Archive for the ‘Outlook’ Category

Driving the Train

There are two types of people in this world.

People who actively steer their own destiny…

Purpose Life

…and people who essentially sit back and let life happen to them.

A few years ago when the economy went into the toilet tank and I was a brand new business owner, someone said to me:

Think of this situation like a train ride.  We’re the passengers.  We can’t control what track this train is on…or how fast it goes…but we can stick our hands out the window and grab the positive things within our reach.

I believed that….for a while.  Now, I think the person who gave me that advice attends too many Grateful Dead concerts and smokes the happy pipe of life.

There is no doubt that I was a passenger on the train of life the past few years.  Some situations, like my mom’s death and the economic climate were out of my control.  In fact, it seemed like I wasn’t in control of much at all.  After a while, the train ride in the passenger cabin took a harsh  toll.   I felt very UNcertain…UNappreciated…UNinspired…and UNmotivated.

Just before the holidays of 2011, I decided that enough was enough.  “Passenger No More!” It was time to march up to the front of that train, kick its incompetent engineer aside, and take over.  And that, my friends, was the last and final day of the UNs.

Being passive and letting life happen led to a life where my hopes and dreams were unrealized.  In fact, at some point I got off the train altogether and watched it pass by, waving goodbye from the platform.

(c) A Motvicka dreamstime.com

As a passenger, we aren’t responsible if the train runs of the track.

From the platform, we play it the safe and avoid all risk of a crash.

As the engineer, we have control. We may not be able to change tracks right away, but we can decide on our own speed, see what’s ahead of us, and make decisions about where to stop and what to pass by.  We can also insist that all dead weight be removed.

There are certainly going to be periods in our lives where we simply must buy a ticket and go along for the ride.  But, there are also times when we must take control…drive our own train…shape our own destiny…and sound the steam whistle.

 Train © A. Vörös dreamstime.com Woooh! Wooooh!

What about you – do you feel more like a passenger or a driver right now?

Time of Your Life

Eleven, Eleven, Eleven (11-11-11) has come and gone and the world didn’t end…crap!…because over at The Chameleon’s Backbone, we partied, ate, drank, and blew money like it was our last day on earth.

It was also Mr. Backbone’s birthday, so we pulled out all the stops.

We rented car service…picked up some friends….

Elite Limo Forever Friends

…and hit the town.

Every once in a while, we need to treat ourselves like the rock stars we want to be.  Until now, I’ve never picked a random (or not so random) date on the calendar and acted like I would if it was my last day alive.

Sure…serving food to the homeless might have earned me a place in heaven.  Spending my rainy day fund on some sinful gluttony happened instead. (Where’s that pamphlet I filed about going to Hell?)

Most of our evening was spent at the swanky downtown Pittsburgh restaurant, Eleven.

Eleven Menu

IMG_2710 IMG_2726

(If you ever visit Pittsburgh, the menu at Eleven is fabulous.  The food is perfectly prepared.  The wine selection is unbelievable. The atmosphere is trendy and cool.)

A thought crossed my mind on Eleven, Eleven, Eleven, at Eleven, as dessert was being served at minutes before Eleven p.m.

Salted Caramel  IMG_2744

You have no idea if you have decades to live, just a few years, or a single day.  Whatever it is that you want to do…don’t wait until tomorrow. If you think it’s over-the-top, unrealistic, or too expensive without a coupon, put those thoughts out of your mind. I’m not suggesting that you disrupt your life.  I’m suggesting that you enhance life…enjoy it…stop sitting around in your robe and slippers and waiting for a day that might never come. Minutes turn to hours…turn to days…turn to years…and then it could be too late.

If there’s an 11-11-11-11-11 moment that you’ve been waiting to make happen, don’t delay…put the wheels in motion today.

If you only had one day left, what would you do?

X & Y: The Midlife Axis

My friends and I have been engaged in some chat about what I call the Midlife Axis. 

On the X axis (across the bottom) is your age. 

On the Y axis (down the side) is the level of investment you’ve put into whatever you’re doing with your life right now (a working professional, stay-at-home parent, student, retiree, etc.). 

 Think about your own Plot of Investment.  I plotted my investment (of time, energy, emotion, education, money, etc.) as a small business owner, assuming it was zero on the day I was born.  You can do the same for your own job, your role as a mom, dad, volunteer, superman or woman, or any other role.  Mine looks like this:

By mid-life, many of us  have invested a great deal into our jobs and other positions in life.  Because we’ve invested so much, we can become scared about making a major life change (a move, a career change, a divorce, etc.).  We’re afraid to start from the bottom again.

What we forget to consider, however, is the equally important Plot of Happiness.  Do another Plot, but change the Y axis to your overall level of happiness.  Mine looks like this, assuming I was off the chart baby-high at age 0.

Next, overlay the two Plots.

If you are smack-dab in the middle of this cart and your Happiness level is below your Investment level, you might be going through a midlife evaluation period.  I am.  It seems like I’ve put a lot of extra effort into my business lately, but my level of happy has taken a nose dive.

If you’re like me, you could be wondering if all the investment you’ve put into your life position so far as been worth the effort…wondering why…after all the hard work…your happiness level is not sky-high.  Some people never have these thoughts, but many of us do. 

We feel like we’ve flat-lined and don’t know quite what to do about it. 

I’m not going to make any specific suggestions on how to handle it, because I’m a far cry from Dr. Phil.  Changing paths may be right for you, while charging ahead on the current course might be right for someone else.  My point for now is that many of us get to this stage in life.  It’s common….it’s normal…and it frequently happens after age 40. 

Whether you take baby steps or one giant leap, it’s never too late to bring your life into X/Y Axis Balance.  If you feel out of balance, then this may a perfect time to re-evaluate….to take stock in your accomplishments…and to take charge of your future.  What makes you happy?  Are you investing enough in that?

What do your plots look like?  Do you have any advice for making major, midlife decisions?

Tomorrow ends the A-Z Challenge, so don’t miss the final post!

J: Jackpot!

If you’re looking for information about a man named Jack who sells medical marijuana, you’re in the wrong place.  He probably lives in California.  I won’t be talking about that kind of Jack Pot, here.

Are you lucky when it comes to winning contests?  I’m not.  If I do win, it’s usually something that I don’t want.  For instance, I won a frozen turkey from a radio station in 1982.  It reminds me of that classic episode of Friends when…

Turkey on Head

I’ve never won the lottery, hit the Jackpot in Las Vegas, or won anything worth talking about…except the frozen turkey.  Even so, I don’t consider myself to be unlucky.

In life,  we make our own luck.  To be lucky in life, the first thing you have to do is…

place yourself in the path of opportunity

You’ll never win the contest if you don’t enter.  You’ll never land the big job if your resume isn’t in the stack.  A friend will never let you borrow his car if you don’t have any friends…or if they all travel by bike and bus.  Secondly…

stop believing that luck only happens by chance

Not so.  That’s why I never tell successful people that their success was based on luck. 

You’re so lucky to be doing good at work…to be in shape…to have a degree…to have great kids…blah, blah, blah. 

To tell someone that their achievements are based on luck is a sign of jealousy.  It also  disrespects all the hard work they put into reaching their goals.  Instead, admire them.  Emulate them.  Don’t scream and curse at the sky for not making you as lucky.  Sure, some people are better positioned than others in the game of life, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come from behind with our lucky rabbit feet and cross the finish line just as fast. 

Do you consider yourself lucky? 

Important PSA #1

Via use of the random number generator on random.org, the winner of the Glitter and Glam Giveaway is Jo from Shoveling in a Jo Storm.  Congratulations, Jo!  

Important PSA #2

I recently won a coupon code for a 2010 e-file with TurboTax from 24 7 Victoria.  I already filed my taxes and can’t use it.  So, f you procrastinated about next Monday’s tax deadline and could make use of TurboTax, leave a comment and I’ll send you the code.   The first person who asks, gets it.  U.S. residents only. 

Over the Waterfall

Last week was a tough one for me.  In fact, it was probably the most emotionally difficult week of my life…so far.  During times like these, I tend to become a bit introspective.

On most days, you see your life as water in a stream, flowing down a defined path.  You can see the channel ahead of you but you can never see its end.  As you go along, there are a few twists and turns.  There are also a few rocks.  Some rocks you flow over.  Some you flow around.  Some you pick up in your current and carry along. 

Stream 2 

At times, the water runs slow and calm.  The air around you is quiet.  You can’t see the path ahead, but that’s okay because you’ve been traveling along the same path for so long that it has become predictable.  Trees fall and you pass under them.  You trickle along.   

Stream 1

In an instant, the calm quietness gives way to a loud rumble.  You find yourself tumbling over an edge.  You can’t hang on.  You fall fast and can’t see the bottom.  Everything seems out of control.  You brace yourself for pain. 

Edge

With a fast-beating heart you reach the bottom with a loud crash.  You tumble over and over and over again, hurt and unable to catch your breath.  You feel disoriented, confused, and gasp for air.  The current carries you against your will.  The path is unfamiliar but you try to regain control.  Looking around, everything seems different and scary. You are very afraid.

Just when you think the pain and fear are too great to bear, you look behind and see beauty.  It provides a sense of peace.

Waterfall

As you move away from the tragedy and the beauty, the memories of both remain and you carry them with you down this new path. 

Sometimes the memories cause you stumble over roots…

Roots

…but most of the time the memories of those experiences are used to sprout color in the strange, new world.

Flowers

 Has any single experience changed your perspective on life?

If you liked this post, you may also like The Long View and Show and Tell.

Springing Forward

Did you remember to spring forward this weekend?  The clocks jumped ahead with just one click of the hour button.  My internal body clock didn’t adjust so easily.

When was the last time you tried to physically spring forward?  It’s been a long time, huh?  Let’s try it together right now.  Don’t just sit there…get up from your chair. 

  • Stand with your feet shoulder width apart.  Jump
  • Get into an athletic position.
  • Swing your arms back and……
  • Jump forward, landing on both feet.

Good, Lord!  That took some effort!  I didn’t get far.  Maybe a foot and a half.

It also brought back a bad memory of a long-jump disaster back in high school gym class.  I could jump a longer distance back then, but I wouldn’t exactly call myself graceful. 

Springing forward in life takes more effort than clicking a button or launching your body off the ground.  There have been a few times recently when I’ve felt stuck in place.  I needed to spring forward…but didn’t have the motivation.  This feeling of being stuck in place usually happened when I was either: (1) very unhappy and didn’t think I had the power to change it; or (2) felt content and feared making a wrong move and upsetting the apple cart. 

What I learned was…

You have the power to change your life for the better…to spring forward…no matter how good or bad you think things are…even if you think life completely…SUCKS.

If you own this book and have favorite passages underlined…

Book

…that’s okay.  Sometimes I think my life sucks too.  We all reach low points at one time or another.  The key is to not stay there.

On a scale of 1-10 of happiness, I’m at about a 6.5 right now.  I’m feeling stuck in place.  At times like these, I need to conduct a little self-examination and make a positive change.  If I can make just one, small change…then it tends to build momentum.  Are you also feeling stuck?  If you don’t give your life a 10+ on the happiness scale, then I invite you to join me…to self-reflect…to identify one small, realistic change that you can do to make your life (or someone else’s) a little better and suck a little less. 

Don’t set yourself up to fail.  Pick something that you think is possible to achieve.  If you can’t think of anything, then just keep doing long jumps until it comes to you.  At some point, the pain will give way to a great idea. 

I’ve been thinking about the following question for a long time, and could use your help to answer it. 

What kinds of things do you think we can change about ourselves…and what can’t we?

If you liked this post, you may also like An Espresso and $1.23.

Notes on Sunny Days

notes

Last week I walked into the bedroom of my favorite 7-year-old and saw this…

Let’s look a little closer…

I almost couldn’t believe it.  She had posted positive messaging in her own pen and art all over the wall. 

I thought about how many times I wake up in the mornings, turn on the news, and start the day with negatives. 

I thought about all the times I’ve gone to sleep at night with not much more on my mind than the stresses and anxieties that will be waiting for me the next day.  

I thought about how often I can get so down on myself, wondering why I am not better, smarter, funnier, or more outgoing than I am. 

Then, I thought about how great it would be instead to begin and end each day with positives…something that isn’t all that easy to do in my mid-life years. 

I asked my favorite 7-year-old to help me make some notes for my own room.  I wrote the messages.  She drew the art.  I know that there is no possible way that she could understand the profound impact that her young, creative mind has had on my daily outlook over the past few days.  I plan on saving the notes we created together and telling her about it one day, at least a decade from now.  I will tell her how she, as a young girl, helped me to pump up the positive.

If you could write one positive message to yourself, what would it say?

on sunny days

After the messaging creation was complete and long past 7-year-old bedtime, I walked down the hall, passing her room.  Something else caught my eye…another note.  This one was taped on the outside of her door.  Was it?  Is it?  Could it be?  Yes, yes it was.  I think we have a future blog-star on our hands.

On Sunny Days

On sunny days I sit and play.

I run.  I jump.  I wait for tomorrow.

And some days I say to myself, “what a wonderful day.”

Do you ever wait to do things?

If you liked this post, you may also like Taking a Compliment.

Swimming in Snow

It seems like every news reporter in America is obsessed with the recent snowstorms along the East Coast. 

 

Newsflash:  It’s winter.  There’s snow.

The much more important news came in my mailbox.  Hold onto your snowboots, because the Victoria’s Secret 2011 swimwear line is now for sale…

 

Okay, I know that the chemistry of snow is H2O, but I’m not going swimming in it.

Shopping for swimsuits in the dead of winter seems odd to me, for several reasons…

First up is the extra layer around my middle that started to take form sometime during the holiday cookie-baking and candy-making season.  Remember Twas the Week Before Christmas?  The cookies are gone, but the aftermath remains.   

Also, a bikini, tankini, or one-piece of any color (Pink Leopard, Cobalt Paisley, Neon Coral Zebra…) aint gonna be flattering on my winter white, tan-long-gone skin tone.

But, the more I thought about it, ordering swimwear in January might just lift my mood. Knowing that the suit would be in my closet waiting for its first ray of sunshine would keep me looking forward. 

So, I did it.  I logged into cyber-shopping and did the unthinkable.  In 7-10 short days, the bandeau top with skirted bottom will arrive on my doorstep…in turquoise blue.

Research says that having things to look forward to is good for the psyche.  If those things in your life seem a little too far out of reach, do something to make them feel closer.  They don’t need to seem as unrealistic as swimming in snow. 

  • If you’ll be seeing someone, hang up their picture.
  • If you’re going on vacation, browse through the travel brochure.
  • If you want to reach a goal, write it down and post it in a highly visible place.
  • Or, if you are Mr. Backbone, put your golf clubs in the middle of the bedroom floor for your wife to trip over and AGHHH!

A simple question today…

What are you looking forward to?

Have a great weekend everyone!  If you liked this post you may also like Now is Not Forever and Picture Your Future Self.

How to Park a Body

This post was supposed to be about exercise.  But it isn’t…and this is why…

I was at the gym today, totally minding my own business.

 

When I overheard this…

Tall Man:  So, after I pick up a body and it’s my lunch hour, can I stop for lunch?

Short Man:  It depends.  Where and for how long?

Tall Man:  Lunch is from 12 – 1 and there’s this diner I like.  So, about an hour.

Short Man:  No, they usually don’t like us to do that.

Tall Man:  Humph.  Well, is it okay if I just run inside somewhere and pick up something to eat?  Like for 10 minutes or so?

Short Man:  Ya, that’s usually okay.

Tall Man:  Okay, so when I do that, where should I park?  I mean, can I just park in a regular space?

When I die, please do not send that man to pick me up.  The mere possibility that the driver of my dead body could be enjoying a Super Value Meal while my body is decomposing lying peacefully in the back seat just creeps me out.

I don’t usually think about my own mortality.   But, overhearing Tall Man getting advice from his coworker about where to park a body during lunch got my mind churning.

According to the experts, now that I’ve turned 40 and entered the mid-life years, I’ll be starting to think about my own mortality more often.  Maybe I will.  Maybe I won’t.  I have a pretty strong belief in my personal answer to the question of what happens after death?, so I’m not afraid of it.  But what I am starting to think about is all of the things that I’ve yet to do…to experience…to accomplish. 

No matter what our ages, most of us are striving to live rich and satisfying lives by our own definitions.  With simple things like laughter…spontaneity…and knowing that inner beauty deepens with age…I have no fears about getting older.  My next birthday is coming at the same pace as yours.  And I’m ready to kick my age in the…

If  you want to go deep:  What does it mean to live a rich and satisfying life? 

If you want to go shallow:  Do you think body-drivers should stop for lunch when they have cargo on board?

Share your thoughts in the Comments section above. 

I hope your week is off to a lively start!

If you liked this post, you may also like An Espresso and $1.23.

It’s Okay to Step Back

Have you ever smashed your face against a mirror and tried to look at yourself?  If you haven’t, then you’re just gonna have to trust me when I say…you can’t see much more than a huge noise and one giant eye.  It’s kinda creepy.

Or, have you ever looked through the peephole of a hotel door?  Ya know, like when you don’t believe that the 8AM tap tap tap and “Housekeeping!”  scream could possibly be legit.  Also creepy.  The only thing you can see through those peepholes are huge heads and stick-figure bodies.  

When you get too close to something or look out through a tiny hole, it’s hard to see clearly.  I know.  It happened to me.  Not with a mirror.  Or a peephole.  It happened with life.  For nearly a year, I looked at the world like this….

There was something right in front of me…forcing my eyes to look through a tiny distorted opening.  My view was constrained.  I wasn’t seeing life’s totality.  Whatever the something was…it was too close. 

Then, I took a step back.  That one step was a difficult one to take, but it allowed the something to be identified.  Whew!  Metaphorically let’s call it a leaf.  Practically, let’s call it an issue, a problem, a situation, or a crisis.  My something was the Grave Truth that I talked about in the post tiled Graves and Phantoms.  My mom’s illness.

Once I identified the something that was constraining my view, happiness was sure to instantaneously return.  Wasn’t it?  Unfortunately, it didn’t.  Seeing through it, around it, or past it wasn’t easy.  The something was finally clear, but everything else became a blur.  Ugh! 

Recently, I took another step back.  This time I had the help of friends and family to give me a backwards shove.  The something (my mom’s illness) was still directly in front of me, but I could now see clearly around its edges to the world beyond. 

Then…it happened.  I took a giant step back.  The something is still there.  My mom is still sick.  Her care is still very important.  But, it is no longer constraining, altering, or totally blocking my view.  In fact, I can finally see how the something is contributing to the beauty that surrounds it.  My family is closer than we have ever been.  I’ve witnessed levels of compassion that I didn’t know were possible.  Life is valued as precious gift…and I better get out there and make the most of it.

If there is an issue, problem, crisis, or situation in your life that you need to take a step back from, it’s okay to do so.  I’m not saying to step away.  I’m suggesting that you step back.  There’s a big difference between stepping away and stepping back.  If you don’t allow yourself to step back, it will be impossible to see life clearly and put your something into context.  

Was there ever a time when you needed to step back from something in order to appreciate its beauty in your life?  Did you?  What was the result? 

If you liked this post, you may also like The Long View.

So, the answer to Wednesday’s Brain Strain question is:  Leaves on the ground, looking through the hole of a leaf.

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