Shoulda Coulda Woulda

It’s curious how often I do what I think I SHOULD do – what I was brought up to do.  I was taught to behave in prescribed ways, believe culturally acceptable ideas and fear the consequences of misbehavior – of being ostracized.   It’s my obligation, my duty; to behave correctly – according to my people, my culture.

Life is better when I’m with my tribe – I am … we are, social animals.

But when can I know that going along to get along is to my detriment?  What if my experience is different?  There are still consequences; denial of self or nonconformity.  What I can live with?

What if I didn’t fear the consequences?  Felt I had nothing to lose?  Would I choose differently?

My husband and I watched the movie “Veronika Decides to Die” based on the book by Paulo Coeloho.  Veronika, beautiful and young – appears to have everything; yet finds life isn’t worth living.  After an unsuccessful suicide attempt she wakes up in a mental hospital.  She learns that her actions ruined her heart and only has days to live.  She also learns that crazy people don’t have to be “normal.”  These lessons liberate her and change her attitude, her way of seeing the world.  She now has reason to live.

As a corporate wonk, I took a psych test to find out what traits might derail my career.  One of my derailers was mischievousness.  HA!  Knowing this delighted me – and strangely enough I exploited it.  Maybe that didn’t do me many favors – but I felt liberated; maybe like Veronika.  Being a nonconformist in a buttoned up world boosted my desire to retire early; loosened those golden handcuffs.

Yes there are consequences for every choice, every decision.  Each choice is personal, unique; a privilege and a responsibility.

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“I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose. I wanted each and every one of them, but choosing one meant losing all the rest, and, as I sat there, unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and, one by one, they plopped to the ground at my feet.” ― Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

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People Get Ready

“People get ready – There’s a train a-coming.” ― Curtis Mayfield & The Impressions

Persistence, tenacity – doggedness.  This is how I got my bachelor degree; 12 years of night school working full time, no debt.  A decade of therapy to overcome denial and shame for things that weren’t my fault.  Twenty-six years as a corporate salmon swimming up the patriarchal stream.

There are more like me.  We know how to persevere.  We know what “to persist” means.

Yes – “people get ready … there’s a train a-coming” and I’m on board.

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“When I see people stand fully in their truth, or when I see someone fall down, get back up, and say, “Damn. That really hurt, but this is important to me and I’m going in again”—my gut reaction is, “What a badass.” ― Brené Brown, Rising Strong

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Dystopia, Utopia – or Somewhere in Between?

“I believe in intuitions and inspirations…I sometimes FEEL that I am right.  I do not KNOW that I am.” ― Albert Einstein

People . . .  you who listen to the still voice inside – your intuition, your instinct; are you getting nudges that something’s afoot?

My practice for over 30 years includes paying attention to this quiet voice; watching for odd coincidences that propel me forward; serendipitous events.  I’m inclined to look for the good, ignore the bad . . applying Goethe’s recommendation:

“If you treat a man as he is, he will remain as he is, if you treat him as he ought to be and could be, he will become as he ought to be and could be.”

Yes; I prefer an optimistic world-view; seeing the future with hope, excitement and adventure.  My enthusiasm for living in the elbow of the curve, on the edge of change – believing the next age will be thrilling is expectant, not apprehensive.

It was an eye-opener having a pessimistic, dystopian, fear laden counter-view shoved in my face.  Ignoring the bad maybe wasn’t my best strategy.  Getting gob-smacked is a bitch.  Being asleep at the wheel, trusting that things will “work out” – landed me flat on my ass.

How do I maintain my confidence in people and the world while I appreciate that others don’t?  And in large numbers.  The glass is half empty, half full and refillable.  How do we find common ground when all sides are true?

Pessimists and self-avowed “realists” want me to get on board with them; want me to throw down my rose-colored glasses and swallow their wretched beliefs.  And that makes me sick to my stomach.

Wake up call received though – must address the canker.  When we remodeled our home, things had to get chaotic and dirty before there was a clean slate, let alone a sparkly new space.

Still . . . my gut tells me something’s stirring.  Something big.  I’m not alone in this sentiment.

With caution – and an eye for a better world, I’m listening and acting on what shows up.  Maybe the boogeyman needed a spotlight.  Maybe the crud needed to be put on display.  Maybe we all need to walk through our fear.

When we light a lamp, where does the darkness go?  Not away, but it’s tempered.  Time to embrace the paradox.

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“The only thing to do is to be where you are at this moment, sometimes looking about in the full light of consciousness, other times standing comfortably in the deep shadows of mystery and the unknown.” ― Thomas Moore, Care of the Soul

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Get Down and Get Gritty

“Don’t be frivolous.” – “Don’t waste your precious time. You never know how long you have.”

This is the message I drew from Pema Chodron’s deck of “Compassion Cards” today.  The cards are “teachings for awakening the heart in everyday life” – pull one at random for focus.

Staying focused – not easy when so much is spewed at us all day, every day – relentlessly!  It’s easy to become overwhelmed.  My cherished ambitions don’t feel frivolous – but they require time and drive.

  • Internal self – yoga, meditation; reading and writing
  • External self – exercise, prepping and eating healthy foods; getting enough sleep
  • Social and local scene – quality time with family, friends and neighbors
  • Society at large – standing up and showing up for my political and societal beliefs

We all get 24 hours.  How well do I use mine?

Some days I’m so overwhelmed I sit and mindlessly play rounds of online solitaire – or get sucked into Facebook memes, chatter and gossip.  The inconsequential Pema cautions me about.

In his book The Icarus Deception, Seth Godin says “Grit is our future.”  He doesn’t mean the grit that interferes with our assembly lines and our spinach leaves.  He’s talking about the internal grit that asks us to stand up and speak up; to point out the problems we see; to stay focused on doing “work that’s worth doing.”

He outlines what Psychologist Angela Duckworth and others say are key elements of grit:

  • Perseverance: people with grit stay hooked because they have goals and passion – it’s who they are.
  • Hardiness: gritty people survive the relentless grind because they’re determined to do so – it’s what makes “the work interesting, a challenge, worth doing.”
  • Resilience: despite obstacles, they dig in and are flexible and willing to practice daily; this isn’t a one-time gig.
  • Ambition: “Grit is its own reward” – it doesn’t need external success.
  • Commitment: these folks have “long term goals” – they don’t waver; “regardless of the presence of feedback.”
  • Flow: when people are “swallowed up by” their passion – they’re “focused beyond all reason, deep into something” they care about.

Seth says “we hesitate to expose our true selves and to speak up and do the work we’re capable of because we fear we don’t have the power to do so.  And yet some people manage to find that power.”

Some people maintain their focus – stay the course; get down and get gritty.

Get down and get gritty – let “some people” be me.

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“To be gritty is to keep putting one foot in front of the other. To be gritty is to hold fast to an interesting and purposeful goal. To be gritty is to invest, day after week after year, in challenging practice. To be gritty is to fall down seven times, and rise eight.” – Angela Lee Duckworth

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What’s Next?

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step.” – Lao Tzu

It used to frustrate and annoy me that I was “just” a regular person.  Of course, my measuring stick was a bogus materialistic, societal façade.  Without money, looks, popularity or power – how could I impact the world?  Many of my past actions were calculated to attain distinction and prominence; but success was fickle.  Still without these accomplishments, what could I do?  Who was I?

Year by year, with deliberation – or sometimes serendipitously, my eyes opened and the false delusions shrank.  Lessons and teachers appeared that showed how one person makes ALL the difference.

Friend by friend I learned that conversations conducted with respect and consideration; acts of support and acceptance, whatever our differences – creates a community of genuine appreciation.

Step by step – doing the next right thing; my journey is full, rich and sharp with discovery.

Someone told me once that it didn’t matter where I was along the path – it was how far I’d travelled.  Comparing myself to others is a false conclusion.  Apples and orangutans.

Last Saturday at the Women’s March on Washington my objective was to be one of the bobbing heads showing up for inclusion, acceptance, love and solidarity.  The astonishing turnout, reactions of hope and communal validation, freaking bowled me over.  It took many regular people “just” like me to create that hive!

While it feels like it’s taken a damn long time to get to a point on the path where someone else started out – I see the significance of walking the distance.  Whether I’m an apple or an orangutan – I’m on the path.  One step at a time; I’ll do the next right thing – and little me will make a difference.

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“A wise woman wishes to be no one’s enemy; a wise woman refuses to be anyone’s victim.” – Maya Angelou

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