Writing this blog is, in some ways, one of the most frightening things I’ve ever done. I’ve set two challenges for myself with this project: (1) to say what is important, and (2) to speak the truth.
Saying what’s important requires a clarity of thought I don’t always pursue. Because speaking and writing have always come so easily to me, I can sometimes get lost in the mechanics without really focusing on the message I’m sending. Style without substance is something I need to be on guard against at all time. It doesn’t matter how cleverly you say something, if it’s not worth saying.
But the second part of that challenge, the speaking of truth, is by far the harder of the two for me. It’s not that I am inherently a liar (although my wife insists I’m a master of the well-spoken untruth). But telling the truth is not simply to avoid lying. Telling the truth involves risk. Telling the truth involves commitment. Telling the truth cuts off escape routes.
Without going into the dysfunction of my youth too deeply, let’s just say that I grew up in an environment where secrecy was encouraged. There is privacy, and then there is secrecy. There is discretion, and then there is paranoia.
One of the hardest parts of growing up for me was learning what was socially acceptable to talk about, and what was not. The social rules concerning this were (and remain) incomprehensible to me. It seemed that 99% of the trouble I got in as a child was because I spoke an embarrassing truth in front of the wrong person or persons. The trouble I got in was severe enough that I learned to guard myself fiercely, learned when to lie and how to do so eloquently and efficiently.
I internalized that the default setting on life was to hide the truth as deeply and carefully as possible, no matter how much you wanted to tell it, no matter how much better things would be if you did. Secrecy was the norm, and telling the truth was the aberration.
it took a long time for me to break out of that norm. I had to work hard to learn first how to recognize my truth and then how to safely speak it. it took a lot of pain and error and courage.
Recently, I’ve found myself in a space where I’m forced by circumstance back into that place of institutionalized secrecy and paranoia. And it’s eating me out from the inside. I’ve discovered that once I broke free of that type of life, I never ever wanted to go back to it. I’ve quit jobs to avoid it. I’ve ended friendships.
And here I am, back again in this space.
Sometimes, circumstance forces you to hold your tongue. But I will never hold my tongue on this blog. I will never hide my truth here. I am angry about my current circumstance, and I will get out of it. But I will keep this space honest, no matter what.
I thank you for reading, and I hope I earn your trust.
Peace and good dreams to you–
If you read my earlier post, you know I’ve been in “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mode. Not a space I enjoy inhabiting, but that’s where I am.
In times of high stress and difficulty, self-care is more important than ever. Taking a well-earned nap, spending time with loved ones, getting in that workout that reinvigorates you – these are crucial to surviving the onslaught of modern life.
Too many of us get into a grind mentality when things get stressful. We put on our good little Pilgrim caps and tell ourselves to push through, hang tough, and fight until the bitter end. And if a brutal New England winter is threatening to starve your entire settlement, then yes, this is a great mind-set.
But when your challenge is a job that throws more and more paperwork at you, or a house whose clutter has almost TARDIS-like qualities, a different strategy might better suit your needs.
Sometimes you just have to say no. Sometimes you have to stand firm and cry enough. It doesn’t make you less of a person to draw strong, sensible boundaries against the forces that threaten to take over your time, your energy, and your life. Nobody gets an extra cookie in Heaven for workaholism.
So, take this long weekend, if you’re lucky enough to have one, and give it to yourself. Wrap it up in a bow, and let yourself enjoy it.
The grind will still be there on Tuesday. And hopefully, you’ll be in a better position to face it.
Good night, dear souls. Sweet dreams to you all.
Almost forgot–music to dream by – Nocturne In Eb Major, Op. 9, No. 2 by Frederic Chopin
More often than I want to admit, I’ve found myself in the awkward position of having someone ask me for advice, when they obviously are in no space to even consider change. The friend who knows she needs to leave her abusive boyfriend, the one who sees the writing on the wall at her job but is too paralyzed to start putting her resume together, even the person who is too afraid to go to the doctor to find out what that odd growth on her elbow might be…. One time or another, they’ve all wound up on my doorstep, terrified, begging for guidance, but stubbornly resisting any suggestion I give them to help improve their situation.
We’ve all been in this place before. I spent my entire 20s in this space—land-locked in a pit of indecision, doubt, and utter terror at even the smallest amount of change. Intellectually, people living a “Resistance Existence” know they need to make a change. Some can even get plans together, knock out a course of action, and even buy a pair of awesome sneakers to make the distance they’ve got to travel more comfortable and stylish.
But that’s as far as it goes.
When the gun fires, they’re left standing at the gate in their expensive Nikes, unable to even take the first step to improve their life.
What is it about change that is so terrifying to some of us we would rather stay in a bad situation than take that risk, even when it’s obviously a positive change?
Warning: Danger, Will Robinson!
- Fear of Failure: This is pretty obvious. Nobody wants to try and fail. But when you are caught in resistance, this fear can keep you from trying even the simplest or most positive changes.
- Fear of Pain, Discomfort, and Effort: Making changes such as starting a new career or getting into shape can be intimidating. Your fear of future physical, emotional, or psychological pain and discomfort may be such that the known discomfort of your current situation seems mild in comparison.
- Fear of Success: This is a big one for me, and a particularly insidious demon to face when manifesting change. In the dark world of resistance, success makes you a target. Expectations loom larger than life, and the fall back to failure seems much less deadly if you fall from your boring present rather than from a grand and glorious future.
- Fear of Criticism: The truth is, except in the rarest of cases, most of us are much more harshly critical of ourselves than we are of others. So naturally, we think that others will be equally critical of us if we risk putting ourselves out there. Fear of criticism and low self-esteem are a crushing combo when it comes to new ventures.
- Fear of the New: “Better the devil I know than the devil I don’t know.” It’s a stupid saying, but so many of us live our lives in this space. Yeah, we know our job sucks, but what if I try and get myself into an even worse situation? Sure, I’m bored in this curriculum, but if I change majors I might really hate what I have to do. And let’s not even talk about the new computer system—why can’t we go back to the old system?
Are You a Closeted (or Not-So-Closeted) Resister?
It’s easy to look at the list above and see these traits in others. But it’s harder to see them in yourself. Most of us who are in a situation we want to (but can’t) change tend to believe we are doing everything we can to improve our lives. But maybe we’re not doing as much as we think. If you are looking for change, but aren’t making any headway, ask yourself these questions.
Am I embracing my excuses?
When I was still living back home, I knew that my life would never get better if I stayed in Louisiana. Not that I have anything against my home state, but it was too conservative and too comfortable there for me to ever fully explore my true experience of life. But whenever anyone would suggest I’d move out of state to a new atmosphere, I always had an excuse. I don’t have enough job experience to compete in a big city. I have never lived on my own. My finances are a wreck—how would I stay afloat, even if I could find a job?
But the biggest excuse I made for staying in a place that was slowly killing my spirit came in the form of two adorable little boys. My nephews, Paxton and Cameron, were about three and one when I finally made the decision to leave Louisiana. Now, being the bon vivant auntie I was, the thought of leaving those two little monsters just broke my heart. I adored them, and I knew that my siblings were going to continue to have children. I wanted to be in their lives, and for about three years, they were the only things keeping me tied to home.
But at some point, I looked at myself in the mirror and realized that even this was only an excuse I was using to avoid facing my fear. As much as I loved my nephews, and as much as I wanted to be a part of their lives, the deeper part of me knew that I’d be no role model for them unless I lived my life authentically.
What excuses are you clinging to in order to justify avoiding change? A relative, a paycheck, a childhood disappointment? If this excuse wasn’t there—if no one depended on you, if money was no object, if your childhood angst was a mere figment–would you still be making the choices you’re making now?
Am I ignoring the facts?
One of the easiest ways to resist change is to accept the past (or your perception of the past) as unchangeable truth. A great example of this from my life was taxes. Because of an odd quirk of my childhood, I had to start filing tax returns quite early (I was still in high school). My mother, bless her, was responsible for getting all of this done.
Five tax returns + one single parent = TAX TRAUMA!
I have very clear memories of tax time, spending hours helping get check stubs in order, dealing with tempers and missing documents, the haste and stress and tempers. It all seemed pretty awful to me at the time.
When I finally got out on my own, I brought that experience of tax preparation with me. For years after my eighteenth birthday, I mimicked the patterns of my childhood, turning the first two weeks of April into a merry fortnight of stress and angst.
It wasn’t until years later that I realized my situation had changed. I had changed. When I got past the story I was telling myself and let go of the outdated “facts” that no longer served me, I was able to look realistically at my situation. I was able to see the tools at my disposal, the relative simplicity of my return, even my ability to remain calm in the face of the deadline.
Today, tax time is nothing for me. I go online, use Turbo Tax, file, and move on with life. I barely even think about it. That would never have been possible had I clung to my old image of tax time and ignored the evolving factual evidence.
So what outdated information are you clinging to? A time when someone treated you well, although they are no longer doing so? An investment that once performed well, but now is costing you time and money? Can you break out of nostalgia and entropy long enough to look at things with fresh eyes?
Am I propping up the villain?
A friend of mine is convinced everyone hates her. She is too poor, too fat, too unattractive, and the world hates people like her. Another friend of mine hates every supervisor that comes her way—no matter what their management style, they are always corrupt, incompetent, and untrustworthy. For a long time, when I was younger, I believed that every popular person I knew wanted nothing more than my complete social destruction. Regardless of the actual facts, we build these people into monsters before our eyes, removing any subtlety and substance until they are human Godzillas, smashing our dreams like Tokyo under their feet.
It’s easy to look at these attitudes from the outside and see them for the absurdity they are, but there are so many subtle ways we use vilification of “The Other” to justify remaining at a standstill. Do any of these statements sound familiar?
- Oh, please, why bother even applying? They never hire supervisors from the floor. Besides, they’ve already got the job filled before it’s even posted. You need to be part of the clique to get promoted around here.
- There is no way I’ll ever get that part. He’s trying out for it, and he’s the director’s favorite.
- It’s just not fair—the little guy can never get ahead. Even if I did get that extra training, Management just looks down on us guys on the line.
- My vote doesn’t count. The (fill in the blank with whatever political party you think is destroying democracy) are in control; you know they’re going to block anything that would give (fill in with opposing political party) a victory.
- College is a rich man’s game. Even if I did get that scholarship, they’d all look down on me. I’d have to work twice as hard for half as much, and they’d never respect me.
One of the best ways to keep yourself down is to give power to those villains (real or imaginary) you feel are intent on “keeping you down.” Whether it’s a church, your family, the wealthy, the poor, the government, popular people—whoever you’ve decided has more power than you—it’s easy to use them as excuses for not taking action when it’s called for. But they’re not the problem; we’re just giving them that power.
So what can we do to break through the resistance to change that keeps us from even imagining an improved circumstance? I know I’ve sung the praises of positivity here before, but it is one of the single best ways to give yourself the courage and inspiration to move forward. The next time you feel yourself resisting a positive change in your life, try one of these tricks.
- Let go of forever. Agree to make a change for a short period of time. Nothing is permanent anyway, so why stress about change being forever? If, for instance, you want to try exercising more, make a deal with yourself that for one month you will exercise regularly. Commit to that one month, with an option for renegotiation at the end of that period. By doing so, you take some of the pressure of “forever” off you so that you can concentrate on the benefits of your actions.
- Tell a better story. Scientists insist that most of what we experience is simply our brains interpreting the stimuli we receive through our senses. What is an interpretation other than a story? Everything you do, everything you see, is your brain’s story of reality. If you want a better life, tell a better story. Tell a story where you manage to ignore the snide remark and continue with your studies. Tell a story where you prepare mightily and sail through the interview like a pro. Tell yourself this story, believe it, and act in accordance. Be the story you’re telling by acting the part, doing the work, and taking the risks. You might be amazed at how differently things turn out.
- Laugh. When the world seems so serious and everything is just too hard to handle, watch a funny movie. Hang out with friends who improve your mood. Play with your dog or cat or the neighbor’s ferret, and enjoy their spontaneity. Taking life too seriously makes everything harder. It’s easy to become mired in the mud if you keep the weight of the world on your shoulders.
If we want to take control of our lives and shape our own destiny, we have to get past the victim mentality and give ourselves permission to change. Once you free your mind, you’ll be able to go within and discover who you truly are and what you truly want.
I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this blog lately. While a huge part of me is inclined to leave it as is—a chaotic, unfocused reflection of my own daily experiences, another part of me wants Ten Thousand Soapboxes to be more than a glorified personal journal. The blogosphere has afforded us an unprecedented forum, giving previously unheard voices a chance to speak their wisdom (and foolishness) into the darkness…and be heard.
The difference between a good blog and a great blog can be summarized in one word, “value.” What value is this blog offering to my readers? What value am I receiving from the production of these posts? In order to find value, one has to first discover need—what is missing, what is broken, that must be filled if our lives are going to get better?
The Missing Factor
I’ve taken a bit of time for recollection and soul-searching on this topic. There are so many topics I love, so many passions that drive me and make my world a brighter and more interesting place.
But there is one topic which affects every other aspect of my life, a topic so huge and overriding that it cuts to the core of my essence.
That topic is work.
When I say work, I am not merely referring to the 9-to-5 job most of us do Monday-Friday, although that is a huge part of it. Our Day Jobs™ affect so much of what we do, how we do it, how we see ourselves, and how we interact with others. Our Day Jobs™ influence our health, our attitudes, our relationships, our finances, even our perspective on politics, society, and religion.
But there is more to work than The Day Job™.
Every one of us—each of us with a pulse and a brain—has wondered why we are here, what is our purpose? The more existential among us have wondered if there is any purpose at all? Is there any meaning to our lives besides production and consumption?
Work, true work, can be defined as “what we are here to do.” Why were your mind and your soul and your talents and your passions joined together and placed in a carbon-based body with opposable thumbs and the ability to communicate? Were you just born to eat and sleep and waste time until you die?
Or were you born for greater things?
The History of Work
To figure out the future of work, we need to look at the past. Working for profit is a relatively new thing. For the bulk of human existence, work has been simply a by-product of the need for survival. Humans were inclined to survive, and to do that they needed food, shelter, community—the basics. Since these things didn’t just randomly offer themselves up, our ancestors learned to work. We hunted, we farmed, we built shelters, we sewed clothing for protection against the elements. Inventive as our ancestors were, they came up with “fixes” to improve their odds of survival.
- Weapons to improve hunting.
- Tools to improve farming.
- Buildings to improve shelter against danger—both from the elements and from enemies, human and animal.
And with these fixes, our human ancestors found themselves with more time to think, more opportunity to grow and explore, to make better weapons, stronger tools, more impressive buildings.
We also learned to make art. We learned to enjoy pleasures and anticipate rewards.
When basic survival needs were met, we found we enjoyed the benefits of working. We liked the perks—comfortable homes, abundant food, music, art, colorful clothes, and the opportunity for peaceful interaction with others like ourselves.
Where It Went Wrong
Most of us have held a job at one point or more in our adult life. The majority of us did it for financial reasons—as a means to an end. But there’s more to it than just financial security. Anthropologist Michael Maccoby offered this insight in his 2010 editorial for The Washington Post:
Work ties us to a real world that tells us whether our ideas make sense; it demands that we discipline our talents and master our impulses. To realize our potentialities, we must focus them in a way that relates to the human community. We need to feel needed. And to feel needed, we must be evaluated by others in whatever coinage, tangible or not, culture employs. Our sense of dignity and self-worth depends on being recognized by others through our work. Without work, we deteriorate. We need to work.
So many of us focus on the “coinage” part, though, that we downplay our need to make sense, to discipline our talents, and to relate to the human community. In a world where jobs and resources are plentiful and affordable, this doesn’t cause too much trouble.
But we do not live in a world where jobs and resources are plentiful and affordable. We live in a world where, to our horror, we are struggling to make ends meet—despite “doing everything right,” at least according to the current rules of the game.
We go to school. We learn a trade. We create a resume, get a job, do our work, and don’t make trouble. We create value for our employers. We trade services for wages.
And yet, our lives don’t get better.
Our hearts don’t get stronger, our relationships don’t get more meaningful, our bodies don’t get more energized.
We simply get worn out.
The Future of Work
With the future of traditional work getting dimmer and dimmer, a lot of us in the workforce are realizing a change needs to come. And that change is not going to come from our bosses or HR or the government. The change is going to have to come from us. We, as individuals and as a society, are going to have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and figure out why we’re working, how we’re working, and how we’re going to move towards the future (rather than dying out like the dinosaurs).
Net guru Seth Godin, in his Time article, “The Last Days of the Cubicle“, put it fairly succinctly.
The job of the future will have very little to do with processing words or numbers (the Internet can do that now). Nor will we need many people to act as placeholders, errand runners or receptionists. Instead, there’s going to be a huge focus on finding the essential people and outsourcing the rest.
My Moment of Essential
A while back, I wrote a series of blog posts called Joy in the Workplace, in which I explored ways to make the experience of doing your job more meaningful and joyful. Over the course of the next few months, I would like to dig deeper into that theme.
It’s not enough to get a job anymore. We must look inside, find our strengths, find our joys and passions, and find our value as human beings. Then we need to look without, and find areas where those strengths, joys, passions, and values are needed.
There are many areas to choose from.
- According to the Institute for Research on Poverty, “16.4 million children in the United States, 22.0 percent of all children, lived in poverty in 2010. More than six million of these children were under six years old. Of the 16.4 million poor children, nearly half, 7.4 million, lived in extreme poverty, which is defined as an annual income of less than half the official poverty line (i.e., $11,157 for a family of four).”
- A 2005 United Nations Report estimated there are approximately 100 million homeless people on the planet.
- Like to read? 14% (about 1 in 7) of U.S. adults don’t know how.
- In 2002, almost 11 million people died of infection diseases around the world.
- Approximately 57.7 million Americans—1 in 4—experience serious mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, while fewer than one-third of adults and one-half of children with a diagnosable mental disorder receive mental health services in a given year.
- The Daily Green reports that “according to the National Academy of Sciences, on average there are 27 oil spills every day somewhere in the waters of the worlds, and the (Exxon) Valdez spill doesn’t even make the list of the top 30 all-time largest.”
And this list doesn’t even begin to cover it.
Where to Now?
So it’s obvious there is no lack of work to be done in the world. There’s so much work, in fact, that no one should be jobless.
And yet, we are jobless. 12.7 million of us are jobless in America alone.
We’re all looking to Washington, whether from the red side or the blue, asking “Where are the jobs?”
I ask you—where are the jobs? We’ve established there’s work to be done, so why are we waiting on the government to tell us what to do? When did we, as human beings, need permission from authority figures to do the work that needed to be done? When did we need permission to fix things, solve problems, make improvements?
No, we are born to fix things. It’s in our blood, our DNA, our brain structure. We’ve just forgotten how. More importantly, we’ve forgotten we’re supposed to know how.
What I would like to do over the course of the next few months is explore this idea more fully.
- How to assess our talents
- How to find areas of need
- How to fill those areas of need while earning a fair compensation
- How to bring the best of us to our work, creating value as well as personal satisfaction
I will not lie to you—I am struggling like the rest of you. I am looking in the mirror of my worklife and asking, “Am I a dinosaur?” That being said, I won’t go down without a fight. It may take a while, but I fully intend to figure this out.
I hope you will join me on this journey. If you have any suggestions for topics to be covered in this series, I would be happy to hear from you.
Today I sent off a check for $47.13 to the United States Treasury. Normally, that would be a cause for Not-Happy-Making, but I see it as a personal and moral victory. You see, that money was my estimated taxes for my earnings at Blogmutt, the blog writing service I’ve been working for since April. Now, getting payments sent to my PayPal account every month or so is one thing, but nothing says “I’m a professional” anything like sending taxes to the Feds. So today, for the first day since I started there, I truly felt like a Professional Writer. No, it’s not my day job. Heck, I couldn’t last two weeks on what I’ve earned so far. But I’m getting paid for my writing (with the occasional by-line), and it’s really freaking awesome.
I want to get this plug out to anyone who is interested in getting started as a freelance writer. Scott Yates has put together a wonderful group of writers who are supportive and fun to work with (the micromobs email threads are often hilarious). He’s a very hands-on boss, encouraging and knowledgeable about his business. The company’s structure (from the writer side) is designed to promote experience and growth, with perks offered for quantity and quality of posts.
Of course, the best thing about being a Blogmutt writer is that it has given me carte blanche to indulge my research addiction. In fact, these efforts have opened up a whole new world for me: Twitter, LindedIn, Mashable, and Pinterest, to name only a few areas of the Interwebs I’m now exploring. I’m falling in love with learning again, and getting paid for the privilege.
That being said we are still talking about the Internet, and I’m still (as Fey calls me) a FaceBook whore. The giddy combination of News from Home and social activism has sunk into my bones, evolving me from a reluctant beginner to a true believer. Maybe it’s my flighty Gemini nature, or it’s the fact that I can now get multiple daily doses of George Takei‘s wicked sense of humor, but for better or worse, FaceBook has become my new go-to place online.
So what does my site look like? LGBT rights, personal development, news news news, and of course the beloved picture memes. For some reason, these visual koans have become a new sort of online language. What a person shares often tells more about them than the scant words they type into their status bar. Here are three memes I’ve shared on my timeline, and what they mean about me.
Be Weird. Be Random.
For so much of my life, I have felt like an outsider. Unable to alter my personality to meet societal norms, I gave up on “fitting in” very early in life. It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized what a blessing this was for me. I never had to unlearn the bad habits of masking and fake personas so many of my friends did. Granted, my personas exist, but they are all me—just fragments I choose to share or hide at my whim. The idea of creating a false persona to meet societal norms never really seemed plausible to me. It was too much work, too much to remember, and just too difficult to pull off. Fortunately, authenticity is coming back in style with a vengeance. Who knew I was a trend-setter?
The Notion of a Radical
I was raised in a very conservative culture, where problems were not discussed publicly and maintaining the status quo was the goal. No matter how wrong something was, the message I got was that Nice People keep problems to themselves and Don’t Make Trouble. The thought of being a radical was outlandish—protests were for New York and San Francisco and all those other liberal places.
So many years (and two states) later, I’ve finally discovered my Inner Radical. I’ve found my voice again, and I’m not afraid to be disturbed when the status quo is completely FUBAR. In my capacity as a Muck Relocation Engineer (Rake Dept.), I’ve learned that speaking up, sharing ideas, and disturbing the peace can sometimes be a Very Nice Thing done by Very Nice People (even Christians!).
The Power of Motion
These last few years have been an education in action for me. For years, I kept myself back for fear of offending, for fear of failing, for fear of being attacked for my beliefs. But I’ve learned that the worst thing you can do in life is nothing, and the worst thing you can feel is nothing. Even the tiniest action can have enormous consequence over time, if it is done with intention. As I have grown stronger and braver, I find myself taking actions that would have terrified me before. I keep putting my foot out there, and when the shoe doesn’t drop I take it as a sign to continue. It’s frightening and exhilarating and exhausting at times, but it sure as hell beats stagnation.
A Little Lady
I have never been much of an artist. Coming from a family of painters and sculptors, this was quite a disappointment to me. But what I could do was doodle, and I’ve been doodling this little pachyderm (I call her Penny) for years. Last month, inspired by Steve Pavlina’s Passive Income Series, I decided to try my hand at a true Penny graphic. Pavlina says your best way to earn income is to provide value. Well, Penny is my little contribution to the world. With the help of some gorgeous public domain artwork, Penny has embarked from the world of pencil doodles to an adventure in art and nature. I’ve even opened up a little CafePress store where I could sell the design.
This took quite a bit of courage, but I’m glad I did it. I’ve also started an Affiliate Program on Ten Thousand Soapboxes. Initially, any funds earned will go toward buying the 10KSoapboxes.com domain name. After that, who knows? Either way, I only affiliate with progressive, forward-thinking companies. So I’d appreciate if you took a moment and checked out some of the folks listed there.
This week on FaceBook, a lot of cool things got posted. And one wild flash from my past!
This picture was taken by my dear friend Marla Stein DeWitt, who in 1989 joined me on a Star Trek cruise out of Miami. And no matter how strong my voice becomes, or how far I come as an activist or writer, there will always be that girl inside me who squeed at meeting Gene Roddenberry, Majel Barrett, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, and tons of other Trek stars all those years ago.
And OMG—I was soooooo skinny! (Check the purse and 80s haircut!) 😀
A week or so ago, Fey turned to me and asked what I considered a strange question. “Are you reading a self-help book?”
My instinctive response was, of course, I haven’t read self-help in an ice age. Of course, I gobble up “personal development” books with startling frequency. The difference is between self-help and personal development is subtle but important.
Self-help books, as a rule, tend to offer a step-by-step plans for improving a specific area of your life. Quit Smoking in Three Weeks, Lose 5 Pounds Without Dieting, Ten-Day Power Boost for Your Career – that sort of thing. Personal development books, from what I can tell, are a little more indepth. These books, which can range from philosophy to psychology to spirituality to social networking, nudge the reader out of the cookie-cutter solution mentality towards a more self-directed path.
My actual answer was, “No, I’m not reading anything at the moment.”
To which my insightful wife just nodded and said, “Yeah, I can tell.”
The moral of this little anecdote is this: When Debbie doesn’t work actively on her self-development, she tends to fall into a negative funk that is clear to those who love and know her.
The Process of Personal Development
The urge to self-examine is very strong in most people. We love quizzes, from Cosmo quizzes to personality profiles, we can’t get enough of them. But personal development goes far beyond “Which Harry Potter Character Will You Marry?” Personal development requires that you take a deep look at yourself, both good and bad, discover your truth, and then find a way to live that truth in a positive and productive way.
For years, I read pretty much anything I could get my hands on in hopes that I would stumble on to the key to happiness. I was looking for a silver bullet, that tested and true ten-point plan that would make me Rich, Beautiful, and Famous (as well as Stoopid Happy and Worshipped as a Benevolent Goddess).
Poor authors! Who on Earth can fill that order?
Eventually though, I gave up looking for quick fixes and just started reading about personality and life and living. Not because I thought it would help, but because I found it fascinating. And over the years, I’ve come up with quite a list of recommendations.
Right now, I’m reading Debbie Ford’s The Dark Side of the Light Chasers: Reclaiming Your Power, Brilliance, Creativity and Dreams. To be honest, I’ve been avoiding this book for years. Not that I thought it was bad, but because I knew that I couldn’t just read the book. I would have to do the exercises, and I was never ready to face my shadow side. I don’t know if I’m able to do so yet, but I’m going to give it a go.
It took a lot to get me here. Like so many people, I don’t want to have a dark side. I don’t want to have needs and issues and bad habits and petty moments. But something Ford said in an early chapter really resonated with me: you have to find the gift in the shadow. If you’re a bitch, find the gift in being a bitch. (A bitch will stand up for herself when someone tries to take advantage. A bitch will not let herself get pushed to the side and ignored when she deserves to be heard.) If you’re judgmental, find the gift in being judgmental. (For example, a judgmental person knows what matters to them and is not afraid to insist on it. A judgmental person will spot a line of bullshit long before a non-judgmental person might.)
So, I’m going there. I am not sure what I’m going to find when I pull up the curtains and look in the shadows of my psyche. But I’m going there.
A Wealth of Opportunity
I mentioned a little earlier that I had some recommendations for great personal development writers. Before I close, I’m going to share with you some writers whose books have really changed my perspectives on life.
* Jean Shinoda-Bolen: When I first read Goddesses in Everywoman back in the 1990s, it was completely new to me. Shinoda-Bolen, a wise crone of the personal development movement, used the Hellenic goddesses as templates for Jungian personality interpretation. Through the eyes of Hera, Athena, Aphrodite, Demeter, Hestia, and Persephone, I found a new understanding of myself and other women. It still holds up as a break-through work and I recommend it to anyone who is interested.
* Clarissa Pinkola-Estes: It took me a couple of times to get through Pinkola-Estes’ ground-breaking book Women Who Run with the Wolves. Not because the book was uninteresting or irrelevant. The exact opposite – the book is so rich and dense with meaning that my poor Gemini brain could not go too far without needing a digestion break, preferably in the shallows. Her storytelling is exquisite, her insights are remarkable. Read it slowly, wrapped in a blanket on a cold night. It will change you.
* Brenda Ueland: Many, many years ago I read Ueland’s book If You Want to Write, and it humbled me. Back then, the thought of writing non-fiction, personal non-fiction, was so far beyond me that her book actually frightened me. But as a treatise on the hows and whys of a full life, even if you are’t a writer, Ueland’s work is unsurpassed. Her wisdom and spirit are inspiring to anyone wanting to live a purposeful and creative life. (Now, I look back and thank the goddess that Ueland penned this masterpiece before her death. It is even more relevant now than ever.)
*Anne Lamott: My dear friend Monique sent me a used copy of Bird by Bird a year or so ago as a surprise. I was unfamiliar with Lamott’s work, but trusted Monique not to steer me wrong. Bird by Bird is the kind of book that promotes living authentically and passionately. Her prose is eloquent, her stories insightful, and her advise golden. Definitely read this book if you get a chance.
*Michael Neill: Michael Neill is a practitioner of NLP (Neuro-Linguistic Programming), a form of therapy that emphasizes the connection between thoughts and the quality of life. His books are funny, smart, and contain many practical tools you can use to decrease stress and give yourself the courage to follow your dreams. He’s a little more self-helpy than the other authors, but he’s just so darned good at what he does, ya gotta love him.
*Steve Pavlina: Another estrogen-challenged member of my rec list, Pavlina is a self-made personal development guru. His website is enormous–the guy is hugely prolific and has a great deal of free content on a variety of subjects from raising consciousness to becoming your own boss. He can be a bit abrasive, especially if you are of the religious ilk, but the value far exceeds the annoyance you might feel at some of his more provocative posts.
* Abraham-Hicks: Esther Hicks, an impish woman originally from Tennessee, channels a group-being identified as “Abraham.” While their message is pretty tight (and Abraham/Esther is meticulously on-message, regardless of what questions are thrown her way), it’s a good primer for anyone wanting to learn more about the Law of Attraction. What their writings lack in diversity (yeah, Abraham, I know. Connect with Source energy–tune in, tap in and turn on or whatever), they more than make up for in charm and engagement. It’s hard not to like Abraham/Esther, and the message is positive. I know that Fey and I got a lot of benefit from their teachings, even if we are not 100% on board the Abraham-Hicks bandwagon.
* Thomas Moore: No, I’m not talking about the historical Thomas Moore. I’m talking about the modern-day author, psychologist, musician, blogger, spiritual seeker. His books on the soul and soulfulness are poetic and profound, bringing a lyrical quality to an often cut-and-dry field. His works are a must-read for anyone wanting to merge spirituality and soul into their daily lives.
So, these are a few of the authors I’d recommend. There are many more, of course, and I may blog on this subject again. I’d like to ask my readers for their recommendations, as I am always interested in expanding my knowledge. Who are you reading? Where do you turn for wisdom and advise? I look forward to hearing from you.
It’s no secret that I’m a personal development junkie. Hay House Radio is my favorite place online (so much so that Fey bought me a membership so I could enjoy the archived shows). If there is a test I can take, a book I can read, or a meditation I can do that helps me understand this world and my place in it a little better, then I’m on board.
I suppose this addiction comes naturally—I cannot remember a time in my life when I wasn’t a questioner. You know that annoying habit two-year-olds have of constantly asking “why”? I never outgrew that. Believe me, society tried to break me of the addiction. You see, “Why?” is a very uncomfortable question for most people. “Why?” does not allow you to abdicate responsibility. “Why?” forces you to examine the reasons and motivations and hidden prejudices that might not lead to the most comfortable insights.
Why are we here?
Why is there suffering in the world?
Why do some treat others cruelly?
Why are so many people unhappy?
The Big Picture
One of the most unnerving and unrelenting questions that plague me (and most of my cohort, I think, if they slow down long enough to consider) is this:
What is my true purpose in life?
Now, people have been searching for the answer to this question since the dawn of time. As a species we’ve sought answers in religion, magic, science, sexuality, wealth, good deeds, philosophy—anything that makes us feel like something more than eating-shitting-reproduction cycles wrapped in an organic shell. Everybody wants to feel they are more than a biological consumption machine with a limited shelf life.
I don’t know if everybody is like this, but I’ve always felt there was something big coming in my life. Maybe I was Mayan in a former incarnation and got a good long look at the calendar. Or maybe I have delusions of grandeur. But even as a small child, I would dream of things coming—floods, fires, changes both amazing and terrifying. The Katrina floods, in particular, horrified me because I’d been dreaming of them since childhood—right down to the people walking on the freeways, trying to escape the carnage. I don’t like to talk about such things, partly because they freak me (and others) out and partly because it sounds like I’m making claims that I am not really making.
I don’t claim to be psychic or to be able to see the future. What I claim is a connectedness that, try as I might, I was never able to shake. A feeling that this is all meaningful, and things are going to happen that seem awful in the short run but are truly cleansing in the long run. The tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, for instance, opened the world’s eyes to the dangers faced by the coastal region, woke us up from our slumber and showed us that we no longer have the luxury of burying our heads in the sand about climate change and the vulnerability of all human life.
This connectedness I feel has not always been the easiest of things to live with. First of all, it’s rendered me almost completely susceptible to depression and despair. For someone who’s had an overabundance of empathy most of her life, my shields (as Fey so colorfully puts it) aren’t worth shit. I can’t even look at suffering in pictures or see it on television without having a visceral, negative reaction. I used to turn away from it—as a child, seeing someone humiliated in a sitcom would churn my stomach to shreds as if it were happening to me. Schindler’s List practically killed me.
Facing Life Head On
In recent years, I’ve discovered I just can’t turn away anymore. It’s hard, and it hurts, and I resist seeing what’s going on out there in the world. But I know that ignorance is not the answer. This wonderful article by Steve Pavlina helped me out a lot—a perspective-changer that allows us to look at the bigger perspective without ever losing sight of the fact that everything we do (and do not do) has an effect on ourselves and on humanity as a whole. His article dovetails with realizations I’ve been making on my own over several months.
These last few weeks especially for me have been a revelation. It’s as if all the seeds of change I’ve been planting have begun to sprout simultaneously. I have let go of some things I’d been holding on to for a long time. I’ve embraced things I never wanted to face before, things that repulsed or terrified me.
And I survived. My life, my work, my love, and my spirit have already begun to see the benefits. I no longer feel like a frightened cat, claws hooked into the screen door holding on for dear life every morning when I head out the door. I smile more, worry less, and I’m sleeping better at night. Things aren’t perfect yet, nor will they ever be. There is still something big and scary on the horizon, something I cannot avoid. I know this now with everything within me.
But it’s okay. It’s okay because we are all one. We are all part of the same fabric, the same essence, and in the end, it’s all good.
It’s all good. The pain, the joy, the fear, the hatred, the love, the gluttony and generosity and fear and enlightenment—all of it. It’s all good. It’s all a part of the scheme of things, an intricate pattern that looks like chaos to us, but makes perfect sense when looked at from a distance.
Now, I know this may sound a lot like abdication of responsibility. After all, why try to create a better world, why do good deeds, why practice compassion and patience and kindness when, in the end, it’s all the same thing?
There comes a point in everyone’s life where they realize for the first time they are mortal. It’s a big blow, realizing the very act of being born carries with it a guaranteed death sentence. In fact, the very idea of mortality pisses some people off. Why give us life only to take it away? The existential puzzle makes Sudoku look like a Cracker Jack maze.
On a cosmic scale, it’s easy to get discouraged, too. Why bother with loving-kindness and ingenuity and decency and curiosity and patience when in the big picture, it really doesn’t change a thing?
Why teach your children to speak and walk?
Because no matter what happens at the end of their life, it matters now. Here. It matters to you, and to them, and to society, that your children learn to speak and walk.
It matters to you, and to others, and to society, that you are kind and decent and curious and patient. We are tiny specks, quarks in a giant universe that isn’t even aware of our individual existences. But we are also that universe, every one of us, self-contained and beautiful. And how we treat each other is how we treat ourselves. And in the end, whether it matters or not, wouldn’t you prefer to have a peaceful, compassionate, happy existence? Wouldn’t you prefer your treatment of others, the planet, the universe (in other words, yourself) to be based on love and understanding?
When we think in terms of isolation and separateness, life is frightening and discouraging. When we begin to understand that we are life, we are the future and the past and the choice and the choosing, everything falls into place and we experience a profound spiritual shift. We discover peace.
The Bullet Points
So, armed with that new perspective, I’ve decided to tackle once more my Ultimate Question: “What is My True Purpose in Life?” I nabbed this easy plan from Steve Pavlina (How to Discover Your Life Purpose in About 20 Minutes) and decided to give it a go. Below, you will find my unedited responses. I don’t know what it means, and I’m not sure it matters. But I’m excited to get started.
Here’s what to do:
Take out a blank sheet of paper or open up a word processor where you can type (I prefer the latter because it’s faster).
Write at the top, “What is my true purpose in life?”
Write an answer (any answer) that pops into your head. It doesn’t have to be a complete sentence. A short phrase is fine.
Repeat step 3 until you write the answer that makes you cry. This is your purpose.
What is my true purpose in life?
• To help others
• To help humanity
• To understand the nature of reality
• To have fun
• To experience love
• To experience life
• To bring people together
• To make a difference
• To experience the universe
• To be strong
• To be brave
• To be wise
• To be kind
• To be smart
• To be curious
• To fly
• To crawl
• To grow
• To sleep
• To dream
• To choose
• To discover
• To break through boundaries
• To walk through walls
• To make my life important
• To make my life meaningless in the context of a greater importance
• To empower myself
• To empower others
• To give
• To give more
• To be the universe
• To be all and to be nothing and to be singular and complex
• To live greatly and love freely
• To understand what it’s all about
• To honor the past
• To honor the future
• To laugh, a lot
• To see fairies in the garden
• To look at the stars and have my breath catch at the enormity of it all
• To learn about string theory and how to make vinyl chairs and the political history of salt and any other random thing that catches my fancy
• To do all these things, and still wake up in the morning excited about what new adventure I am going to have this day.
Okay, that one got me wibbling. But not crying yet. Onward.
• To let go of my body and my cell walls
• To understand the true nature of my being
• To learn not to fear greatness
• To learn silence
• To learn peacefulness
• To learn humility
• To learn compassion
• To learn not to fear my power
• To abandon shame as an unnecessary thing
Pensive moment. Taking a second. Still not crying. Onward yet again.
• To remember
• To understand
• To believe
• To have faith
• To act
• To dream
• To inspire
• To forgive
• To let go
• To move on
Another pause. Not crying yet, but I feel rather quiet about all this. Allons-y.
• To connect
• To sing
• To create
• To cry easily
• To enjoy myself
• To face the future without fear
• To never ever forget who I am, or who I can be
You know, I don’t think I’m going to cry tonight. Oh, well. It’s okay. I don’t need to figure out my life purpose at the moment. I can always come back and try again. I’ve got a great list to start from.
So. What about you? Do you want to find your life purpose? Can you reach that purpose that makes you cry? Can you find that one truth beyond all others that resonates with you and points you in the right direction to fulfill your destiny?
If you gain insight from this exercise, please let me know. I’d love to hear what you discovered. Until then, peace to you all. Remember—you are life itself. There is nothing wrong with you. Blessings.
As of this time yesterday:
1. I did not have a new car (okay, used and bought from the MIL, but the windows and AC work and it does not have a deer-dented front hood).
2. I had not submitted a story to MZB’s Sword & Sorceress 25.
3. I had not organized my queries (read: rejections) on QueryTracker.com
4. I had not sent my first new query letter in weeks.
I’m feeling so much love for myself right now. I think I’ll go have breakfast.