The Implacable Inexorably Malignant Shoulds

Image Courtesy of BobIsTraveling's Flickr Pool (CC license)

One of my favorite Zen proverbs is about two monks – one old, one young – who are traveling when they come to a river. There is a woman there, distraught because she has no way to cross the river. The older monk graciously offers to carry her across on his back, much to the surprise of the younger monk who has been told that touching women is forbidden to their order. Out of respect for his elder, he holds his tongue, and they all cross the river, the woman jumps off the old man’s back, thanks him, and they go on their way.

The two monks travel for miles in silence. Finally, the young monk can’t contain himself any more. “Master!” he cries. “How could you carry that woman?!?”

The old monk turned and looked at his young companion. “What woman?” he asked. “I set her down back by the river. Are you still carrying her?”

In Search of Understanding

In the past year, there have probably been a lot of moments that you’ve probably been wronged by people, by circumstance, by organizations, or maybe just by that traffic light that always seems to have an extra long red when you are running late to work. It’s easy enough to say “let’s forgive them! Start fresh!” But can we, really? It’s harder than it looks. Part of that is simple dualism – us vs. them, the idea that somehow my loss, my inconvenience, my aggravation resulted in their gain. There is always a “should” involved in that – “They should have known better,” “they should not have done that,” “I should have realized that would happen…”

One way to get rid of the shoulds is to find a place of understanding. The fact is, whether or not someone should or should not have done something is moot; they did do what they did, and they had reasons for doing so. Maybe you can understand those reasons because they can tell you; maybe you have a perspective they don’t, and can see why they did what they did even if they can’t.

Or maybe you won’t be able to understand; that’s ok, too, because there’s nothing that says you should.

See how easy that is?

It Is, It Was, It Will Be – How Could It Not?

I’m kidding. It’s not easy at all. In fact, I think the closer you are to a situation, the harder it is to let the fact that you might never understand be ok. You run it around and around in your head, trying to figure out how to make it right, how to do better next time. What is this “better” crap, anyway? Better by whose standards? What you can do is the best you can, and let that be alright.

The problem with all the “shoulds” is that while they supposedly are there to help you make a better decision next time…they really don’t. There won’t be a next time, because those people in that situation are gone, lost to the passage of time. Sure, there may be similar circumstances that come up in the future, things that at least superficially seem the same, but the reality is that it will be a new you, a new them, and an entirely different world. Fooling yourself into thinking that it’s going to be the same as last time is as crippling as assuming that it’s going to be different.

What can you do, then? Well, the answer to what to do in the moment is simple: the best you can. But this is more about getting rid of the “shoulds”, and to do that you have to let go of thinking that they could have done better (they did what they did because that’s what they did). That things could have been different (they couldn’t, because they weren’t). That you could have done better (you did the best you could at the time).

That last one is the hardest to handle, I think. But I’d like to think we could let go of some of the “shoulds” of the past year, and maybe take on fewer in the year to come.

Sometimes You Just Can’t Figure It Out

Understanding is all well and good. But the fact is sometimes you’ll never know. I always find it interesting when people criticize politicians, such as our current President. “He should have done this,” “Why didn’t he do that?” The thing that always strikes me is that it’s pretty obvious that our current President has a fairly difficult situation in terms of passing anything through congress. And if it’s obviously pretty difficult, then the actual level of difficulty – the actual machiavellian back story that we don’t know about – must be horrendous.

It’s a miracle anything gets done at all.

The same goes for all of us. The real story, the real forces and influences that affect our choices are usually far beyond our own understanding, much less anyone else’s. So there are going to be times when we think we understand, and we can let go, and the fact is we really only have a partial understanding (if that). Sometimes we’re completely wrong, but we can still manage to let go.

Those are the lucky times.

Other times, you know you don’t understand. You just can’t figure it out. You tear at it in your head, journal about it, kvetch about it to your facebook friends and your hair stylist and even your iPhone (“Siri, WTF?“) and you just can’t figure it out.

You still gotta let it go. In fact, it’s even more important that you let go of the things you can’t understand, because otherwise you’re going to use up a lot of energy that could be better used in things that you do understand. The shoulds will come at you in the middle of the night and steal your sleep. They’ll come to you in the middle of a kiss and steal your joy. They’ll come to you in every waking moment of your day and steal your life.

Let it go. And move on to something more constructive.

Sitting Helps

I’m not going to sit here and pretend that I know how to just let go. I have so many “I shoulda”‘s going thru my head for the four decades of my life that I could fill a book. However, what I can say is that my practice of sitting has gotten me to the point where I can sometimes step outside of the cycle of shoulds to say “Oh, look. There’s me, thinking that I should have done better. That’s interesting.”

Doesn’t sound like much, does it? It’s not. But it’s somewhat better than just mouldering in a big puddle of should, and you know what? That ought to be enough.

Shouldn’t it?



The Mie of Love

We’re heading into a couple of the most fun days of the year for a lot of people, and for the rest of us it’s entertaining to watch you all having fun, so I’ll keep this short so you can get back to your shopping/cooking/cleaning/dreaming of sugar plums.

There’s going to be a lot of things going on around you. There’s going to be crass commercialism, tinny music, good friends, bad relatives, phone calls, pangs of missing people, pangs of seeing people, and pangs of I-drank-too-much-eggnog.

Every once in a while, if you can remember, give yourself a mie

Pause for Effect

That’s what a mie (pronounce “mee-Yay”) does. It is a theatrical device used by actors in the kabuki tradition from Japan. The mie would give a pause to the action or dialogue that was going on, and usually every part of the set – actors, props, everything – would be maneuvered to direct the attention of the audience towards one particular actor.

The Actor Ichikawa Danjuro IX in the double role of Fudo and Mongaku

That actor would slowly gather his or her arms together, slowing down the pace of their delivery like it was the drum roll of an execution, and then execute the YAY! part of the mie with a flourish. For a timeless instant the entire drama would stop, and the audience would hold its breath, taking in the tableau.

Then the story would continue, and thunder gods would capture beautiful princesses before the brave heroes smote them with sharp swords (the thunder gods, not the princesses).

Taking It In

As you have the world of the holiday season crashing all around you this weekend, I’d invite you to pick random moments and just mentally pause. Take in the sights, sounds, experiences around you. Most of them are motivated by at least a thought of love, whether it’s religious, avaricious, or delicious. Take the breath, look at that moment of love frozen in time just for a bit…and then let the tumult around you continue.

These snapshots of memory, looked at long after the moment has passed, will serve you better than any Facebook status.

(But don’t let that stop you from “liking” us on Facebook, right up there to the left!)

Giving Up

For someone who writes a business blog, Heidi Miller has one of the most touching holiday stories I’ve ever read on her TalkItUp blog. It’s the story of the Cambodian Cow, and how during one holiday season when she was far from family she decided to take a rather unconventional route to gift-giving: “Instead of purchasing a holiday gift for myself, I found a project to support someone who was in dire need for basic necessities.”

She found that gift through Kiva, a website that gives out microloans to help people in underdeveloped countries develop businesses. It works, too – their repayment rate is well over 90%, but that’s not the point. The $100 that Heidi gave wouldn’t be missed if it wasn’t paid back, but the repercussions that little step-up she gave the woman in Cambodia was life-changing.

That’s what Ms. Miller gave for Christmas that year: a hand up. And I have to say, I like that idea of gift-giving.

The Might of the Widow’s Mite

You all know the story of the Widow’s mite, right? A rich benefactor makes a generous donation to the church, but it’s an amount he would barely miss. Meanwhile, the poor widow gives but a mite – but it’s more than half of her total wealth. Who gave more?

It’s all about percentages. If you have a little, you may not feel you can do much – but that only depends on where you send the cash. Sent to Cambodia, the cost of a cheap camera can buy someone a life-sustaining cow with which they can improve their world. Or you can buy that cheap camera for your nephew, have him forget about it (who uses cameras these days when you have phones?) and the amount of money has had no positive impact at all.

But my kids like presents!” I hear people say. And it’s true, the pressure to give and consume at the holiday season is pretty strong. Leo over at Zen Habits has some interesting ideas about that, though. He first posted his “No New Gifts Holiday Challenge” and then followed it up with a post about his “Gift-Less Children.” Turns out that his holidays are going just fine without having to fight through shopping lines, etc.

Hard Times, Meaningful Gifts

That’s been my experience as well. A few years back I found myself with barely enough cash to get any gifts for my kids, much less the possibility of getting it for my many extended family members. I found myself faced with the choice of going to a discount store and attempting to get a couple of dozen tawdry, cheap gifts…or something else.

What my extended family members got was a small card, thanking them for their presence in my life and informing them that I’d made a donation, in their name, to OXFAM International. This is one of the most reputable aid organizations in the world. You don’t have to give a lot, but what you do give goes to good places, without a lot of the politics that are often involved in other aid organizations.

However, it’s sometimes hard to make kids understand what it is they are giving. Which is why I like the idea of giving Up instead. Teach your kids about the Cambodian Cow, then turn them loose on a site like Kiva or Kickstarter. The latter is where people with great ideas try to find backers to get their dreams off the ground. Places like Uncharted Books in Chicago, IL, who I helped back so they could raise $10,000 and get their store off the ground. Do you know how great it feels, at those times when I can barely afford to pay for a used book, to know that I am a part of the walls of this store? The kind of place I would love to wander for hours, and I helped build it up.

How do you think your kids would feel if they could do that? Suddenly rather than playing a fantasy game, they are part of a very real game of life, helping others “level up” and being a real influence in the world around them. Be careful. The feeling is so good, it is likely to be habit forming.

Seems to me that in a season that’s supposed to be about giving, the gift of Up – even a little – can be the most meaningful message of all, regardless of your beliefs.


Cultivating Financial Patience

I’m not sure how many people will actually need to try cultivating this particular habit, but it’s probably one of the hardest-won and most useful that I’ve ever acquired, so I’ll share it.

Playing the Variables

There are a lot of things you can do when you are faced with financial hardship. There are a lot of different factors at play, ways to improve your situation:

  • Cut down on your expenses
  • Find new sources of income
  • Call for help (loans or gifts) from friends and family
  • Sell things that you don’t need
  • Sell things that you do need (note: I’ve done this. It ain’t fun. I’d really recommend it as a last resort.)

However,while these are great ways (and notsogreat) to improve your situation,  sometimes you can do all of them and still find yourself coming up short. What do you do when you have tried everything? It is possible; don’t give me that “you just haven’t found the answer! Keep looking!” crap. The fact is you can reach a point where you have literally done everything you can to improve your situation, and it still sucks.

Delta Time

There’s one thing you haven’t tried, but that you will. One thing that your bill collectors insist on ignoring, but that you have in your favor: time itself.

I am, actually, an optimist. I do believe there is an answer to every problem. What I don’t believe, though, is that all the answers are all there right now. Some solutions are winding their way towards me, flowing down the path of the future to the present.

By doing everything I can, I’m making sure I’m ready when that solution finally presents itself. Time changes everything (hence the “delta” get it?). There comes a point in the struggles of life that you just have to cultivate the patience to let your work catch up with the solution that was waiting for you.

That could look like a lot of things. Your resume that you sent months ago suddenly catching the right person’s eye. A friend who suddenly needs some work done that you happen to  specialize in. An inheritance. A school that suddenly needs help in some department where you happen to know another parent…

Sound far-fetched? I only bring these examples up because they have all happened to me. The thing is, for many of them I spent the time around them worrying, stressing, frantically doing the same things I’d already done, thinking that maybe somehow I’d missed something. Gradually I learned to trust that I had done everything I could, and quite beating myself up about it. I learned to trust that I was doing all I could, and that time would bear the fruits of my labors.

Ya Still Gotta Do the Work

Please note, this is neither a call to be lazy, nor a justification for living paycheck to paycheck (the biggest bad habit I’ve got, and which needs a lot of work). Ideally you won’t need financial patience, because your ducks are all in a row and you never reach that point where you reach in your pocket and find nothing there.

But we don’t live in ideal times, so when you have done everything you can, remember that time is on your side, and nothing is going to stay the same forever.

Schrodinger’s Heart

This is an adaptation of a column originally written for the Fearless Press site. If you’re interested in more interesting writing about sexuality in contemporary culture, I highly recommend it.

“It’s hard to wait for something you know might never happen, but it’s hard to give up when it’s everything you want.” – SexCigarsBooze, via Twitter

Change is hard.

It reflects an uncertainty to life that we don’t like. We like to feel like we know what’s going to happen, even when the fact is, we can’t. Physics says so.

The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle (and I apologize in advance to those far more educated than me who will be appalled at this generalization) basically says that you can know a particle’s location OR you can know the direction it’s going but you can’t know BOTH.

Forget particles. It applies to our relationships too too.

The romantic view of love is that you have a magical date where everything clicks and endorphins and woo squirm and wiggle out your eyes and into the gonads of your partner and suddenly the world has CHANGED. This is the person who who groks your hopes and desires and feeds them back to you. Your paths, however meandering, have been leading you both to this place and this moment at this time.

However, just because your paths have intersected doesn’t mean you’ve come there from the same direction. This moment of together may stretch months, years, decades, but it still may only be a tangent – a point at which your paths meet, but then diverge and head in other directions.

We’d like to think we can tell. We try all kinds of communication tricks to do it, but Heisenberg reminds us that the second you do figure out where you ARE you have no idea where you are GOING.

Because change happens. People change, circumstances change, everything changes. Octavia Butler wrote an entire fictional religion around the idea that change is God. The Parable of the Sower is a harsh and beautiful work: “All that you touch, you change. All that you change, changes you.

That’s where Schrodinger’s cat comes in.

If you’re unfamiliar with the idea (again, apologies to physics majors) it was a thought experiment. Imagine a box, inside of which is a cat and a device that will release poisonous gas the moment a particular particle is emitted from radioactive material.

The point of the experiment was that there was no way to predict whether or not the particle was emitted, the gas was released, and the cat was killed. In fact, as long as the box was closed, the cat was in a strange state of being both alive and dead. Part of the paradox is that only way to find out the poor feline’s fate was to open the damn box.

At that point, you would know the cat’s fate. But here’s the real mind bender: if the emperiled feline could have been either alive or dead right up until you opened the box…wasn’t opening the box, in a way, the very thing that killed the darling creature?

Any sensible person would say no, it was the particle with the poison. But Schrodinger was not a normal person, he was a scientist. Like most scientists, he was inherently romantic and I believe he was talking about us. Schrodinger’s heart, if you will.

If you have a great date, you can know where you are. You can know where your partner is. But you can’t really know where you’re both going. This can become an agonizing state of uncertainty and bewilderment. Is this a meaningful relationship? Is it just endorphins? Am I really a [INSERT ROMANTIC ARCHETYPE] and are they really a [INSERT COMPLEMENTARY ROMANTIC ARCHETYPE]? Your mind and your heart and your emotions go up and down like a Hokusai painting, making Hamlet look like David Allen compared to you and your Heisenberg relationship and your Schrodinger’s heart.

The only way to collapse that wave function – to really know where this wave of emotion is taking you – is to open the damn box, climb in and get down with the cat, the poison, and the glowing rock. Even if opening the box didn’t kill you, you sit in the box aware that at any moment that particle of doom may be released.

That’s what change is. It will happen, you can count on it. What you can’t count on is that it will change in the direction you expect. Even less likely is the idea that it will change in the direction you want.

This uncertainty is the thing that makes life so shiny and vibrant that we almost can’t bear to breathe because we are so filled with joy. It’s also the thing that makes us huddle in fear, tired of the unpredictability of life not meeting our expectations.

Change doesn’t care. The sooner you come to terms with that, the happier I suspect you’ll be.

If you happen to figure out how, exactly, though, will you do me a favor and let me know?


Life Cannot Be Put Off

20111213-174108.jpgWhile catching up with my middle daughter Kat the other day, she mentioned that her sisters often pitied her. “They can’t believe I’m still in school, that I’ve got so many more years to go.”
“They talked about that in orientation,” she went on. “They warned us that our friends and family would ask us how we could put off life for so long. They reminded us that we aren’t putting off life, we are living life. Living life in medical school.”

Life Whether You Like It or Not

I have to hand it to the school, it’s a pretty good and important thing to remind the students. Not for their sake – they’re young, what do they have to worry about? – but so they can remind their parents, people like me, who need to remember that this is life, regardless.

I can’t think of a time when my life has gone as I expected. Good or bad, the twists and turns I’ve taken have been both better and worse than I ever would have been able to predict. At some point I actually stopped trying to predict, which is a topic for another post.

There are certainly many moments when I wish that things had gone differently. Thankfully I can let go of those relatively quickly, since there’s nothing I can do to change the past. The future, on the other hand…trying to figure out what I want life to look like is a much more difficult process, not the least because, as I mentioned, the best laid plans of mice and me gang aft agley?

Meanwhile, tempus keeps on fugit-ing on, and life happens (as Lennon said, when you’re busy making other plans). You can’t put off life. It happens, whether it’s the way you expected or not.

The Great Equalizer

The nice thing about life, though, is that everyone is given the same amount: from birth to death, marked off in nice increments of minutes, hours, days, etc. Unlike food, shelter, money, and comic books, everyone in the world is given exactly the same amount of time! It’s the one thing that Bill Gates can’t buy more of, that Vladimir Putin can’t order more produced, that Martha Stewart can’t craft more of with ribbon and a glue gun.
Isn’t that amazing? There is one resource that you are just as rich in as anyone else in the world?

That begs the question, then: what are you going to do with it?

Power of choice

I don’t know the answer to that question, by the way. Not for myself, not for my progeny, and certainly not for you. I will, however, mention two things that I’m working on that might help you figure out how to use your time, your life.

Both are matters of choice, and both are difficult, but both seem to be the key to determining what the quality of your life will be like:

  • The first choice is how you frame things. Life will happen to you, regardless; what you can choose is how you see the things that are occurring. Yes, it is hard to take things like “My son just had to have extreme orthopedic surgery” in a positive light as you see him sweating the pain as his meds wear off, but you can always find some silver lining – perhaps something like “This might keep him out of any draft should the country continue these wars,” or “Most kids are gone at this age – getting to spend this extra time with him, helping him through recovery, is going to make us closer than most families.” It’s not easy, and it doesn’t always work, but a lot of the happiest people I know are that way because they simply choose to look at the world that way.
  • The second choice is easier because it’s action based, unless your weakness is procrastination and/or indecision. It’s expressed simply as “Well, if that’s the life you want, start making choices that lead towards that life.” Want to be a doctor? Better start moving towards med school. Want to have a significant other? Better start dating, preferably in the places that people who resemble your ideal mate hang out. It’s as simple as “I’m hungry”, so you get up and get some food, whether that’s going out to eat, heading towards the grocery store, or just picking up the phone for some sushi delivery.

The caveat to the last one, though, is procrastination and indecision. To continue the food metaphor, those two things can keep you hungry a long time: “Oh, I’ll cook that burger…as soon as this episode of Numb3rs is done. Wait, there’s another episode that looks interesting…” Or else you spend all your time trying to decide which would taste better, the sushi delivery, the gluten-free lasagna, or just going out for some prime rib? They’re all so good, and if you pick one, then you’ll miss the others…and that thought process, for some, keeps them on the couch and hungry.

Lack of Choice is a Choice

As I have said often in this book, I can’t offer you help on how to make those decisions, because I wrestle with them myself. I will point out, though, that it’s not like you can avoid life. It’s going to happen, regardless of whether you make the choices that lead where you want to go, regardless of how you choose to interpret the things that happen to you.

There is a famous story about an elderly woman who decides to enter medical school at age 70. “Are you crazy?” her son asked. “You’ll be seventy-seven by the time you get your degree!”

They say she just smiled at him. “In seven years I’ll be seventy-seven anyway,” she said. “Might as be a doctor, too.”

You’re going to have a life in seven years too, I hope. What is it going to look like? What do you want? And more to the point…what are you going to choose?

“I” Contact

According to Dr. David Givens, author of Love Signals, increased eye contact between couples can improve and increase the biochemical bonds between couples. I mentioned this a bit back in the post on Eye Gazing, but that was directed towards couples. I’d like to propose this week you try and make it a little less focused on intimacy and just focus on connection.

Face Up to It

When I was in Amsterdam recently my gracious hosts took me and my friends out for some drinks. Of course someone proposed a toast, and I learned what was apparently an important part of Dutch drinking: whenever someone proposes a toast, as you clink the glass you have to look the other person in the eye. Failure to do so is a social faux pas equivalent to shouting “Go Packers!” in a Pittsburgh bar, and likely to be even more physically incapacitating.

Eye Know What You're Thinking!

While I can’t vouch for the veracity of that claim, I do know that the act of meeting my counterpart’s eye as we clinked glasses gave that simple process a jolt, a kind of electric energy that is lost in most toasts that I see.

It made me think hard about the ways we interact. Sure, lots of people like hugs, but it’s not quite appropriate in our culture to hug everyone as much as you might like (or as much as they might need). But if eye contact can be something of an intimate act – a “long distance” hug, if you will – perhaps we can improve the total sum of oxytocin released into our world by meeting the eyes of the people we interact with.

I’m not talking a spooky staredown. I’m talking about just looking people in the face when they ask “Do you want fries with that?” I’m saying that when you see the teacher, before you ask “How was my son behaved today?” you look them in the eye. Just try putting a little extra “presence” in your contact with other people.

Constant Contact

Keep in mind, I’m going to be trying this too. I think it came to mind as I end my time here in Madison, visiting many of my family members. Because it’s going to be a while before I see them again, I found myself looking more into their eyes, as if trying to memorize something about them. The connections seemed stronger, the interactions more meaningful.

I already know it’s a worthwhile habit…public speakers, career coaches, many people know about how making eye contact will make you seem more confident, friendly, powerful, trustworthy. What they don’t usually talk about is that it is like a “hug-lite”, giving a tiny little neurochemical burst of happy juice to the person you’re sharing a gaze with.

The thing is, you are getting that little jolt as well. So watch out; this eye contact thing might get addictive. After all, when you gaze into the abyss…

Hey there! How about some virtual contact as well? If you have some thoughts about this post or any of the others here, let me hear from you, either in the comments or by emailing!

To Thine Own Self Be Woo

Apologies to those who have some sort of phobia towards puns, but this is a measure of love that I don’t think we consider too often.

It came to mind when a reader sent me a strange little note, in which she thanked me for some of my work, calling it “…way cool”, but referred to herself as “…mildly interesting.” She went on to talk about how she is in the process of getting rid of some old habits, old relationships, things that were holding her back from what she feels is her true joyful life.

I’m not talking simple things like my “Hey, let’s try gluten-free” lifehack. No, she’s razing parts of her life to the ground, taking tentative but optimistic steps into her future that she is seizing for herself, realizing that no one is going to do it for her.

Mildly interesting“? Hell, that sounds like an epic journey to me. It’s going to be filled with triumphs and disappointments and mistakes and serendipity and swordfights and poison spiders and Cliffs of Insanity…

Ok, maybe not the last three. I think that was the Princess Bride. But it certainly sounds more than “mildly” interesting. So why did she sell herself so short, when she’s about to do one of the bravest things a human can do?

Destructive Criticism

photo courtesy of Pink Sherbet Photography

“Don’t be so full of yourself.”

“Who do you think you are?”

“What makes you so special?”

Any of those sound familiar? Any time any of us seem to want to point out what a special snowflake we are, there are always people ready to tear us down. Ask any celebrity, though, and they’ll probably tell you who the biggest critic is: that voice inside, telling you that your fear may be right: you really aren’t good enough, there really isn’t anything special about you.

The thing is, that voice is right in some ways. We are, actually, like most people. But the thing is, most people are pretty amazing. While it’s important (and fun) to pick out ways to improve ourselves, it’s also pretty important to remember the things we do well.

Listen to Them. They Know.

So what I would suggest for the weekend is that you focus on some self-love (and yes, take that in any way you like). Think about the things you do well, the things that you do like about yourself. For example, while I don’t like the way I have a hard time making decisions, I have to admire my extreme talent for procrastination – for putting off the necessity of making them. Hey, it’s a skill, and instead of “procrastination” for this weekend I’m going to call it “Choice Preservation and Fate Diversionary Tactics.”

To quote the dating & seduction coach (and recent author) Arden Leigh (affiliate link) “whatever you can’t hide, you feature.” So pick out a few things – in fact, since this is just between you and yourself, feel free to be mean and vindictive – that you dislike about others.  “At least I don’t…” is a very powerful phrase, as long as it’s not said too loud.

The point is to find, this weekend, some appreciation for yourself, and shower the love down. There are some who say you can’t love anyone else until you love yourself – personally, I don’t know that I believe that. What I do believe, though, is in self-reliance – so if you don’t love yourself, why should you expect anyone else to?

Since you can comment here anonymously, why not share with the rest of the readers:

What do you love about yourself?


Stacking the Deck Towards Awesome

A while back a very dear friend of mine woke up in a grumpy mood. She and I tend to communicate through text during the day, and so I did my best to cheer her up. Sometimes I’d do the “guy” thing and try to fix the day, suggesting reasons she should be happy, telling jokes, even suggesting activities I thought might make her feel better.

Nothing worked. By 10am, she was still Ms. Grumpypants.

Then, around noon, I heard from her again. I asked if she was in a better mood.

“Not really…but,” she said, and named off a few fun activities she’d planned for the afternoon, along with some pretty easy tasks she’d been putting off. “So, at least I’ve stacked the deck towards awesome.”

That phrase stuck with me. Stacking the deck towards awesome. Remember when I mentioned that life isn’t fair? That means you’re allowed to cheat. If you seem to have a rotten time all around, why not stack the deck in your favor?

  • Plan on having coffee with somebody funny.
  • Treat yourself to your favorite guilty pleasure movie.
  • Do something physical that you know how to do well – even if it’s just a bike ride.
  • Look at your to-do list and pick out the easiest things, or the quickest. Do them, and bask in the feeling of productivity.

Seriously, it doesn’t take much to give your life the appearance of not sucking. Lob yourself a few easy pitches, and just enjoy the feeling of not struggling.

Longer Term

Of course, if I left it at just stacking your day, it might seem more like a practice. But I believe that you can stack the deck towards awesome in the big picture, too. Line up concerts in your future, pick out movies that don’t come out for months that you can look forward to. Pick out a position at work you’d like to be in, and start helping out the person who does it. Seem random? Here’s a few possible results:

  1. You discover you don’t like it after all.
  2. You discover you do like it, and now have a head start at learning the skill.
  3. You have a new friend, or
  4. You have a better idea of what kind of jerk this job would turn you into.

All of which is good.

Fair warning

I’ve been looking around lately to find ways to stack my own deck towards awesome, but that doesn’t look like you might think. Last year I did it subconsciously, and ended up doing way more travel than was healthy. It was a great experience, but TOO MUCH. In fact, I’m going to be dealing with the effects well into 2012, which I’ll write about later. You need to be careful how far ahead you “stack the deck” or else you may find yourself with an embarrassment of riches.

For me, for now, stacking the deck towards awesome looks like finding places that I don’t have to travel, places where I can breathe in the quiet and listen to the sound of my life for a change. That, to me, would be awesome.

So pick out your own brand of awesome and find ways to stack your future with good cards. “Luck of the draw” will have a whole new meaning, because fortune favors those who are prepared…

Don’t Wanna. Did It Anyway.

Today I hit my first “I don’t wanna” moment in regards to this blog.

It’s not that I have any lack of material – no, far from it, the idea sheet for posts is bigger than my arm, metaphorically speaking. It’s more a matter of where I’m at mentally today. I said that this blog was going to be about pragmatic, real solutions, not promising pie-in-the-sky happiness, and this is part of it: your narrator, gentle readers, sometimes just wants to sit in a corner eating junior mints and watching re-runs of Numb3rs all day.

And this is one of those days.

Nat is a good companion for the Don't Wannas

The reasons why aren’t important. What’s important is that it happens, it happens to everyone, at some point. Hell, it started this morning – I didn’t want to do my sitting (I did it anyway). I didn’t want to write in my journal (did it anyway). I didn’t want to work for the last six hours on a client’s video project (did it anyway). I really didn’t want to do a phone meeting with another client about a variety show in February.

Guess what? I did it anyway.

Sometimes It Just Sucks

That’s part of being an adult, I think. I mentioned in an earlier post the difference between being a grown-up, a child, and an adult. You can read it (really, would love to hear your comments) but the gist is that a grown up doesn’t grow any more, a child lacks the ability to handle responsibility, and an adult has the potential to both continue to grow (thereby acknowledging that they don’t have all the answers yet) but at the same time take responsibility for those things they do know.

It’s not discipline, though it may be a habit. I prefer to think of it as taking responsibility for myself, for my own path and well-being. I know that I am slowly improving myself with my writing and my meditation. I know that I am helping out my future-self by getting my work done, lining up things in the future.

I hope that, on some level, I’m helping both myself and you by writing this blog. It’s something I took responsibility for a while back, and this is part of me owning up to that responsibility. And there is certainly a part of me that knows that at some point down the road I’ll look at this day and know “That is one day that I did not give up.

Yep. It Sucks. Do It Anyway.

Sometimes just the acknowledgement of an “I don’t wanna.” moment is enough to keep you going. You are kind of addressing your inner five-year-old, who doesn’t want to take their medicine. You don’t have to lie and say “Oh, but it’ll taste good.” Heck, don’t even lie and say “But it’ll make you feel better!” I guarantee that when I’m done with this post, I still won’t wanna go back to my video-editing work.

That doesn’t change the fact that it needs to be done. So I simply acknowledge that yes, I don’t wanna, but that doesn’t change reality.

That’s the practice I’m going to suggest for this week. Life can really suck at times, and when it does, telling yourself it doesn’t just makes you feel like a liar. But telling yourself that it does, and yet persevering in doing what needs doing…eventually, you’ll inch towards daylight to the HellYeahIWanna!’s again.

If you need something to look forward to, tomorrow one of my heroes, Chris Gillebeau, will be releasing a manifesto on the Urgency of Life. I’m not sure yet if I agree with the premise (it’s not like I’ve read it yet) but I am sure I’ll be talking about it soon.