn’t really sit down and imagine or project the exact path I would take to continue to build a stable life for myself in totality. I have had a number of positions that all relate to each other and I have a wealth of experience; but financially and professionally, it hasn’t resulted in the upward trajectory I would suspect most people would be looking for at this same stage of their lives. Being a “good guy” –even being a “deep” person–is not enough to go beyond paying the bills and to start having the kind of day-to-day life I have belatedly allowed myself to imagine.

Is everyone else where they would like to be? What steps have you taken to make sure this has happened? What supports have you had that helped you along the way? Weigh in and give props to yourself—and those who have been on the path with you—or just talk about what steps you think you need to take to “get to the next level” (whatever that is); whether it’s social/personal or professional development. Be real.

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Clear Answers from the Creator

I’m not sure how many of you pray and/or meditate, but I can’t live without doing at least one, preferably both, virtually every day, even if it’s just for a minute when I wake up or first sit at my desk  or before I go to bed. It keeps me focused and when things are going good or not-so-good, I like to seek answers from beyond my own limited understanding of how to make things better.

To be honest, for some time I have been wrestling with some fundamental questions about my life and so I sat down this morning and asked God “What is my heart’s desire?” And I got a very clear answer, which is why I’m writing at this very moment: it seems like something I should share, because that doesn’t happen every day.

(A little background: my biggest fear, that I’m aware of, is not being wanted. You might be saying to yourself “Why would you tell that to a bunch of complete strangers?” The simple answer is that the best way for me, or perhaps anyone, to not let my fears control me is to expose them in order to  take away their power. There is an old proverb I am fond of, which essentially states “he who conceals his disease cannot expect to be cured.”)

Anyway, as it turns out, the anwer to my question was–is–basically the opposite of my deepest fear: To be understood, appreciated, accepted; to be peaceful and powerful.

In my case, powerful doesn’t mean the ability to make someone disappear or to have thousands of people’s lives hang in the balance at my every whim or decision. For me, power means to control my own destiny, and perhaps even moreso, to realize my full divinely-given and inspired potential so that I can create positive change for myself and those around me.

I was told to Understand Him, Appreciate Him, Accept Him, Be Peaceful in Him, Be Powerful in his being everlasting, Be Confident in His ability to Be, Do and Provide, and let His power be mine.  But until I stop seeking ANY of these things from outside myself (meaning other people) in the flow of life, I will continue to swim upstream with my lungs burning instead of letting the flow carry me and be able to focus on other goals and desires. I must have faith that all things are possible; live for God, not the validation of other people, and in so doing gain strength, resoluteness of purpose, and ultimately protection and prosperity.

(As another sidenote, my personal understanding of God would really dictate saying Him/Her, but for the sake of expediency, I deferred to the male aspect because this is, in many ways, about my own sense of manhood.)

So there you have it…my keys to happiness on a hot Southern Thursday morning.

On top of that, when I got to work, there was an e-mail from a professional development website I belong to about Excellence and Motivation; one of the key lines that summed it all up: “The best we can be with low motivation is adequate. No matter how hard we work at something and desire it, in the long run we will never be excellent at something without high levels of motivation in that area. In other words, if we toil in areas where we have low motivation, we resign ourselves to mediocrity.”

This last bit just seemed to be an exclamation point on my own “revelations” from less than an hour earlier.

Has anyone else had that kind of moment where something, or maybe even “everything,” just kind of comes together–as Jay-Z and alcoholics put it, a “moment of clarity?” Feel free to share.

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Profile Re-post

I decided to post my profile as a blog entry. As this thing takes shape (in the 48 to 72 or so hours and counting that it’s been in existence, anyway), I’ve realized that it’s really a way–as with most writers–of getting to know myself a little better…in public (that is, if anyone decides to read). :o).

So here’s my original profile that explains a bit more about who I am and where this could be headed….thanks for stopping by, and let me know what you think.

Talking about myself is probably my least favorite part about this kind of stuff because I’m a little bit “all over the place.”

I call the blog “Aspiring Optimist” because I am driven to look on the proverbial bright side, but don’t always succeed. Like anyone else, there are things that put a knot in my chest, that wake me up at night like an internal chorus of crickets. But I also believe that if you keep living and trying and working and planning, things have a way of getting better.

I love to write, mostly for myself to maintain some semblance of worldly sanity and to work out the kinks. Unless some other people I know who also write, I may occasionally indulge a bad idea or two or three in the privacy of pen and paper so that I can get it out of my head and move on. But I also manage to produce poetry and some short fiction of varying levels of quality.

I gravitate toward the esoteric, unusual, nature-ish, ancient history and generally cosmic side of things. I like to know a little about everything,  but could do much better about knowing a lot about a few things…I probably would be a lot wealthier if I did.

I love God, my family, and the ideas of freedom, equality, and peace.

And I guess I don’t hate talking about myself nearly as much as I thought I did.

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A beginning

 OK, I have  to admit I have close to zero idea why I’m doing this.  Something, let’s just call it “The Voice of God” for lack of a better label or description, motivated me to start a blog today. Yes, I’ve thought about it before…but I kept coming back to the same self-defeating thought that ultimately prevented further (read:ANY) progress up to this point, which  was, essentially “I’m just not that interesting.”

So there it is: maybe my soul/spirit/conscious mind, whatever we’re made up of, has decided to take up the challenge. To do it–for the sake of doing it. And maybe I might find that I say something that will resonate with other people. I started by trying to find a place to put my poetry and other writing on line, an e-safety deposit box  (or maybe bulletin board is a more apt analogy) but with access by potentially millions of people. And I probably still will. I have no rules here,  just a semi-uncharacteristic desire to express my opinions to the world in an uncontrolled setting.  Yikes.

I’m at less that 200 words and I’m already nervous.

Let’s see where it goes.