Ah…here it comes again. Another Un-Seeing Exercise. There’s THAT question: Who am I to be so bold?
The story you tell yourself about what you “cannot” do can hurt you your entire life. This question, in particular, can tie you up in all kinds of knots and keep you stuck in suck.
WHY BOLD? WHAT IS BOLD?
“Lemme tell ya, cookie,” as an old, rasty rascal of a friend used to say, “it’s supposed to be bold. What are ya? Some kinda snail?”
Jan (Arny) Messersmith published that sky-diving image in the header of this post in his Flickr stream in 2010. He tells the backstory in a long rumination in his image notes. He also includes one of the best definitions of “bold” I’ve ever seen.
He says, “Boldness is the exercise of one’s beliefs accompanied by a certainty that positive and well-considered actions will produce desirable outcomes.” He continues, “Timidity and fear are not compatible with confidence and trust.” It’s a truth, that.
This INBOUND Bold Talk, “From Suit to Seal” was published on YouTube by HubSpot in 2015. It features Phil Black who hung up his suit as a Goldman-Sach minion to become, of all things, a Navy Seal.
“Be bold,” Black says at the end of his talk. Bold is the first step to following your dream.
TAKING THAT FIRST STEP
How do you get to bold? Some counterpoint questions might help. How about these?
When you are 80, are you going to regret that you did not take action and believe in yourself because you were scared?
What message will you give your kids and your grandkids? How are you going to authentically encourage them to follow their dreams when you stop yourself from following your own?
The saddest comment I have ever overheard was one from an elderly grandmother telling her grandson, “Go do your dream, bebe. Me, I too old for dream now. I can only wish.”
Another take on this is the advice in this spoken poem, “Everybody Dies But Not Everybody Lives” in this YouTube video by Richard Williams, better-known as American rapper and spoken word artist Prince Ea.
Prince Ea published the video in 2016. It was a collaboration between the artist, who calls himself a “Futurist,” and Neste, a Finnish oil refinery company that, besides producing and marketing petroleum products, also produces “renewable diesel” which is produced in a patented vegetable oil refining process. The upcycled vegetable oil works well as an alternative fuel in diesel engines.
PRETEND THERE IS NO COUNTDOWN
The Real is that being bold isn’t all that hard to do. Major tip: Forget the countdown. Never mind “a-one and a-two and a-three.” Just go.
Practice will help with that. It gets easier every time you do something that makes you scared and nervous.
FOLLOWING IN THE FOOTSTEPS
Bold can also get easier if you can follow along the trails of adventurers and explorers who’ve gone on ahead of you.
Start a file folder today – either a physical paper one or one on your computer. Choose a few people who you admire for their bravery and bold actions. Research their stories.
Chances are your heroes started in situations that are no better than yours right now and they made it. Find out how they did it. Look at ways that maybe you can do it your own self in your own field.
It’s easy to stay in our comfort zone. We’re good there. We know where we are. We know what we’re supposed to do about it all.
There are two problems with hanging in the comfort-zone, however. Life doesn’t often let us stay there, and we don’t grow as much there.
“Post-traumatic growth” is a term coined by Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun of the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, two of the pioneering experts on the subject. They say PTG is the “positive change that occurs as a result of struggle with highly challenging life crises.”
In this YouTube video, History of Post Traumatic Growth, Calhoun tells a bit about how their concept of studying “growth through stress” developed.
The scientists and their teams interviewed people who had endured hardship. They wanted to know why some people grow after trauma and others don’t. What they found surprised them.
Just like the wise guys keep telling us, it seems suffering can help people transform in fundamental, positive ways. The transformations in the people who were interviewed were more profound (and more common) than the researchers expected.
They tell us that there are five ways people can grow after a crisis:
Their relationships can strengthen.
They can discover new paths and purposes in life. Sometimes these are related to a particular survival mission. Other times the crisis becomes the catalyst for a more general reconsideration of priorities.
Trauma allows them to find their inner strength.
Their spiritual life can deepen.
They can feel a renewed appreciation for life.
HUH? HOW DOES THIS HAPPEN?
“Deliberate rumination,” (spending lots of time trying to make sense out of painful experiences and reflecting on how these circumstances have changed you), the psychologists say, helps to foster post-traumatic growth.
Tedeschi and Calhoun use the metaphor of an earthquake to explain how we grow in the wake of crisis. Just as a city has certain structure before major earthquake so too do we have fundamental beliefs about our lives and the world. Trauma shatters those assumptions.
Out of the rubble comes the opportunity to rebuild. In the aftermath of an earthquake, cities aim to erect buildings and infrastructure that are stronger and more resilient than what now lies in ruins.
Those who are able to rebuild psychologically, spiritually and otherwise after a crisis are better equipped to deal with future adversity, and they ultimately lead more meaningful lives.
As Anne M. Mulcahy, the former chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corp, once advised, “When you have that window of opportunity called a crisis, move as quickly as you can, get as much done as you can. There’s a momentum for change that’s very compelling.”
WHAT PTG CAN MEAN FOR YOU
Personal coach-mentor Robin Amos Kahn gave a short talk about this phenomenon which was published in this YouTube video, Post-Traumatic Growth by OwnTheRoom in 2014. In it she shares her personal story of personal adversity and how she grew from it.
Own The Room is an organization of skillful communicators based in New Jersey who provide leadership training and work with corporations around the world. They say they help “empower high performance cultures that enable people to actually have fun while doing the best work of their lives.”
OKAY….HOW DO I DO IT?
The following collection of six life-hacks are take-aways from these guys and others who have continued to figure out how to use the findings on post-traumatic growth and their ramifications to help other people survive and thrive after a crisis.
(Stephen Joseph spent over 20 years working with survivors of trauma and is a professor at the University of Nottingham. Fredrike Bannink, who among other things is the Mental Health Trainer for Doctors Without Borders, is an internationally known clinical psychologist based in Amsterdam.)
Figure out where you are now.
Acknowledgement and validation are important, the guys in lab coats say. You have to understand and accept the changes that have happened. You have to cop to the fact that you are smack-dab in the middle of it all
F’r real, your problems don’t need to be analyzed to death. They are there; they are in your face. See them. Know where you’re standing. If you can just see the challenges, you can actually face them and maybe do something about them.
Focus on what already works – assess your strengths, competencies and resources: How do you cope? How do you keep your head above water? Do more of that. What have you got? Use it.
VALUE CHANGE ITSELF
You know what the best thing about change is? It is happening all the time. If you’re stuck in suck, it helps to remember that old and hoary reminder: “This, too, shall pass.”
Obstructions and adversity do not go on forever. Mostly that’s ’cause we don’t last that long. Also, we always have the option to choose to step out of the bog our own selves.
One way to do that is to try to get past looking at just the negatives of a situation. Check out how things may have improved as well. Even a small change for the better counts. Count them all.
BUILD ON HOPE
Learn to be hopeful about the future, these guys tell you. Look for inspirational stories about people who have overcome similar obstacles and start looking at how you, your own self, still have a future, one that can be good anyhow.
Focus on your personal goals. Seeing yourself as you want to be is the key to personal growth. What are your best hopes?
The scientists, seekers and practitioners all say building hope and optimism is very important for transcending whatever 2 x 4 has hit you upside the head. They are the antidotes to the hopelessness and pessimism that keep you in the muck.
Develop an attitude of gratitude. Yup. Count your blessings. They are on the other side of all the wo-wo-woes.
Re-write your own story. You can do this literally by using expressive writing techniques to find new perspectives. As Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung once said, “I am not what happened to me. I am what I choose to become.”
So…tell the story about who you are choosing to become. Make up your own happy endings.
After a while you’ll start to understand that it doesn’t matter who hurt you or what broke you down. What is going to matter to you is who and what made you smile again and why.
NOTICE NEW GROWTH
Ask yourself: When have you felt better lately?
Put on your own lab coat and use “scaling questions” to assess your progress, motivations, hopes and confidence. On a scale from 10 to 0, where would you say you are today? How come it’s not lower?
Notice the progress you’ve made. Don’t discount them just because they’re teeny. One step is still one step.
Call your shots – What will be the next signs of progress?
The scientists who study post-traumatic growth all say that if you can get through the painful process of dealing with trauma and change, you will get to the point when you will make something that is your very own unique expression of self.
It is worthwhile to remember, I think, that one old meaning of the word “suffering” is “to undergo.” When you “suffer,” you are undergoing something. What you’re doing is just all about going on through it. You can choose to suffer over your suffering, or not.
Once you’ve made it to the other side, you’ll be able to make something, the guys in the lab coats say. Maybe it’ll be a marvelous thing the world has never before seen.
The poets, the artists, and the wise guys got there before the scientists again, I am thinking.
They know, those poets and artists. Through all of the ouches and angst and all the confusion and chaos, there’s a golden thread that leads you back to your Highest Self. And when you get there, oh…the thoughts you can think and the things you can do….
All this other stuff is about finding that thread.
Here’s a poem:
LOOKING FOR THE GOD THREAD
Looking for the God Thread…
Where the heck did it go?
It’s buried under all this other stuff.
Tangled up in all this blustering blow.
Looking for the God Thread…
Do you see a shiny fine gold wire
Wandering through this mass of
Fuzz-ball thoughts, messed-up desire?
Looking for the God Thread…
It’s in here, I know.
I’m picking through all these old bits,
Growling ’cause the going’s so slow.
Looking for the God Thread…
Where the heck can it be?
It’s all my fault! I got distracted, a bit refracted,
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that transcendence has nothing to do with escaping the world or your own self. [All it means is stepping out and dancing your own heart-dance right out in the open, in the middle of the world and in the middle of yourself.]
“Listening to your heart” often seems like a scary thing. Your heart keeps insisting that you just have to do things that are counter-intuitive and not-the-thing — the very opposite of what everybody around you says is the Smart Thing To Do.
Your heart often keeps urging you to make these moves that make no rational sense, insisting and insisting that the very thing you are trying to ignore or avoid or resist has to be embraced.
Your heartsong, it turns out, is also what holds you together when your life turns to dreck and you have been knocked down to the floor again by some other Life-thing. Not only does it help you get back up, it can even help you keep your feet under you the next time you get a 2×4 upside the head.
This seems to me to be a very good thing to explore when you’re searching for meaning and mana for your ordinary life.
THE POWER OF THE HEART
In this YouTube video of a TEDxRockCreekPark talk, “The Power of Resilience,” neuro-psychologist Sam Goldstein tells a story about his work with children and touches on some of the things that his patients have taught him. His early work with children led him to focus on studying resilience in humans, his life-work.
Resilience researchers ask why some people handle adversity better than others and go on to lead normal lives despite negative life experiences while others get de-railed by them. Goldstein is a Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Utah, a Research Professor of Psychology at George Mason University and the director of the Neurology, Learning and Behavior Center in Salt Lake City in Utah. He’s written many books and articles on the subject.
Goldstein’s own work has led him to understand that it is the ordinary, heartful actions of everyday people that fosters and instill in childen the strength, hope and optimism they need to face the world. It is, as he calls it, an “ordinary magic.”
He also points out that our heart is connected to our brain in more ways than any other organ in our body. It affects us physically and mentally as well. He encourages us to listen more to our hearts.
In this YouTube video published by the HeartMath Institute, “The Importance of Resilience” further explains the real effects of the heart-mind connection, applying it to the business world.
HeartMath Institute is a nonprofit research and educational organization founded in the 1980’s by Doc Childre, an internationally known authority on optimizing personal effectiveness. He believes that the “intelligence of the heart” can be harnessed and originated a system of “heart-based tools and technologies” that has been used widely in business, the military, hospitals, clinic and schools to enhance health, performance and well-being.
Another scientist (one who’s turned mystic) is Gregg Braden. He spends his time exploring ancient wisdoms from a scientific perspective, sharing what he has discovered on his journeys and his thoughts on these discoveries.
This next YouTube video, published by philosophical freeborder in 2015, features Braden talking about how the emotions of the human heart can apparently affect the electromagnetic field of the earth in a GAIAM TV interview.
The thinking’s “out there.” It’s also fascinating.
Very often the stories you tell yourself keep you stuck in suck.
TOO MANY PEOPLE GOT THERE FIRST
Here’s one that’s likely to stop you in your tracks: “There are too many people doing __________ (fill in the blank) already.” You tell yourself this and then make up a story about how you’ll get lost in the vast crowds of people doing the same __________ (fill in the blank) that you want to do.
Maybe you tell yourself, “Nothing I can do will really make me stand out in this crowd,” and then, after surveying all the competition, maybe you allow yourself to be intimidated. Maybe you ask yourself, “Why even try?”
THE VOICES IN YOUR HEAD
Remember the Good Mom Litany? Do this, don’t do that….”If all your friends jumped off a cliff, would you jump, too?” If you’re running the “too-many-people-are-already-doing-it” story in your head, it could be you took that Litany to heart a little too much.
In this funny YouTube video published by joeschoi, comedienne Anita Renfroe condenses what a good Mom says in 24 hours into 2 minutes and 55 seconds in “The Mom Song,” sung to the William Tell Overture.
That litany, like all the other Mom (and Big Person) admonitions, was supposed to get you to stop and think before you did something irrevocably damaging – physically, mentally or socially — to your little self.
It was supposed to keep you safe and unhurt when she or some other Big Person couldn’t be around to watch over you and protect you. Maybe you heard it so much that now it just pops up all on its own every time you want to try something new or do something different.
In order to get your head turned around when the Litany is running through your head, you will probably need to do another Un-Seeing Exercise….
CHANNEL YOUR INNER IMMORTAL
The best way to turn this situation around is to channel your Inner 12-Year-Old.
Remember when you still thought you were Immortal?
Remember when you thought you could do anything?
Remember when you wanted to try something just because you wanted to see what happens next?
Remember when you were too dumb to know what the Smart Thing was?
Here are some counterpoint thoughts you might want to roll around in your head that will encourage that 12-Year Old to step on out:
Just because somebody else…or even many somebody elses are doing it does not mean that you can’t too.
Nobody is you. You will bring your own gifts, your own skills, your own sensibilities to this thing you do. (Just make sure you do the thing the best way you know how.)
This YouTube video, “Too Many People Already Do What I Do” was published by Sean McCabe, a young entrepreneur who is the founder of seanwes, a brand that mashes together making art (in this case, hand-lettering) and creating a successful, audience-driven business.
In the video, Sean deconstructs and refutes the too-many-people story. He points out that in this vast interconnected world of ours, we are exposed to the best of the best on a daily basis. We often populate our daily feeds with all the minds we appreciate.
He also points out that it’s quite likely that when you are checking out all of the makers you admire and against whom you measure yourself, you are probably only seeing a tiny fraction of the 7 billion-plus humans on the planet.
The tiny fraction of the world’s population that is grabbing your attention are the ones who are doing things and making awesomeness. If you’re looking to become one of that number, then you’re going to be one of the relatively few.
Most of the rest of the people on the planet are more likely to be spectators, audience, or customers….people who are waiting for you to share your own gift. That is a very cool thought, huh?
Imbue what you do with your own meaning and start building and sharing your __________ (fill in the blank) your own way. Listen and respond to the feedback from your audience and persist in sharing what you do.
REMEMBER TO KEEP YOUR MESSAGE SIMPLE
Steve Jobs once said, “This is a very complicated world. It is a very noisy world. And we’re not going to get a chance to get people to remember much about us…And so, we have to be really clear on what we want them to know about us.”
Keep your message about your __________ (fill in the blank) focused. Keep your message simple. There is incredible power and freedom in simplicity.
Think. What’s the ONE thing you want people to know about you?
If you can distill your message down to one simple phrase that’s aligned to your values then that one phrase will help you maintain your conviction. With that one phrase you can carry on through the whole obstacle course you may encounter and finish what you start.
Showing up is what counts. Doing what you do the best way you know how is what counts. Maintaining your effort tenaciously (McCabe suggests showing up every day for at least two years) until you’ve made your dream real is what counts.
“Meaningful Work” is the new Grail, it seems. Every time you turn around there’s somebody or other admonishing and exhorting you to get out there and “find” the work that gives meaning to your life. It’s the key to happiness, joy and self-fulfillment, they say.
WHAT MAKES WORK MEANINGFUL?
Adam “Smiley” Poswolsky, in his book THE QUARTER-LIFE BREAKTHROUGH, has a clear and succinct description of the shape this “work with meaning” is supposed to take. He says this sort of work has these four qualities:
It reflects who you are and what your interests are.
It allows you to show your gifts to help others.
It provides a community of believers that will support your dream.
It is financially viable, given your desired lifestyle.
This is the kind of work that has all the bennies and the good stuff that you like, so I suppose it does makes sense that if you actually had a job like that it’s likely you would be blissed.
Lifestyle and career coaches and fire-starters all seem to agree: If nobody will hand over that Meaningful Work treasure to you, then, by golly, you can just get out there and make your own bread for your own self! (Go, you!)
“MEANINGFUL” CAN BE HARD TO FIND…OR IS IT?
In the real world, it seems to me, a majority of the people who must work for a living often have a limited number of options. For one thing, they do have to accept whatever available jobs there are that they are qualified to get. (They hope these jobs will pay enough to support them and their families.)
If not, they may choose to take on a couple more similar gigs or invent side-gigs that take up the slack. Often they may work really hard on acquiring or expanding skill-sets that will make them more attractive to assorted employers.
Some of them may even make the effort to develop skills that will allow them to build a framework for work that is uniquely their own.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics, in a press release issued in March, 2015, tells us that the four most common occupations in America at the time were retail salesperson, cashier, food preparer and server, and office clerk.
All of these jobs are basically low-paying positions that are mostly done by rote. If you tried to fit them into the “meaningful-work” template the life-coaches tout, these jobs probably would flunk a bunch of “meaningful-work” tests.
The thing is, these jobs are still a necessary part of keeping the world around us functioning smoothly and well. If you take away all the salespeople and cashiers, all the food service people and all of the assorted office minions and functionaries, would we be able to live life as we know it?
WHERE DID ALL THE MEANING GO?
In this YouTube video featuring a TEDx talk given at Azusa Pacific University, Ryan T. Hartwig explores how Meaning went Missing-In-Action from the still-useful post-modern jobs we do.
Hartwig’s point in the video is this: “There is no meaningful job unless someone brings meaning to it.”
It’s not a new idea. For what was perhaps his best-known book, WORKING, which was published in 1997, American journalist and radio broadcaster Louis “Studs” Terkel talked to over 100 people – from gravediggers to movie studio heads — about their jobs and how they felt about them.
He came away with the thought that “Work is about a search for daily meaning as well as daily bread.”
In the first story, John F. Kennedy ran into a janitor at NASA in 1962. When the president asked the cleaner what he was doing, the janitor said he was “helping put a man on the moon.”
The second story is about a road-worker directing the flow of traffic near a repair site on a stretch of Colorado highway. The guy stood in the hot sun and periodically he would turn a sign that read “Stop” on one side and “Slow” on the other. He kept doing that diligently, over and over again.
A driver in the line of cars waiting for their turn to get past the repair site asked the road-worker how he could stand such boring work. The road-worker replied, “I keep people safe. I care about these guys behind me and I keep them safe. I also keep you safe, and everyone else in all those cars behind you.”
As Smith points out, “The ability to find purpose in the day-to-day tasks of living and working goes a long way to building meaning.”
THE SERVICE AGE
Wharton School of Business professor Adam Grant did a survey of two million individuals across over 50 jobs. Those who reported finding the most meaning in their careers included clergy, English teachers, surgeons, directors of activities at religious organizations, elementary and secondary school administrators, radiation therapists, chiropractors and psychologists.
These people all felt that the world was a better place and other people were better off because they were there doing their work. Grant found it telling that every one of these satisfied workers provided needed services to other people.
In the United States, nearly three out of every ten employees are knowledge workers, Grant says in the article. They are outnumbered by the service workers who represent eight out of every ten American employees.
Not only that, but it was estimated that in 2016 almost two-thirds of the world’s GDP (Gross Domestic Product) was produced in the service industries.
In this YouTube video of a 2012 “Capture Your Flag” interview, author and public speaker Simon Sinek answers the question, “What makes your work meaningful?”
“Capture Your Flag” is executive producer Erik Michielsen’s educational media company which has been creating online video content and helping to develop material for online and educational publishers since 2009.
In the series of videos Michielsen continues to produce, he interviews what he calls “rising leaders” and “near peers” (people a step or two ahead of the viewers of the video) who have faced and resolved familiar business and career situations and problems.
FINAL THOUGHTS AND A TAKE-AWAY
If the only meaning in work is what you, the worker, brings to it, then it seems to me that it would be a good thing to think on the counterintuitive advice Professor Hartwig gives at the end of his TEDx talk:
Focus on the good you do in your work. How you help others and the value of the work you do are important building blocks for finding meaning in your work.
See and act beyond the bottom line. Profit is an important thing, but it is not the only thing of value for your bottom line. Building relationships, connections and community transcends and adds to your bottom line.
Never say, “I’m just a ________” (Fill in the blank) You are more than just a job title. Remember that.
Hartwig also encourages managers and administrators to develop a work environment that will help to foster this way of thinking by allowing and encouraging workers to make their work more meaningful and allowing them to use all of their human qualities to do it.
Here is a poem I wrote about what being a property manager means to me and the lessons it has taught me. [Kuleana is Hawaiian for “responsibility.”]
THE GATEKEEPER SPEAKS
Ya know, I’ve been thinkin’,
I get to walk through Other People’s worlds –
All of them valid, all of them real.
The people living in these worlds
Are who they are,
Are what they are,
And they have to be Real with me.
Because I am the gatekeeper –
The foo-dog holding the key that
Unlocks the theater back door.
In order to use that stage that is my kuleana,
These people must get by me,
So I become a tourist in their lives.
They show me its shape –
All the good parts, polished up and spiffy-nice.
(It’s only later that I get to see
The darknesses and broken crockery.)
This all helps me understand a fundamental thing:
These others walk wrapped in a bubble-world
Of particular hopes and dreams.
They come to me lugging a load
Of issues, the consequences of past mistakes.
It has nothing to do with me
When some dream blows up in their faces,
Or some hope dies a lingering, agonizing death.
It has nothing to do with me.
Their moves then are predicated on
The prevailing climate in their own world-bubbles.
Sometimes I get caught in the crossfire of conflicting other-people needs.
Sometimes I’m in the wrong place at the wrong time –
It’s the new “thing” — Letting Go. Everybody who’s anybody keeps telling you that the only way to move forward is to let go of all that baggage you’re lugging around. “The Simple Life,” hey, ho! Minimalism rules.
They tell you, “Gee whiz, guys and girls…you’ve got a wagon train following along behind you with all the accumulated baggage of a lifetime and you’re pulling that thing around with you. No wonder you’re so tired all the time.”
For the most part, that is probably a truth, you know. People who have little day-packs can scoot along hiking trails a heck of a lot easier than the guys lugging around those huge mountain backpacks that tower over their heads.
MAKING A START
You figure that you probably do have to let go of at least some of that stuff. As you’ve probably found already, if you’re a natural-born hoarder who tends to leave claw marks all over stuff you’re forced to release, even letting go of just one little thing might be really tough.
It’s likely that you’ll start remembering the back-story behind every itty-bitty thing or else you’ll recall the dreams you had for this thing or that. Getting to The Simple Life could very well become an exploration and excavation into your life-story.
You may keep getting sidetracked by all those stories and perhaps you’ll never get to the part where you let go of anything.
GETTING CARRIED AWAY
So, finally, after much browbeating there you are, winnowing your way through your stuff and starting to feel good about making all that progress. The space around you is starting to clear up and it really does feel good.
It’s a good thing to remember that some of the more enthusiastic of our wanna-be advisors ignore the truth that you do have to be careful when you start tossing stuff. If you make it past the first little throw away and then start getting into the swing of it all, it’s relatively easy to tip into deep toss-mode.
Then it’s possible that anything or maybe even everything can go out the window. There you are, at the height of minimalistic euphoria….
“Tossing out the bath water…heave, ho, hup!..OOPS! There went the baby!”
Easy, there. Take a breather. You do not have to clear everything out all at once.
QUESTIONING YOUR WAY TO CLEAR
Here’s a three-part exercise that might help if you really are not making any headway at all.
Choose a target area that you want to clear. It doesn’t have to be a large area. It could be a small corner of a room. It could be a kitchen drawer.
Part One is to pick up each object in your designated area and ask yourself these three essential questions:
Do I need this? (Be brutally honest here. Do you really need twelve can openers? Do you need that tacky- looking tattered potholder?)
Is this useful? (Does it work? Have you used it at all in the past six months?)
Do I still have a strong connection with it? (Do I love it? Is it uplifting eye-candy? Or is it some guilt-holding like that uber-tacky hand-me-down vase from your beloved old Aunt Martha, the one that leaked all over the dining room table the one time you used it.)
Depending on your answers to these essential questions, you can stick the thing into one of three piles – the YES pile (for the stuff you’re keeping), the NO pile (for the stuff you’re tossing) and the MAYBE pile. If you’re a real pack-rat the MAYBE pile is going to be the biggest one of all.
Part Two of this exercise is to disappear the MAYBE pile. Ask yourself the questions again for each of the objects in the maybe pile. Keep asking until there are only two piles – YES or NO. The goal is to end up with only YES things in your life.
Part Three is to find places to put the YES stuff on display or in some easy-to-reach place. Understand that YES stuff that are packed in boxes stuck on high shelves are actually MAYBE or NO things in disguise.
Then, pack up the NO stuff and — this is the important part — take the NO stuff far, far away before the sun sets on your head.
If you are a natural-born hoarder, keeping the NO stuff for the Someday Garage Sale is just an invitation to collect more stuff. Do not do it!
Renting out storage space for the NO stuff is cheating. It is also very expensive.
Understand that these drastic measures are just a kick-starter. Once you get the hang of disappearing things, you won’t need to be quite so deliberate about it.
Once you’ve gotten one space cleared, it does get easier to tackle another little bit and then another until the only things left in your life are the YES stuff.
(Maybe you haven’t noticed this, but these same questions work whether you’re looking at a thing, a person, or some situation that is bothering you.)
PUTTING FIRST THINGS FIRST
Victoria Moran, in her book LIT FROM WITHIN: Tending Your Soul For Lifelong Beauty, points out, “A simple life is not seeing how little we can get by with—that’s poverty—but how efficiently we can put first things first. . . . When you’re clear about your purpose and your priorities, you can painlessly discard whatever does not support these, whether it’s clutter in your cabinets or commitments on your calendar. ”
This is another good reason for understanding the why of the things you keep.
This YouTube video of a TedXIndianapolis Talk by screenwriter and blogger Maura Malloy, “The Masterpiece of a Simple Life,” points to a balanced way to get back to simple without losing what you love.
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): an understanding that the willingness to stand still in the middle of uncertainty without giving in to despair allows for new opportunities to show up and gives you the space you need to notice them. [If you focus on fears and doubts, there really is no room in your head for paying attention when a new door opens.]
Apple founder Steve Jobs had an interesting take on how to deal with the uncertainty of life. He suggested using the ultimate uncertainty, death, to get past the fears and doubts you are likely to encounter during times of change.
Jobs has been quoted as saying, “All external expectations, all fear of embarrassment and failure – all these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.”
This is, I think, a profound thought, and it is probably the best (and the most difficult) way I know of dealing with “standing in ambiguity” – the whole uncertainty of just living your life, making plans and executing them, having goals and realizing them, and so forth and so on.
WHAT IT IS AND WHY DO IT?
“Standing in ambiguity” equates, I think, with poet John Keats’ “negative capability,” which he describes as “when a person is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason….”
Wise guys through the ages have tried to get us to just sit with the uncertainty, feel the feelings, understand why they are welling up in us, and then step away from those feelings and look at where we can make our next move. After that we can take the next step, then the next one, and so on until we get to a new place that feels more comfortable for us.
But, uncertainty and ambiguity is never an easy space to be in.
So then there’s this question: If it makes us so uncomfortable, why would we even go there?
One answer is that it is in this space that Creativity happens. All that discomfort produces new ways of looking at things, change-making moves, and products never seen before. (It also produces a lot of crazy people…but that’s another story.)
Here’s a short YouTube video, “Embrace Ambiguity,” by IDEO.org, an organization that works with nonprofits, social enterprises and foundations to design solutions for social impact around the world. It explains some of the benefits of standing in ambiguity that creative people can use.
CULTURAL AMBIGUITY TOLERANCE
How much ambiguity you can tolerate is a personal thing. Each person has his or her own level of tolerance. The same is true for different cultures.
This YouTube video by Mary Rowland explains about the “ambiguity tolerance” of different cultures and what it means to you in practical, nuts-and-bolts fashion.
(I’m not sure who Mary Rowland is. I couldn’t find anything about her on Google and her other YouTube offerings are not particularly helpful. Still, this video is a lovely schmooze about an important topic. Thanks, Mary Rowland…whoever you are.)
If your own ambiguity tolerance doesn’t match that of your culture, it’s quite likely that there will be friction. If your own high ambiguity tolerance clashes with your culture’s lack of tolerance for ambiguity, you’ll have to deal with being labeled as a troublemaker or a ne’er-do-well. If your ambiguity tolerance is low and you’re in a culture with a high tolerance for ambiguity, then you might be labeled as a ‘fraidy-cat, a worry-wort, or even a coward.
Your mission, if you choose to accept it, is to figure out how to work with your culture’s level of tolerance for ambiguity as well as your own. If the mismatch is too great, then perhaps you will need to go find a more supportive environment for yourself. This, of course, will add to all the uncertainty.
JUST DO IT
Another take on how to deal with the uncertainty of life is in this YouTube video by Bob Miglani who exhorts, “Dealing With Uncertainty? Stop Waiting. Move Forward and Embrace the Chaos.”
(Bob Magliani is the author of EMBRACE THE CHAOS: How India Taught Me To Stop Overthinking and Start Living. In 2012, it was a Washington Post bestseller. In it Magliani addresses how to deal with facing major uncertainty and stop doing the deer-in-the-headlights freeze. He tells you that you have to let go of trying to control the chaos all around you and focus, instead, on what you can control — your own actions and your words and thoughts. An interesting read.)
The irony in all of this is that standing in ambiguity is…well…ambiguous and also very personal. There are no final answers, no right or wrong way to do it. There is only you and what you feel you can or must do.
About a year after my husband died, this poem came. It was a signal to me that I was ready again to turn around and face future.
After Fred died and the world I knew changed, I was very lost. One of the first steps was getting through the grieving intact and through the acceptance and letting go. And then there was the learning how to stand up strong in the middle of a heck of a lot of ambiguity.
When you’re already naked and the illusions in which you used to dress the world have all melted and dribbled away, when you no longer have anything obscuring your look into the Void, it does tend to free you up to do lots of other things.
I went and did a lot of other things. Many of them turned out pretty okay.
PUBLISHER: Tarcher/Perigee (Penguin Random House imprint) 
It has always confused me, the propensity of the media and other folks to pour hate on the generation of youngsters born in the two decades before the century turned. The Millennials (born around 1980 to 2000) have been called, “the lazy generation,” “the entitled generation,” and “the me-me-me generation.”
For real, it sounds a lot like sour grapes to me. Gee, wow! What expectations have we older ones put on this group of youngsters that they must be made to feel like they have disappointed us so badly?
It’s been said that this generation is doomed. Shackled by huge personal debt, shaken and pounded by the falling debris of the tectonic-plate shifts of recessions and other economic “adjustments,” and haunted by a real lack of single-job options that can actually cover their costs of living, this supposedly techno-addicted crowd of privileged, me-centered youngsters with the attention spans of gnats are going to sink into mediocrity and gloom, eking out their dismal existence in their parents’ basements…it says here.
Micah Tyler sings an a capella song. “You’ve Gotta Love Millenials,” that is bouncy, cheerful and teasing about the very real problem this generation (and the rest of us) face.
IT AIN’T SO
The doom-and-gloom predictions and all that bugaloo-ing “awfulness” story-telling just does not jibe with the young people I know. As far as I can see, the young ones of my acquaintance do not match the much-bugled stereotypes. The labels plastered all over their cohort group by the assorted haters are lies.
They are bright, these young ones. Some of them are even brilliant.
They are eager to get their hustle on. Some of them work 18-hour days to make ends meet as they master some discipline, trade, or profession. Often they take on side-gigs that expand their skill-sets or they invest in their own continuing education.
Some of them have taken off on adventures that expand their view of the world, tasting life in other places, looking for a place to land or trying to clarify some vision they are pursuing. Others delve into their roots, looking for wisdom in the ways of the ancients.
Some of my young friends band together to make some grand scheme fly, cobbling together constructs that often fall short of their aims. Their failures do not keep them from trying again.
LOOKING FOR ANSWERS
These young friends of mine are a rowdy and boisterous crew. They are the freedom-runners. They have abandoned “career ladders,” choosing instead to forge new trails through the uncertainties of a world that does not hold still, a world that seems to be falling apart….the very same falling-apart world that every generation before us all have lived in.
The Millennials I know are often unsure of where they are going, but they try to keep running on with hearts held high. They are filled with confusion and doubt about their direction. They are almost never sure how to answer the inevitable questions about where they think they are headed. Many of them are looking for a direction that makes sense to them, one that has meaning for them.
Others of my young friends (as well as many older ones) who followed more conventional road maps now feel trapped by their earlier choices. They may want to make a change, but are reluctant to chuck out the good things they have already built.
Often they have taken on obligations and responsibilities that hold their feet to the fire.
They, too, are looking for a way to move in a direction that makes sense to them towards a life with more meaning and mana.
YET ANOTHER TRAVEL GUIDE
Comes now a book, THE QUARTER-LIFE BREAKTHROUGH, written by a fellow Millennial. The author, Adam Poslowsky (who prefers to be called “Smiley”) is a young professional who paid attention as he worked through the daunting process of re-inventing himself.
Smiley learned to ask the Big Questions that helped him find his own meaning and mana as he re-made himself from a professional administrator/facilitator at the Peace Corp headquarters in Washington, DC into a writer, public speaker and career-change couch living in San Francisco.
In the book, Smiley focuses on the process of finding work that aligns with your own life-purposes. The goal, he says, is to “find a job or opportunity based on your purpose now,” that pays the rent and allows you to:
Share your gifts
Make a positive impact on your world
Surround yourself with believer
Live your desired quality of life
The book is packed with real-life stories of people who are succeeding in making the transition to more personally fulfilling lives and work choices. Smiley also draws on his own experiences to point out new ways of looking for paths to reach the over-riding goal.
He does not hand out the easy, clichéd advice that says you have to quit your job and go chasing after your “passion.” He points out that passions change. He points out that while you are making the shift, you do still have to eat and keep a roof over your head.
What Smiley does in this book is hand you a tool box of questions and exercises and head-games as well as a dollop of resources to tap as you figure out who you are and what moves your heart now, the gifts you hold, and the impact you want to make on the world.
From there he helps you take a look at your available options and suggests ways to beta-test your ideas and your potential directions without blowing up your world.
After that, it’ll be up to you to make your moves.
This book was a crowd-funded, self-published work that made good. It was successful enough on its own (with a lot of hustle and thought put in by Smiley and his crew) to be picked up by a more traditional publisher. The author includes that story in the book as well.
If you work it, I am convinced that it can guide your own Inner Smarty-pants to find the Life Answers that can work for you…even if you are NOT a Millennial and have lived way past your own quarter-life mark.
Here’s a poem…
I really thought it would be
I thought that as I got older
I’d develop…well, BOTTOM, I guess,
A sort of weight
That would let me float around
Without floating away…
Like…those little weight-buttons
Holding down supermarket helium-filled
Happy Face balloons.
That doesn’t seem to be happening.
Here I am, well-nigh unto being ancient
And STILL I feel like an airhead
Blowing around in a world of heavy winds.
Somehow, I thought that by now
I’d have found SOME sort of all-purpose Swiss-knife answers
That you could pull open and use to twiddle this
And twist that,
To break down all these head-scratching puzzlements
Into component parts of exceptional elegance and grace.
Instead, here I am,
Still dragging around all these kluge-solutions
Cobbled together out of various bits and dribs and drabs
That happened to be sitting around at the time.
All these kluges I’ve devised
Are actually the weight-buttons
Holding down BALLOON-ME?
Wouldn’t THAT be a kick in the head?
By Netta Kanoho
Picture credit: (book) via Amazon.com
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The wise guys tell us that most of the phenomena in the world are the results of consensus and moving energy. They are part of the larger dance that includes everything and everybody. How you see it is filtered through your own memories and the patterns of behavior built up by past experiences.
But then, one day you look up and notice that the world-as-you-know-it has changed so much you don’t recognize anything any more. What do you do then?
AS THE WORLD TURNS
Many wise guys say that most of the world’s phenomena often have little noticeable impact on you except as they accumulate all together. It’s like the long-term effects of accretion and erosion — Earth-energy things. It’s a slow-flowing liquid movement, like the movement of glass, for instance, or a glacier, and you are just one particle in all of this.
For decades it all goes along in a way that is understandable and part of a continuum that you are able to embrace because it just is a continuance of what has gone before. And then comes the landslide, the calving iceburg, the new discovery, the game-changing world event…and everything is different and you’re there scratching your head. Huh?
DOING THE ANT
Some people say your view of the whole thing is like that of an ant lugging along a bit of a bread crumb with his buddies. You, the ant, are doing your thing. And the whole rest of it goes on around you. You and the guys get the crumb home. There’s a party. Whoop-de-doo! Life goes on.
Then one day some bozo drops poisoned ant bait on the counter and you and the guys lug it on home and it all changes. Oy!
The best way to navigate in a world of change, according to the wise guys, is to try releasing old stuff — letting go of being an ant locked into ant-ness. If you can do that, then you can stay in touch with the world all around you. You have a better understanding about what is going on and you can respond better as a result.
Another IPS (Inner Peace Symptom): a tendency to practice Life De-stale-inization. [What’s so good about same-old anyhow?]
THE RISE OF RE-PURPOSING
Re-purposing is one of the latest post-modern trends, it seems. When you re-purpose something, you adapt it for another use. Most re-purposing gets done to things, probably because there’s so much stuff just sitting around. The stuff’s still good. It’s usually under-utilized or obsolete or redundant or otherwise superfluous, but, for one reason or another, nobody wants to haul it away.
So, the deal is that you take this existing thing that’s no longer quite so spiffy and deconstruct it, reconstruct it, or manipulate it into something else that’s more useful or interesting or fun.
The cool thing about the re-purposing mindset is that you look at something and then figure out what else it can be. You could develop some seriously artful or surprising projects that way…like these, for example:
TURNING THE RE-PURPOSING MINDSET ON YOU
You could also use the same re-purposing mindset to develop a different sort of life for yourself. If you’re feeling stuck or stale or under-utilized, then re-purposing might be the way to go for you.
This inspirational YouTube video, “Finding Your Meaning of Life,” was put together by TheJourneyofPurpose (TJOP).
Basically the video tells you that you get to create your own meaningful life. It’s one of those human “super-powers” each of us is issued. All the people who appear in the video are folks who took up the challenge to give their own lives meaning and mana. They did okay with it. Maybe you can too.
LIFE DE-STALE-INIZATION HACKS
These ideas come from James M. Kilts, the author of DOING WHAT MATTERS. I think they’re good ones for when you’re facing situations with a lot of moving parts….like re-inventing yourself, for example.
VISION. Adopt a straightforward vision of what you want to do and how you want to do it. Make it actionable and easy to understand. That way anybody who wants to join in your dance knows what they’re supposed to do in it
FUNDAMENTALS. Don’t get caught up in the fad theory of the day. If you stay focused on the fundamentals and apply them rigorously and across the board, many problems become less likely.
Mostly, A-B-C and 1-2-3 helps prevent !@#.
I remember a story a friend of mine told me about his uncle Howard’s most memorable champion collegiate wrestler. The guy won state collegiate wrestling championships even though he only knew three fundamental wrestling moves. The wrestler was very strong and he knew those moves very well. He won match after match when he performed each of the moves excellently every time his coach told him to do them.
FLEXIBILITY. Avoid a one-size-fits-all approach to problem-solving.
Templates work within limits and they do not travel widely with the same effect. Study each situation and make sure the solution custom-fits the problem.
It’s also wise to remember that f’r real, there is no such thing as a “foolproof” system. (The creativity of fools is legendary.)
INNOVATION. Just because something worked in the past does not mean it will work in the future. Kilts says, “Things change, nowadays, very quickly and fundamentally so beware that superficial similarities aren’t hiding some deep differences.”
For some reason, this one reminds me of that 1984 comedy-horror movie, GREMLINS. Those little furry mogwai guys were really sweet…until they got wet.
The movie was directed by Joe Dante and produced by Steven Spielberg. Chris Columbus wrote the screenplay. It was a huge commercial success and the critics loved it. However, the film was heavily criticized for some its more violent bits.
Another very popular blockbuster adventure film that came out around the same time, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, also received similar complaints and Spielberg suggested that the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) change its movie rating system so that concerned parents could be forewarned about a film’s more controversial content. The MPAA did change the rating system within two months of the film’s release.
TIMING. Process is never a substitute for excellence of actions even though it is an important element for its success.
Process has its own requirements but an excellent action taken at the wrong time won’t work. A fancy, beautifully done flying kick is easily avoided by one well-timed step to the side.
One visitor to our Southern Style Preying Mantis class told us an amusing story. He said that because his dad was a top-notch instructor in Tae Kwon Do he had been trained in it from an early age. By the time he was a teenager our visitor had developed a big head about it all, strutting around with a major bad-ass attitude. He said he was especially good at delivering powerful flying kicks and he terrorized his competition. His dad set up a sparring demonstration that featured the boy’s spectacular kicks. Every time the boy tried the move, however, his father stepped to the side and everybody watched as the teenager went sailing past the master and earned another whack. It was humiliating. It also shrank the boy’s head considerably.
MEASURING. Kilts says, “If you can’t measure it, it’s not real.”
This is an old and hoary piece of advice and it’s a good one. Measuring a thing does indeed make it more real.
I always do wonder, however, what the measuring stick is. With one action, you can save a child’s life. With another action, you kill that child but you make a heck of a lot of money.
The question comes down to this: What are you measuring for? That thing you are measuring for is what illuminates and defines the meaning of any action, it seems to me.
FINAL THOUGHTS ON IT ALL
Re-purposing yourself is a big, long-term project, but if you’re feeling stuck, starting on making a change may help get you moving again. Also, if the results you are currently getting are unsatisfying to you, re-purposing yourself can help you achieve more of what you really want in your life.
Either one might be the impetus you need to begin the process of de-stale-inizing your life.