The Audacity of Positivity

In recent weeks I’ve run across at least two essays — one from a writer whom I respect greatly — that call into question those of us that try to maintain and share a positive outlook during these turbulent times.

The message seems to boil down to this: if you have the option of expressing some amount of positivity then you’re clearly not paying attention to what’s going on around you.

I beg to differ,

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This, Too, Shall Pass

Tears were running down my cheeks. Serious, vision-blurring tears. Which was probably a bad thing, since I was driving at the time, and my path included at least one school zone.

It was probably around 2001 or 2002, and I was on my way from my home to that of my parents. My mom had just called with some situation that my dad, who had alzheimer’s, had likely gotten himself into. It was a crisis of some sort — small or large — but the severity of each had been increasing over time.

I’d be in tears again on the return trip home. It’s hard to drive that same road today and not remember.

Dealing with my parents as they aged, being the designated on-call crisis manager, was incredibly stressful. But it was also incredibly educational.

I learned a lot about myself, and life, in those tumultuous days.

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Maybe Some Things Aren’t as Important as You Think

Pondering the importance...

We spend a lot of energy worrying about and stressing over things that, in the long run, aren’t really that important.

And by “long run” I really do mean long runs: decades and even lifetimes.

It brings to mind the book title: “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, and It’s All Small Stuff.” (Though I don’t quite agree that absolutely everything is “small stuff”.)

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Goals are Optional

At some point on our path the question changes from “What do you want to be when you grow up?” to “Where do you see yourself in five years?”

Same question, different words.

I could never answer either of them. Oh, I’d come up with something — “astronaut”, “lead engineer”, that kind of thing — but it was never a reflection of my true desires or goals. I had no idea what those were.

I’ve never really had life goals, and it’s worked out just fine.

I think I know why.

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-20: Looking 20 Years Back

20 Years

Once you reach a certain age it’s natural to want to share experience, lessons learned, and advice with those younger than yourself. I’m no exception.

I also realize how frustrating it is to have someone older tell you what you should be doing, thinking, or valuing. Experience based lessons or not, it’s just annoying, and presumptuous if you’ve not asked for the advice.

My solution? My blog.

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I Suck at Meditation (And So Can You)

I’ve been meditating on and off, though mostly on, since the summer of 2010 when I purchased a copy of 8 Minute Meditation: Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life, by Victor Davich. It was an appealing, secular approach to meditation that helped me get started.

Several years ago I installed both the Headspace and Insight Timer apps on my phone. They’ve been my go-to tools for meditation ever since; Headspace for Andy Puddicomb’s gently guided meditations, and Insight Timer for those times when I’m just looking for a “do it myself” approach. Both are great, though it’s Headspace I’ve purchased for others as gifts.

What I realized, through, is that when it comes to guided meditation — the phase I happen to be in currently — I kinda suck.

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Denormalizing Anger

I Can't Take Much More Of This Shit
I Can’t Take Much More Of This Shit (via @effinbirds)

Everyone is angry.

Look around you. Everyone is angry about something.

It seems like everyone is angry all the time. About anything and everything.

Sure, politics and the state of the world take center stage, but it doesn’t stop there. From big things to little, it seems like everyone is angry and complaining about something.

Anger is the new normal.

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Helping Animals is Helping People

Helping Animals and their Owners in Emergencies

That’s the mission of a non-profit organization for which I volunteer: the Washington Animal Response Team or WASART.

We emphasize the “helping animals” part a lot. Our stories include horses being rescued from sticky situations — sometimes literally if they’re stuck in mud, perhaps more metaphorical if they’ve fallen and can’t get up — dogs that have gone over cliffs or accompanied owners on a hike only to discover that they can’t make it back on their own, or livestock and pets needing temporary shelter during wildfires or other natural disasters.

These are our stories. They’re what we do. They’re what you think of when you think of WASART.

There’s another part of what we do that is perhaps even more important, albeit easily overlooked…

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Bag Like an Artist

Groceries

I’m naturally pretty good with spacial things — I can imagine how physical things are in relationship to each other, how things go together, that kind of thing.

That eventually served me well at my first job, as as a bag-boy at a local grocery store. Putting things in bags was one thing; anyone could do that. Putting them in efficiently, maximizing how much goes in, keeping cold things together, putting fragile items on top, making sure the bag wouldn’t weigh too much –leveraging my spacial reasoning, these were things that came naturally to me. They still do.

To me it was as much art as it was work.

Which is how work really ought to be; certainly the best work.

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Showing Up is Over Half the Battle

Show up for your appointments

When we moved into our current home, over twenty years ago, we elected to enlist a service to mow our lawn and do some other basic maintenance on the large yard. We went through several services before finding one we would stick with for many years.

The most common cause of failure was actually very disappointing. While we expected the quality of the work to be the determining factor, it was something else entirely that had us more often than not looking for a new provider.

We ended up making our evaluation on what seemed the simplest of things: did they even show up regularly, as promised, to do the job?

Too many times the answer was “no”.

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Right & Wrong

Fight!

A hypothetical conversation with a hypothetical friend about a controversial topic…

Me: “If you believed CONTROVERSIAL POSITION(*), then you would have no other choice but to believe CONTROVERSIAL RESULT.”

Friend: “No I don’t. CONTROVERSIAL POSITION is wrong.”

Me: “That’s not the point. I’m not trying to debate CONTROVERSIAL POSITION, I’m trying to point out the mindset of the people that disagree with you.”

Friend: “It’s simple: they’re wrong.”

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“Get Up Early” is a scam. Do this instead.

Alarm Clock

One of the currently popular so-called productivity hacks is to get up an hour or two earlier to get your best work done first thing.

It’s a scam. In fact, it’s the exact same scam as Daylight Saving Time. While it might feel like you’ve created this new magical time that was just waiting there for you to take advantage of with its additional productivity, it comes with a cost that no one talk about. Either you must actually sleep an hour or two less, or you need to compensate by going to bed an hour or two earlier.

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Finding and Sharing Wisdom

Open Book on wood background

I’m reading Chip Conley’s book “Wisdom at Work” about reintroducing the wisdom of older, more experienced individuals into today’s fast moving and high-tech workforce. He coins the term “modern elder” for those with wisdom and knowledge to share with (typically) younger generations.

It’s great if you can have an individual to act as your mentor, which is exactly what part of this whole “modern elder” thing really is. It’s also cool if you find yourself in a position where you can act as a mentor by virtue of having experience that you’re willing and able to share in ways that are useful to others. I know I still, specifically, want both: even at 61 I’m looking for individuals from whom I can model and learn, and I’m looking for opportunities to share what I’ve learned with others.

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Why Listening, Really Listening, Might Be Declining

One of the comments made in Celeste Headlee’s book “We Need to Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter” (or perhaps one of her videos) is that we may have been better conversationalists before the printing press was invented. Put another way, the rise of mass literacy may have caused us to become poorer listeners.

My sense is that it’s happening again.

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