She Makes Life Easier

Today’s Lesson: Find the person who makes living itself a pleasure.

*****

I tried to run my own business a long time ago, and failed. Miserably. I was unable to do it alone and that is a lesson I never forgot.

When I needed a tax accountant earlier this year, Nicole was on it. I didn’t ask. I didn’t whine about not having one. She just anticipated my needs, and acted.

When I hurt my foot, suddenly a book about foot health showed up and Nicole massaged my aching tendon while reading to me. I never miss an appointment because Nicole knows my calendar better than I do and she lets me know when I should show emotion and ask about my friends (I tend to forget social grace stuff), or she reminds me to call my family, or be patient with stop lights. Nicole keeps me on track and focused and she supports nearly any effort I make to improve, often jumping in with me.

I asked my dad one time, what was it about Mom, that kept them together for so long? He thought about it and said, “She just makes life easier. She makes living easier. She sees what I miss and takes care of it.”

It is not a burden to remember to ask a waitress something the next time she visits our table, but Nicole will already know the question and ask for me before the waitress is too far away. The big things, the little things. Those are the moments where she just makes life easier.

It is a two-way street, by the way, but it doesn’t feel that way. Making life easier feels more powerful than taking out the trash or remembering to open doors.

I don’t want to run my own business now but if I did, I know I would have a rock-star partner. Even better, though, I know I have a powerful ally in life–and living is just easier.

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Silence Is Golden

Today’s Lesson: Just because it is trapped in your mind does not mean it must escape your mouth.

*****

I had a great zinger to end the argument. I knew what I would say to point out the other person’s flaws and send a fierce jab back, making them regret even talking to me.

Almost in the same moment, though, I realized I actually like speaking with this person and I like it when people want to speak to me. Why would I want to make someone regret that–particularly someone who matters to me?

I knew how to cause maximum damage here but I realized it was not a contest to see who could hurt each other most.

But… man, it was a really good line! They walked right into it. Like, the kind after which you would expect to hear your juvenile friends exclaim, “Ooh, burrrrn!”. What if I missed the opportunity to land this killer blow? What if the other person walked away feeling superior or just confident they had a valid point?

I thought about it (quickly). If I kept my barb to myself, it would change nothing as far as the facts were concerned. I would not sway any opinions with my whip-crack remark. All I would do is make the other person feel defensive and hurt and that would breed further hurtful words between us, maybe even some we would regret.

I dropped the line. My sub-conscious kept prompting me to spit it out–to fight back but my conscience won this one. It had to keep winning it for the next half-hour or so. I kept wanting to spit acid at my friendly adversary and I kept having to remind myself it would not help. A better path was to speak kindly, deflecting instead of defending, asking instead of attacking, and acknowledging their feelings while working through the issue with compassion.

The argument never blew up. We brought it in for a soft landing together, and I realized later it took greater strength and virtue for me to keep my angry words inside than it would have to prove myself right… at any cost.

Sometimes, saying the right thing… means saying nothing at all.

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The Physics of Relationships

Today’s Lesson: The laws of the universe apply everywhere. That is why they are the laws of the Universe.

*****

Most of us learn the basic laws of Physics and Thermodynamics in grade school (and then promptly forget them) but we never think to apply them outside Science class.

When we talk about the fundamental underpinnings of everything we unequivocally know about the universe, we forget those laws include us (because we are part of the universe).

I often take those laws and apply them to seemingly odd areas of life–for example, to help navigate relationships (maybe I’ll write a book about this one day).

Let’s take the Law of Conservation of Energy (the first law of Thermodynamics). In sum, energy can neither be created nor destroyed. It can only be transformed from one form to another. For example, if you push your phone across a table, potential energy (in your hand) is transferred to kinetic energy, causing the phone to slide across the table. This is also (in overly simplified terms) the foundation for how the second and third laws of Thermodynamics work, which are also the First and Second Laws of Entropy.

“Entropy” is a fancy way of saying “Chaos”. As Entropy (Chaos) decreases, things become more ordered. As entropy increases, things become more random and chaotic. The laws of Entropy essentially tell us that the universe always seeks balance… and that is what brings us to relationships.

Relationships, when left alone, tend toward balance, meaning some smooth parts and some rough parts. We seek Order naturally because it is pleasing. We like to feel happy and satisfied and we find those feelings when everything seems to fall in place with our intentions and our world is running smoothly. The catch is, while we build Order in our lives, the universe seeks to balance the ledger. Disorder is created by default, somewhere.

If you find peace with this simple fact, life becomes easier to navigate. Think of it this way:

–When you and your partner are perfectly aligned and everything seems super-happy and could not be going better, enjoy the moment but understand it can not be a permanent state. “Happily Ever After” is the point where a movie ends (but a relationship is only beginning) because showing the rest of the relationship would depress most of us. No one wants to see Snow White and The Prince 10 years later, after she has gained 30 pounds and is depressed about aging and he has to work or hunt 11-hours a day to keep his family satiated and feels like he hasn’t slept in weeks. We do not want to see them bicker about the free-loading dwarves and why the dishes are never done. (Actually, we would kind of love to see that, right?)

–When one of you is aligned and one is not aligned, this is equilibrium. Balance. I am not saying that means everything is good for you and bad for the other person. I am only saying you can not both be perfectly happy all the time. That is okay. That is how life is supposed to work. You are not fighting and you are not in bliss. Balance.

–When you are both out of alignment, then you are creating friction and that is bad. That means fighting, despair, depression, etc. This would be considered a high state of Entropy, or disorder. The universe will force an adjustment. If the friction continues, it will lead to a break down and possibly a break-up. That, again, is the law of Entropy at work (according to my crackpot opinion). The universe will balance the check book and it is not especially concerned with whose feelings are hurt in the process. It is just doing its job by restoring order equal to the chaos.

 

Basically:

  • If you are happy, don’t worry. It is going to get worse soon.
  • If you are sad, don’t worry! It is going to be better soon!
  • If you are right down the middle, don’t worry… It will be steady for a while but then it’s going to get crazy–get ready for the ride! (This is because minor variations in a highly ordered state ultimately create entropy that builds the way ripples from a breeze can grow into tidal waves on the ocean).

 

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Remember When We Met Tomorrow?

Today’s Lesson: The future is a nice place to visit but you wouldn’t want to live there.

*****

You have known your spouse, best friend, or sibling for a long time. You know them better than they sometimes know themselves. Except you do not know them at all.

A funny thing happens when we learn someone’s habits and thoughts over time. We begin anticipating their thoughts and habits. We think we know what they are going to say next. We know how they will decide. We know what they will order when out for dinner. We know what movies they will like. We think we even know what people they will like.

Sometimes we guess right. Sometimes we miss the mark. Our accuracy is not important. When it comes to the most intimate and important people in our lives, what matters is we have stopped dealing with them in the present. Instead, we are always anticipating their future selves. We are having conversations with the people in front of us, but from the future, because we think we know what they are going to say. We choose not to ask certain questions or broach topics we know will anger them, for example. Or we correct them before they make a mistake (“Don’t forget to…”).

We assume past performance indicates future probability.  

As you might have guessed (based on my past performance), I am about to assert this is not an effective approach. Congrats–you got it right this time.

The problem is, our present is always changing. “Now” is already gone. “Now” used to be now but now it is Now, and now “Now” is gone again. Yet it is always now.

Because “now” is always changing, this means the past is always changing, too. The people we think we know so well today are only echoes of the people we knew before. We relate to our friends and family as if they are never-changing yet they surprise us, at times, with what we think are out-of-character decisions or pleasant surprises. Shocking revelation: they are never out of character! They are just different people than when we first met them.

The other problem with dealing with future echoes of present people is we limit them as people in the present. We take away possibilities for their future, like putting up detour signs on roads they could have traveled. We decide their future for them when we finish their sentences. We dictate their life and who they should be when we “know” their reaction to our past self. We even start conversations with, “Promise you won’t get mad”… how can anyone know if they will be mad 5 seconds from now?

I am terribly guilty of all of this. I am a chronic interrupter, for example. I finish sentences, thoughts, or words for people all the time and I know it is a terrible habit. I might interrupt because I think I know where people are headed in a conversation, or I believe my time is more precious to me than theirs is to them so I try to usher their brains along and move us to the next topic faster. Maybe I am merely impatient. I know the general idea of what is being said and the remaining context, to me, is drawn-out filler around what I already knew or decided. I am not sure why I interrupt but I am sure it is not always received well.

One of my personal challenges this year has been to listen to people until they are done speaking. It takes a great deal of effort for me because I have found people often pause to collect more thoughts rather than to invite my turn at speaking. I suspect much of my life has been only hearing and responding to half of conversations. Imagine that! Going through your life only able to speak half sentences because no one lets you finish a thought!

Maybe that is why I became a writer–so I can complete a full thought out without being interrupted by people like me!

I know no one is supposed to say this, but I do not mind telling you it is excruciating for an impatient person to listen to others muddle all the way through their thoughts, but I recommend trying it. I have found (and I think you will, too, because I know you are working on being more patient) that dealing with people in the present instead of dealing with their future echoes opens doors I never knew were there.

Listen without an agenda or worrying what to say in return (because otherwise you are planning the future). See where a conversation takes you. It might lead to a future you never saw coming.

 

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The Virtue of Playfulness

Laughter is the best medicine… and sometimes the best romantic tool, too.

***

For most of my dating life, I thought my part of a relationship was always to be strong, silent, respectful, stoic, and polite. Those things each have value at times, but one thing that never made the list very often was, “playfulness”. I mean, adults do not have time to play around, right? We have responsibility. We are supposed to be serious with each other. We can entertain children when they want to play but you never see adults playing Tag or Hide-And-Seek.

Every relationship is different and each set of partners set their own parameters for what goes, but I can tell you one thing that has contributed to the strong, healthy relationship Nicole and I share is our willingness to be silly with each other (and not just when alcohol is involved). We play silly pranks on each other. She will sometimes pretend to be confused about who is going to turn the light off at bedtime, basically creating our own “Who’s On First” routine. I will sometimes “help” her put puzzles together by insisting pieces go in the wrong positions until she laughs herself to tears. (I know, these probably sound like dumb things, right? But that’s the point. They are silly for the sake of being silly, only moments there to entertain ourselves).

Playfulness inspires creativity, joy, and bonding in a relationship, which of course, increases passion. If you are not laughing with the love of your life at least once each day, then I fear you might be missing out on a big part of being in an adult relationship… sometimes acting like kids.

 

Today’s lesson: Sometimes the best part of being an adult is that no one is able to keep you from being a kid. Embrace that, sometimes, when you embrace your loved ones (and maybe have some shaving cream in your hand when you do…).

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How to Live With (Emotional) Scars

During a bad break up, try not to cut off your nose to spite your face.

***

I saw that a friend’s marriage ended because her spouse cheated on her a short time after their wedding. Part of her revenge was to excise everything to do with him from her life, including deleting all their pictures together.

This seems to be standard protocol when good relationships have bitter ends, but it saddens me to think someone would invalidate a huge, important swath of their life to trade it off for being bitter about that part of their past for the REST of their life.

I have been in relationships that ended badly (including a marriage that ended very badly) but I do not begrudge any of my partners their faults or mine (and I certainly have plenty).

None of us were handed a manual titled, “This is How to be the Perfect Human Being”. I am not absolving anyone of their bad choices, only saying it is not worth spending my life pretending their bad choices were mine or that mine were theirs. When we take emotional revenge on a partner who cheated, for example, then we also damage our own well-being by invalidating any part of the relationship that was good. The good memories happened. Why would we be so quick to destroy them yet still cling to the bad? We are clinging to the bad, of course, by taking revenge on the good.

I am happy for the happy parts of my past relationships. I would not want to lose those parts of my life and secretly or publicly hold onto the bad parts. It is foolish to pretend part of my life did not happen just as it would be foolish to pretend there is no scar on my left hand from when I cut it when I was twelve. Everyone can see the scar, even if I deny it. The scar is part of my past, part of my story, and part of what makes me who I am today, even though I regret that moment! Our emotional scars are the same way. People see them even if we pretend they never happened. We just look silly for pretending.

Of course, I understand the need for catharsis when we have been emotionally wounded, but I would rather find that in a positive, healthful way, like therapy or exercise or writing my feelings out or just taking time out of my life to sort through those feelings and heal for a while.

I can understand keeping your past out of sight as a matter of being respectful of both your ex and your current partner, but we do not yet live long enough, I think, to delete years of our lives because we are pouting.

 

Today’s lesson: Emotional pain works like physical pain. When you are hurt, take time to heal and when you are better, move forward. Do not, though, take revenge on your own past and spend the rest of your life living there while pretending you are not. It is okay to acknowledge both happy and bad times in your life. As humans that did not come with instructions, we all have happy, sad, and bad times. Until we can live forever… we do not live long enough to live bitter.

 

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How To Be Happy

A friend, who has fought depression for a long time, asked me if I am really happy and how do I stay happy? 

 

Something to consider:

Happiness does not come from the desires you have met, the position you have attained, or the social graces others believe about you. There are people who follow every whim or desire but never seem happy. There are people who are in positions of power or authority, or have great wealth, but never seem happy. There are people who attend lots of social gatherings and seem to have lots of friends, but never feel happy.

Desires, Position, and Social Grace are not required for happiness. What is required is the willingness to be happy.

Happiness (or contentment, fulfillment, satisfaction, etc.) comes first from the choice to be willing to be happy. This is different from the choice to be happy. I have seen the phrase, “Choose Happiness” in many places but for some people, the basic choice is not happiness itself; it is simply being open to the idea that happiness exists and is attainable in a given moment.

I have found this to be most true in relationships. I have been in relationships where I have held to the past for too long, unwilling to let go of old hopes and desires or even old problems. The result was an inability to give my best to the relationship at hand. Suddenly, I would find issues from past relationships made their way into my current relationship. If not that, then I would simply not be able to be happy with the person I was with, even if she was a great person. She might have been everything I was looking for in a mate at the time, but still… I was not happy.

I did not know it at those times but it had nothing to do with the person I was with. I was simply not happy because I was not willing to be happy. Once I realized that, I made a choice. I chose to be willing to be happy. It was a conscious effort and I had to remind myself for months to keep being open to being happy. Eventually, I realized I was there. I was content. I was happy and had been for a while but I could not have told you where the turning point was. It was gradual, often deliberate, but it became easier until it became natural.

I am content now and have been for a long time. Beyond being willing to be happy, I have learned 3 other keys to happiness:

Gratitude. When I am not happy, it is usually because I am not grateful for what I have. I am stuck in a state of wanting something (usually something more, better, or different). If I pause and reflect on things I am grateful for (even simple things like the smell of autumn, or being able to see, or listening to my cat purr), then I will usually find something to smile about. Having a flashier car is not so big a desire when I realize many people would be happy to have a pair of warm socks and a meal today.

Humor. Life is crazy, right? Being able to roll with the ups and downs by appreciating the bizarre unpredictability of life and laughing with it makes the tough times easier to bear. Knowing I will eventually be able to look back and laugh when facing a difficult situation…sometimes that is enough to provide the strength to make it through. Laughing at myself is probably some of the best medicine I have taken. I have a lot of confidence and I can be arrogant sometimes but when I make an embarrassing mistake, rather than beat myself up I laugh with myself for not having the hubris to have seen the mistake coming in the first place. Laughing with myself also takes the tension off others who are not sure if they should laugh at a situation. Finally, being able to laugh (especially with myself) allows me to enjoy my company and appreciate both the good and rocky times of my life.

Self-Esteem. Without a high level of self-regard, both gratitude and humor become tools for self-loathing instead. Having a lot of self-esteem removes the cynicism that would otherwise befall laughing at oneself and it makes gratitude generous instead of suspicious. I think people with low self-esteem who demonstrate gratitude only share half of the sentences they are thinking. Someone with high self-esteem might say and think, “I am grateful to have a friend like you.” Someone with very low self-esteem might say, “I am grateful to have a friend like you,” but finish the thought in her mind, “…but what do you really want?”

 

Choose happiness, but first choose to be willing to be happy. Remember to have gratitude for your life, laugh with yourself during both the good and tough times, and hold yourself in high-regard by acknowledging your own greatness and the greatness of others. Perhaps most importantly, be deliberate about your happiness. As with anything, to be really good at it requires regular practice and a lot of patience. With happiness, though, half the fun is getting there!

 

 

 

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Today’s Lesson: No Cure for Cursing? [141017]

NOTE: Nearly all my posts are family friendly or, at most, PG-13 in nature, but below this sentence is a lot of foul language, in case you are easily offended or typically not expecting that from me.

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Most people know me as someone who does not like using swear words. I am not perfect yet at never using them but I try to avoid foul language, four-letter words, swearing, or whatever you might call that type of language. It is interesting to me bad language is often referred to as “cursing”. It seems fitting. Those words seem powerful (after all, we call it “dropping an F-Bomb” not “dropping an F-Butterfly”). We use them the way gypsies from legend used curses. “F*ck you!” we say, cursing someone else, sending them poison and ill intent the same way superstitious old women might have said, “I put a curse on you and your family!” and spit on the ground.

They may be watered down today but we react to curse words as if they are actual curses with potent effect… until we don’t. Little can sour your mood faster than having someone hurl a curse at you but the more they do it, the less effect it has on you. “That’s just Bob,” we say, “He shoots off at the mouth a lot, but he’s harmless…”

I believe cursing is one of the most brainless things we do.

If you really want to speak powerfully and have your words carry weight, try giving up cursing. Lazy, thoughtless language carries almost no impact over time. Curse words come too easily. We put no effort into them, except in trying to be creative by making even more watered-down curses (I mean, really, what is a “f*ck-tard”, anyway? It is an even lazier way of saying “f*cking retard” which is already meaningless since most people do not know the actual clinical definition for being mentally retarded, and, of course, it has nothing to do with intercourse).

If you truly want to speak powerfully, name the exact evil you are frustrated with. Yelling at your estranged lover, “You are a f*cking as*hole!” is does not relieve your anger and it does not help him identify the nature of what he is doing (or how he can correct it). Instead, name exactly what he is doing. It carries the weight of an anvil being dropped on his head. Plus, being specific forces you to think and see reality clearly (thus granting you power to control it). “You are a lazy, unproductive looter wasting your life on video games.” Now, THAT’s a powerful statement and it takes more work than just saying, “You lazy bastard…”

Today’s lesson is, think before you speak, say exactly what you mean, and don’t talk too much anyway. If you are listening, then you are probably not cursing.

 

 

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Today’s Lesson: Seeing Definition [141002]

I was dumbfounded by the question.

 

“I’ve been wanting to ask you this for years,” one of the senior people at my workplace said. “How do YOU define ‘Leadership”?

 

I have written and spoke about leadership for many years, developed manuals, led top-performing teams, and read countless books on the subject, but in all this time I had never developed my definition of “leadership”.

 

I stumbled through a half-answer trying not to steal any of the many definitions I have read by other authors but the question stuck with me. It is still sticking with me.

 

There are lots of pithy quotes and sanguine quips that define Leadership in memorable ways, but the more I think about it, the more I think defining leadership is like defining “romance”. It is different things to different people.

 

Indeed, there are probably as many ways to define leadership as there are leaders!

 

In the end, we settled on something like, “Leadership is impacting others through the power of relationships” but it is definitely not a keeper. I am not sure there is a perfect definition but I will work on having a pithy quotable one for the next time I am asked!

 

 

 


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Today’s Lesson: Who’s Your Buddy? [140928]

 

My boss said something last week that resonated with me today. He said his wife is his favorite drinking buddy and talked about how much fun they have together.

 

Today, as Nicole and I walked around town, she said, “I love the spending the day with you,” and we talked about how much fun we have being together.

 

I remember one of my first bosses taught me the same lesson many years ago. He asked if I was single, and, looking at an attractive young woman nearby, I quipped, “No… unfortunately.”

 

I was joking because I thought that’s what men do–you know, the “old ball and chain” and “being whipped”, and other men versus women jokes. He set me straight, though, with two simple sentences. “Huh,” he said, “I love my wife. She’s my best friend.”

 

From then, I never looked at relationships the same and, to my regret, I never told my boss about the impact he had on me and we lost touch over the years.

 

I love spending the day with Nicole and for sure, she is my best friend and favorite ally.

 

The obvious lesson here is to be with someone who adds value to your life and makes you feel good about who you are when you are together.

 

The deeper lesson, though, is to be aware of how you portray the people you love to others. Your jokes about your relationship are the reality of your relationship to people who have not met you both or do not know you both well.

 

Put another way, choose your words carefully. They create the tapestry of your life.

 


 


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