Tuesday, May 31, 2011

A Life Worth Watching

It saddens me to see advertisements for so-called reality television shows. In thirty second commercials we're promised some verbal assault or even worse, a physical altercation. It’s upsetting not only because someone decided that we would be intrigued by belligerence, but mostly because ratings prove that it’s true. When shows promise us a confrontation, we tune in excitedly and in record numbers. I’m not here to launch a campaign against reality television, but I do hope that we aren’t teaching the children in our lives that being rude is worthy of imitation. I hope that we are not promoting a lifestyle of selfishness and a lack of control under the guise of “keeping it real” because in reality all this behavior is doing is keeping it real ridiculous.

History dictated that certain groups of people (women and minorities) were forced to demand respect and give themselves a voice, but along the way, society has shifted entirely too far. Now, American culture celebrates anyone who stands up to everybody and acts as if that's strength. While I’m not advocating that anyone become a doormat, we need to establish what real strength is. It takes more strength to engage in an intelligent conversation than it does to spew out insults and expletives. It takes more strength to walk away than to be taken away. It takes more strength to be kind than it does to be careless.

As you go through your daily routine I challenge you to consider how you engage with others. Do you allow people to easily push you from your center? Do you exercise the same amount of patience that you expect others to give to you? Have you ever considered that the person you were all too happy to give a piece of your mind just lost a loved one or was recently given a life-altering diagnosis? Next time someone does or says something that threatens your inner-reality TV star to come blazing, consider whether you are living a life really worth watching.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

What's Your Motivation?

At some point you heard about the claim that the world would begin to end on May 21. Some completely ignored it. Others mocked it. Some didn’t take it seriously, but said an extra prayer just in case. Others actually made changes to their lives in preparation. No matter how you interpreted this weekend's reports, I'm sure at some point you've considered what you would do if you knew you only had a day left to live. Over the weekend, I viewed reactions to this question and the answers were as varied as you can imagine. People said everything from getting drunk or high, making amends with others, and even making amends with God. Wherever you stand on the spectrum, I'd encourage you to ask yourself whether you are motivated by death or by life.

If you took a moment to reflect on how you would spend your last twenty-four hours and your answer was drastically different from your normal activities you may want to consider how you are living. It really shouldn't take something as drastic as the thought of the world ending or something as final as death for you to heal a broken relationship, forgive someone, try something new, listen inwardly, spend more time with family, or be grateful for what you have and who you are. Shouldn't living—not the potential absence of it—inspire you more? Shouldn't the thought of having ten, twenty, thirty, and maybe even forty more years of life be a bigger source of motivation than the inevitability of a final few hours? Why spend your perceived last twenty-four hours living a life that you could live for the next twenty-four years?

If you want a more meaningful relationship with your spouse or children, take the steps necessary to initiate that process. If you want to reconcile a broken relationship with a family member or an old friend write that letter, send that email, or make that phone call. If you want your life to have more purpose, seek out opportunities to give more of yourself. If you want a better spiritual life become active in practicing spirituality. If there's any area of your life that you'd like to improve start that improvement today. Don't wait for disaster, natural or otherwise, to be motivated to live. The world hasn't ended. You still have time. Don't wait for an impending end to motivate you more than the miracle of life.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Holding Pattern

I took my first graduate school course in July 2009. When I started, I was very enthusiastic about my future. I was writing creatively and looking forward to obtaining a master’s degree. As school began to take precedence in my life, the things I loved—traveling, spending time with family and friends, and writing creatively—took a back seat. As a result, my life became unfamiliar to me. As I went through the process of obtaining my degree, I felt as if I was in a holding pattern and suddenly, that fire I had about my future started to fade. It went from a blazing, excited, rambunctious inferno, to a neatly contained simmer. I began to wonder what happened to me. I am now one class and a thesis approval away from completing my degree and that slow simmer has been turned up significantly.

What happened to me along the way is my big picture goal got lost in the shuffle of all of those papers I had to write and all the books I had to read. If you find yourself pursuing a necessary and desired long-term goal, there will be times when all you can see are small and seemingly insignificant pieces of the puzzle. Keep pushing. There will be days when you wonder if you are making any progress. Persevere. There might even be moments when you question whether that long-term goal—like graduate school—is taking you on a detour from your larger purpose.  Fight through that uncertainty. 

As I look back over the last two years I realize a few things. One, two years is not that long. I’m nearly finished with my program and now I wonder where the time went. Two, what I learned about reading has helped me not only become a more critical reader, but a much more aware writer as well. Three, what I discovered about myself during those two years will be vital to my professional and personal future. I might not have felt that fire burning as significantly while I was going through the process, but now that I’m coming out on the other side, it is so back on! Push, pull, force yourself through that holding pattern. Do whatever you have to do to rekindle that fire you have for your life. It’s a great feeling and it is so worth it.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Who You Are

Maya Angelou once said, “When people show you who they are believe them.” I typically think of this quote when trying to manage the expectations I have for others. This week, though, Angelou’s words took on a twist. I realized that my behavior also shows who I am and I should believe that as well.

There are several characteristics that we know we have and it is the combination of those characteristics that make us unique. For instance, I know that I enjoy solitude, I love to travel, and I am attracted to intellect and kindness. As a result, my life reflects my preferences. I actively make time for me to be in my own space. I have made traveling a priority and not simply a wish-list. I invest in relationships that mentally and emotionally provide a connection and growth potential. My choices are deliberate because I know who I am.

Some aspects of my character require me to make difficult choices. One has been my decision not to ingest negativity. I do not desire to be in the company of those who bring tension, constant complaints, and refuse to make progress. This decision has dictated that I back away from certain conversations and people. It’s not always easy, but it is necessary. This week I questioned if I was being too harsh until I considered Angelou’s quote. Not only should I believe others when they show me who they are, but I should also believe myself. I made a decision regarding negativity. My actions indicate that my decision is important to me. Refusing to consume negativity is a part of who I am.

What characteristics do you have? What have you done to embrace those traits and make them part of your lifestyle? Remember, your actions show others who you are. More importantly, though, your actions indicate who you are to someone far more significant. You.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Free Your Truth

All of us have had to live with at least one situation that has threatened to break us. It could have been a death, a divorce, an illness, being abandoned by a parent, a physical challenge, physical or sexual abuse, and the list goes on. We have all been shaken by a truth that is harsh, painful, and led us to doubt if we had the strength to endure. The important thing to ask ourselves is how we are living with that truth.

I’ve met quite a few people coping with their truth by refusing to cope. Some cover truth in a cloak of anger or sadness. Others push their truth in a corner and busy themselves with work, their children, or church activities. There are some who are so disturbed by their truth that they reject it. All of these “coping” mechanisms are temporary and will ultimately be met with demise. Truth is not meant to be concealed. That’s why lives are so negatively impacted when people deceive themselves and others. Health issues arise. Bad decisions are made. Relationships suffer. Our truth, as complicated and painful as it may be, is an extension of who we are and when we stifle our truth, we really stifle ourselves.

I am not at all suggesting that the world needs to know what your truth is, but you do. You need to know your truth, acknowledge it, and if it’s something that can and needs to be altered, put in the work to make that happen. If your truth is something a bit more absolute (someone has died, you are dealing with a past trauma, etc.), you still need to acknowledge it in order for you to work—and yes, it is work—through the emotions associated with it. To acknowledge it is not the same as to lie down and take it or to let it rule over you. To acknowledge your truth is to tell yourself, “Yes, this happened, but…” or “Yes, that occurred, and I felt ______, but…” You are the one who can conclude that sentence. You determine the direction your life takes. You decide how much that truth impacts your life. Don’t cover it. Don’t push it in a corner or under a rug. Set your truth free and in turn, you’ll be free.