This year will be one for the history books. We’ve all encountered unique individual adversity throughout our lives but this was one of the first times in my life I felt a kindred connection to suffering with all humanity through this widespread pandemic.
In times of suffering we have but two choices.
WILL WE ACT OR BE ACTED UPON?
Many are suffering greatly whether it is with their health, their livelihoods, or their sanity. I was fortunate to only have my sanity tried at times. To combat this I choose one of the two choices.
Like Gloria Gaynor, I choose…”I Will Survive!”
“But, not only do I choose to survive, I choose to THRIVE.”
The “Greats” (you know those people that seem to have the Midas touch) aren’t great because they sit back and wait for luck to fall in their laps—that doesn’t happen by the way. The Greats are great because they take advantage of opportunities—all opportunities. The good times and the bad times.
George Valliant, Harvard Psychologist and an author of one of the most comprehensive, longitudinal studies in human history found from his research that one of the tenements to living a fulfilling life is how you react to challenges. He says it’s the “capacity to make gold out of shit”. (To read more about this amazing study click HERE.)
This is what “The Greats” think, “How can we use this opportunity during the lock-down to our advantage?” What are all the things you’ve been wanting to do and learn but never had the “time” for? —Or let’s be honest, the COURAGE for.
“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it.”Charles r. swindoll
HERE’S WHAT I LEARNED THIS YEAR TO HELP ME DO BETTER
WE NEED MORE
We need more. Not more things, not more accomplishments, not more money (although I’d be pretty stoked if I did have more money—momma wants a swimming pool:).
What we need is more out of life. We need to live life intentionally—to live it well. Don’t idley float down the river. Make every stop on the way meaningful— learn, stretch, grow, from every experience, every encounter. Really see and feel the beauty of life.
Be a contributor—add value. MAKE IT BETTER. We all have talents. Use them to add value to your life, to your children’s lives, to your friends, your community, to humanity. Make your mark—the world needs you!
Practicing mindfulness teaches us how to live in reality. We will not be defined by the stories we conjure up in our brains. We can control what we think and how we see the world. With mindfulness we can gain emotion control over our lives. The marvelous plasticity of our brain can learn new and better ways to live life. We can teach our children how to own their lives by having control over the way they interpret the world around them in a healthy and constructive way.
A Few of my Favorite References:
- Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach
- Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl
- Seccularbuddhism.com (The first 5 podcast are my favorite)
- All of Shefali Tsababry books
Success is only defined by me. Too often people are a slave to another’s definition. It is completely unhealthy (and counterproductive) to compare yourself to an external standard. True success means living out your unique life’s purpose. True success is being proud of who you are, what you stand for, and being 100% comfortable in your own skin. It’s living your life entrenched in what you were born to do—living with purpose.
Taking that a step further, success for my children is defined in exactly the same way. I cannot define success for them. My role as their parent is not to tell them they HAVE to go to college (although I hope they do), that they HAVE to be in a certain profession, and that they HAVE to be all that defines success to me. My only role as a parent is to love them unconditionally, prepare them to contribute to society—to be a kind and hardworking human, and to INSPIRE them (mostly through my example) that they can be and do whatever fulfills them in life.
“The two best days of your life are the day you were born and the day you learned why.”MARK TWAIN
Success is NOT A DESTINATION.
I can feel joy daily—not once I get to some level of accomplishment. Live your life each day knowing that whatever came up you approached it well, you gave your best efforts, you gave love, you listened, you learned, you helped when you were needed. You moved the needle one tick closer to your goal. I love when I get home from a long day and flop onto the couch knowing I gave my best self today, exhausted from a day well spent!
Maria Papova writes the following:
Presence is far more intricate and rewarding an art than productivity. Ours is a culture that measures our worth as human beings by our efficiency, our earnings, our ability to perform this or that. The cult of productivity has its place, but worshipping at its altar daily robs us of the very capacity for joy and wonder that makes life worth living — for, as Annie Dillard memorably put it, “how we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
A Few of my Favorite References:
- This short film. Watch It! I was in tears https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kQjtK32mGJQ&ab_channel=PepeSchoolLand-
- Maria Papova’s Blog: https://www.brainpickings.org/
- Tara Brach’s book Radical Acceptance
GRAY IS MY FAVORITE COLOR
I was taught to see all things as black or white— good or bad. This is formally called dichotomous thinking. I’m regretful for having lived a lot of my life this way. I missed out on so much beauty. I didn’t nourish so many relationships that could have added so much joy and depth to my life because of it.
Absolutes rarely exist in our universe, and evaluating ourselves according to absolute categories or criteria is unrealistic because life simply does not work that way.
As conscious beings we are always interpreting the world around us, trying to make sense of what is happening. Sometimes our brains take ‘short cuts’ and generate results that are not completely accurate. Different cognitive shortcuts, like dichotomous thinking, result in different kinds of bias or distortions in our thinking. Sometimes we might jump to the worst possible conclusion, at other times we might blame ourselves for things that are not our fault.
Cognitive distortions happen automatically – we don’t mean to think inaccurately – but unless we learn to notice them they can have powerful yet invisible effects upon our moods and our lives.
A Few of my Favorite References:
- Podcast: You are not so Smart
This was the most impactful thing I learned this year. WE LEARN BY DOING! Starting is the best way to do anything. Not—having it all figured out and perfect before we can take that first step. Mistakes are expected and crucial to the process. Embrace mistakes because they bring clarity and clarity helps you move forward.
“It is important that you get clear for yourself that your only access to impacting life is action. The world does not care what you intend, how committed you are, how you feel, or what you think, and certainly, it has no interest in what you want and don’t want. Take a look at life as it is lived and see for yourself that the world only moves for you when you act.”Werner Erhart
JOY AND PAIN CAN COEXIST
The following is written by Maria Papova:
Choose joy. Choose it like a child chooses the shoe to put on the right foot, the crayon to paint a sky. Choose it at first consciously, effortfully, pressing against the weight of a world heavy with reasons for sorrow, restless with need for action. Feel the sorrow, take the action, but keep pressing the weight of joy against it all, until it becomes mindless, automated, like gravity pulling the stream down its course; until it becomes an inner law of nature. If Viktor Frankl can exclaim “yes to life, in spite of everything!” — and what an everything he lived through — then so can any one of us amid the rubble of our plans, so trifling by comparison. Joy is not a function of a life free of friction and frustration, but a function of focus — an inner elevation by the fulcrum of choice. So often, it is a matter of attending to what Hermann Hesse called, as the world was about to come unworlded by its first global war, “the little joys”; so often, those are the slender threads of which we weave the lifeline that saves us.
A Few of my Favorite References:
- Maria Papova’s blog: https://www.brainpickings.org/
EVERYONE HAS A STORY
The more I write and research and learn how to get better at doing so, I have loved the connection it gives me to other writers learning and starting to do the same.
I am so overcome with love for humanity and for the human experience when I read another’s story, someone I DON’T EVEN KNOW. But I don’t have to know them, because I know them through their words.
I SEE them and I FEEL them. I am rooting for them. More than anything I want them to know that.
I want to thank them for sharing their struggle and their growth. My favorite novels are so because they do this. They leave me in tears. They’re not always sad tears. But I love the tears because the tears mean I felt something. I was moved. My heart was bursting with love for this new friend. They don’t know they’re my friend. But I sure do. I’m so grateful for my people’s story.
“It is experience which shapes a language; and it is language which controls an experience.”James Baldwin
“Word-work is sublime … because it is generative; it makes meaning that secures our difference, our human difference — the way in which we are like no other life. We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.”Toni Morrison
You have a story. You need to share it. I need to hear it. We all need to hear it.
Character comes when people change and grow. Character is connecting and loving others—people we don’t even know.
Boston Rob, yes from the show Survivor is making my list. Super random and kinda weird, but who’s to say what’s weird anymore. COVID has changed what we thought was normal, for good. My family bonded big time over this show during our downtime over the holidays. I don’t know much about Boston Rob other than he’s known as a conniving “villian” on the show. In the season I watched, Season 22, it was his 3rd time being on the show so he had already built up a reputation, not only just a villain but also as a great strategist. He had repeatedly survived to the “final three” (the coveted position where they pick a final winner for a million dollars).
What I ended up loving about his “game”—his strategy, is that he played the game to win it and he did it well. He did it intelligently, and intentionally. His desire to win was so strong that you could see it in his every action. He acted on his desire! That’s big because a lot of people have the desire but they lack the crucial ingredient of action.
Character is gained through a life well-lived. It’s gained by having been knocked down but getting right back up to hopefully throw another punch. OR sometimes to take another beating (I’m thinking of Rocky Balboa in his fight against Ivan Drago right now). Will you keep getting up, reinventing yourself, learning from your past mistakes, refining your process, saying your sorry, digging deep…and will you simply just not give up?
Rob learned from his previous attempts at winning the game and played differently—he played better. He “read the room”. He got to know his competition and learned how best to work with them, and then how to better outlast them. I respected his game and was rooting for him. I wanted him to win.
But none of this is why I’m writing about Rob’s display of character today. It wasn’t until after they announced the winner that I really saw the depth of his character. During the show, one of the contestants was really socially awkward and annoyed everyone. Everyone on the show treated him poorly, they degraded him and made him not only feel small but also stupid, worthless, and insignificant. I too got why they were so annoyed. Then Rob was asked by the host, “Why did you keep Phillip for so long? Everyone wanted him out and couldn’t stand living with him anymore.” It was obvious that keeping Phillip was a strategic move and Rob knew he would be chosen over Phillip—Rob was very transparent. He was there to win. I’m paraphrasing, but this is what Rob said:
“Phillip comes from a family of 12 children. Have any of you thought what that might feel like—having to constantly beg for attention and love? All Phillip wanted was to be listened to. Phillip didn’t annoy me like the rest of you because I got to know him. I listened to him. If you just would have taken the time to hear him out, let him tell his stories, then you might have gotten to know him, to see him differently. Maybe then you wouldn’t have felt him as a thorn in your side. Isn’t that just what WE ALL want—to be heard and seen?
I was in tears.
Rob taught me that Character is demonstrated through people we might least suspect. It comes with growth, with change, with struggle, with taking the time to see people. He took the time! He won a million dollars because of his emotional intelligence. He won a million dollars for having character.
A Few of my Favorite References:
- The Road to Character by David Brooks
- Tim Ferriss Podcast #490 guest Dr. Jim Loehr
EXPECTATIONS ARE THE THIEF OF JOY
It makes sense to expect the sun to rise, it always does. It makes sense that my morning run will leave me sweaty and tired. These results are consistent and have proven themselves every day, over many years.
But what about when I expect my kids to do their chores? The list is on the kitchen counter every morning ready for them to read and follow. Unfortunately my expectations are rarely met without at least a few “come on guys, get to your chores”. When the few turns into ten my blood starts to boil and joy has now left the room. Mamma is mad.
“Expectations are premeditated resentments.”
FIRST, merely expecting something to happen will not make it happen.
SECOND, human beings have a natural tendency to pin their hopes for happiness on fulfilled expectations.
The problem with expectations is what occurs when we expect something to happen without good reasons for that expectation. If I believe that my expectations alone will bring me what I want, I am using delusional thinking and setting myself up for disappointment.
Research in moral psychology shows that expectations among people are often based on an implicit social contract. That is, without actually verbalizing expectations about give-and-take in a relationship, people construct stories in their heads about legitimate expectations of each other. So, people in a relationship have a “deal” in which the specifics of the deal are never really talked about. It is hard for someone to live up to your expectations when they don’t know what they are, but you still might see this failure as a violation of your social contract.
This reminds me of the fighting scene from the movie The BreakUp where Jennifer Aniston says to Vince Vaughn, “I want you to WANT to do the dishes”. This is a classic scenario of expecting someone to KNOW what you want.
This year has taught me to separate my joy from my expectations. Here are a few examples:
- I want my kids to do their chores, Instead of expecting that they do them and having to go through the daily cajoling (who am I kidding, the daily yelling), I should have realistic expectations. I know my kids don’t want to do their chores—I’m dreading them too. Now I set a “healthier” expectation. I know they’re going to complain but I don’t let this derail me. I write the list, I give them ample time to complete them, and if they don’t complete them they miss out on the earned rewards, (playing with friends, TV and electronics, dessert). It’s their choice and the chores might not get done. But, let me tell you, they always do but maybe not how I expected—on my terms.
- I love my friends but they don’t need to be my “perfect friend” —remember there’s no such thing. Love all your friends based on what makes them special. Maybe Barbra is a great listener, and Gretchen is super fun and loves to go dancing. If I need someone to open up to then Barb’s my gal.
- This is also true for my partner. If I know that my husband is really distracted when he gets home from work, then this isn’t the best time to “unload” on him. I’m setting my expectations up for failure if I am expecting anything different from him than not being a good person to talk to at this moment.
- I love meditation for this reason: use this time to set your intentions for the day. BUT set yourself up for success. Maybe you have a large to-do list or are planning on having a tough conversation with a coworker. You might have “a perfect plan” but setting up a realistic expectation will not leave you unsatisfied. Your coworker might not agree with your idea and that’s OK but having the conversation will at least help you to move forward and can get you a little closer to your goals, which is still progress. I might not get all 5 things completed on my to-do list but I am still content because I made space in my day for unforeseen events (my car might break down, the sitter might be late, they might be out of the product I went to purchase). These mishaps are all par for the course. Don’t let them derail your mood. They’re not under your control.
I hope that this list of a few of the things I learned to take advantage of adversity inspires you to make “gold out of your shit.” Good Luck! Remember that 2021 will bring new adversity. Unfortunately, we can’t avoid it so instead learn to THRIVE through it!
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