Something to learn

“If only there were one answer, one solution, and all could benefit from its wisdom.”

My previous article evaluated the advantages of always remaining vigilant about life’s lessons. It’s a personal goal of mine to experience at least one on a daily basis. While I never pressure or force myself to make them happen, I do remain observant and watchful. Most days they are subtle, but the momentous ones are memorable and life changing.

Ultimately, it has developed into a habit. There is no written record of sorts; however, undoubtedly I’ve written about many in the past. There’s no reward, nor a reprimand if it doesn’t happen. It’s woven into the fabric of my daily life. Since my purpose in life is to help others on their journeys of emotional healing, I equate these life-lessons to exercises which are necessary to keep me in tiptop shape.

It has been said that for many life coaches and mental health counselors, they’ve had their own transformative experiences which compelled them to follow this path. That is definitely true in my case. I recall three days after one of my biggest life lessons – the one which I refer to as “My Independence Day” – I recall thinking, “I wish everyone could have this exact same experience.” Little did I realize at the time it would become my direction, objective, and profession.

Fortunately, writing has been a joy and a passion for most of my life. During the first 2-1/2 years of therapy journaling was nearly a daily mission. 6 months after my Independence Day, I began to blog; and a year later, the ideas for my first book were outlined. Constantly being encouraged and inspired by my therapist, the outline migrated from my head to a Word document. On January 1st, 2015, one of my first-ever New Year’s resolutions was to complete the book by year’s end. The following Christmas Day, that goal was completed, and in August of 2016, the first printed copies arrived.

The book was certainly a labor of love because most days began around 3 or 4 am. My day job kept me busy and during the week, it was the best time to sort out my thoughts. Fortunately, I enjoyed writing at that time. There is something compelling about that hour. The darkness and calmness offered a tranquility which only enhanced the experience.

One of the ways which helped me succeed was my therapist allowing me to email him daily what I had written. Truly, I do not know if he read all of them but I didn’t want to let him down. Somedays were spent rewriting what was written the previous day and others were fruitful, only stopping when it was time to get ready for work.

This past week, my second book was published. Thankfully, the man who encouraged me to write the first one is now a coauthor on this one. He graciously writes in the Foreword about it being a “privilege” but I can assure you my gratitude exceeded description the moment he first agreed.

When I decided to shift my life’s purpose in this direction, my excitement was only outweighed by my zeal. Even now, looking back at that exhilaration, the words to describe it continue to elude me. I would talk to anyone about my story and there were several occasions I met someone during my day job and ended up speaking to them about my transformation.

But the lesson I was going to learn amongst all this passion and enthusiasm would soon come to fruition.

My own awakening came when I understood how shame influenced and controlled my life in many devastating and unseen ways. Consequently, this is my primary focus when helping others. Because it was incredibly apparent in my own life, I presumed it was the same for everyone else. Even meeting new connections online, there was no hesitation to talk about shame and how it may have impacted their lives.

Needless to say, some did not appreciate my blanket speculations and were happy to disconnect from me entirely. At first, I felt bad for them but soon realized it was both audacious and rude on my part.

As someone who’s dedicated to helping others, this was disappointing. However, it did teach me a very important lesson. No matter how passionate I am, no matter how many I may captivate with written or spoken words, no matter how many I may help, I cannot help everyone.

No doubt countless others have had transformative experiences and like me, wished the same for others. Mine does not take precedence over theirs. It will always remain unforgettable, but in order for it to be beneficial, it must be applied wisely.

This lesson will never slow my passion and intentions. I will always be ready to speak with anyone on the subjects of shame and emotional healing. What it has done is given me discretion; and oddly, a different kind of compassion that in my zeal, I was not able to offer.

What’s important is that people wanting help are given the needed assistance. What’s important is that others achieve the emotional stability and mindset to live a fulfilled life. As much as I’d love to be the one to provide it, it’s not imperative that I be the only one to whom they turn.

As I’ve stated in dozens of my articles, everyone’s journey is unique. My experiences may not relate to the kind of support and comfort they require. And besides, I’ve had the privilege of meeting dozens of other coaches and therapists, and being open to their ideas and methods have offered insights on how I can become more effective.

In the past, I’ve wondered why there wasn’t one direction, one resolution to find life’s hidden answers to living a happier and more effective life. Now I understand why there is not. Otherwise, I will not have had opportunities for even more growth than I believed was ever possible.

My thanks to Cassie Matias on Unsplash for the beautiful photo and I look forward to your comments.

Lesson number 1

Photo by Devin Lyster on Unsplash

“I am always ready to learn although I do not always like being taught.”

Winston Churchill

From the moment our eyes open from a night of sleep, it doesn’t take long to find some situation ready to teach us a lesson. Whether it be a trivial change or monumental shift, life at times, unfolds as a string of one learning moment after another.

This isn’t necessarily an indication you’re in any sort of trouble, but rather more of the way one perceives life. If the focus is on what can be done to improve on one’s circumstances then whatever misstep occurred will be identified as a lesson.

An expression receiving lots of attention nowadays is: “there are no mistakes in life only lessons” and while this is a very positive outlook, I don’t always subscribe to the notion that there are no mistakes. They happen all the time.

Each morning, I use a French press to brew my coffee. After the water has boiled, only enough to cover the grounds is added to the glass container. After a minute or two, the grounds swell to their maximum potential and the rest of the water is added. However, there have been plenty of times when I’ve neglected to add the water until the total time has nearly elapsed. This is a mistake. Nothing which if not remedied will cause great havoc, and my typical reaction is to laugh when this occurs. I could set two timers but it’s truly not that important. The day will continue as planned.

When it comes to the important lessons, a much different approach is considered. On a daily basis, my goal is to experience some situation which sheds light on an aspect of personal growth. Sometimes it is insignificant and other occasions, life changers. Interestingly, the little realizations can be as difficult to acknowledge as the huge awakenings.

In order to become greater at anything we do, being cognizant of these learning experiences is something we must be determined to be aware of.

At times, these situations continue for a long period. Perhaps we may have erroneously believed it was conquered, only to discover the real meaning was never fully understood – causing us to repeat the mistake. In these kinds of circumstances, it typically denotes there was some aspect we didn’t entirely understand, or never truly believed we needed to grasp. This is precisely why it’s imperative to do our best to identify and completely scrutinize everything about the situation.

The lessons we cannot see are the ones most difficult to overcome.

How does one overcome something which is not or cannot be seen? One beneficial way is to have a friend, confidant, or partner who cares about you and will point these things out for your own edification. Rightfully so, it also builds and strengthens that relationship.

If there is one expression which at times is misunderstood, it’s that others’ opinions don’t matter. In general, people’s attitudes about you shouldn’t have too great a bearing on how you view yourself. However, viewpoints of friends, close acquaintances, and partners ought to have some influence in your life. Caring companions make a huge difference in our personal growth and in creating stronger relationships.

Having reliable people around us who are willing to point out these faults, errors, or mistakes is beneficial in learning lessons. Depending on the kind of issue, it can be extremely difficult to tell a friend or partner about a problem and if not for their intervention, it may never come to light and be fully addressed.

Acknowledging our own faults or shortcomings is one of the most difficult challenges for many. Perhaps many of us have a friend, co-worker or someone we know who has an obvious flaw which that person (or persons) is not able to see. It could be an obnoxious habit or frequently repeated mannerism which makes you cringe each time it happens. Although it is blatantly obvious, it remains completely unseen to that individual. Now ask yourself, “has anyone ever thought that about me”?

The most difficult part of learning any lesson is admitting there is a problem. Particularly those matters which point out flaws in our personalities or ways of thinking. Looking into the proverbial mirror and acknowledging there is something wrong is daunting. It takes courage. Nevertheless, it’s the first step toward change.

Listening to those you trust or even those with more knowledge, experience, or wisdom is another way of becoming aware a change is in order. It’s impossible to be an expert at everything. People who are at the top in their areas of expertise also have counselors, advisors, or other specialists helping them to improve. It’s not a wise investment to have people around you only to tell you what a remarkably perfect job you’ve been doing. Anyone requiring that kind of a validation most likely is highly deficient in self-esteem.

Although there are lessons we can enjoy, everything doesn’t need to be a learning experience. Sometimes it’s best to simply relax or take our minds off any stress and take in the world around us. Life is worth slowing down and discovering the beauty this world has to offer. From the grandeur of the oceans to the splendor of the mountains, or even simply having our faithful pet at our side, these are wonderful and healing moments in and of themselves. This could be the number one lesson that I myself may need to relearn.

My thanks to Devin Lyster on Unsplash for the beautiful photo and I look forward to your comments.

The dawn of inspiration

Photo by Igor Kasalovic on Unsplash

“The art of writing comes from practice but its origin can come from something wonderful.”

The written word has played a critical role for the human species. It’s believed to have begun a little over 5,000 years ago by the Sumerians and has evolved from scratching marks into wet clay, to typing on our portable devices. Throughout the millennia, it has memorialized everything from triumphs to tragedies, and played witness to a host of noteworthy events.

Writing down thoughts offers a distinct advantage of carefully considering your precise meaning and point. Wouldn’t that be nice if the same were always true with the spoken word?

I’ve often wondered where my love and enjoyment of writing had its roots. I do recall exercising my imagination as an elementary school student writing various stories. In the seventh grade, diagraming sentences became a fun, mental challenge. However, the most enjoyment came from expressing myself through poetry.

It never really dawned on me to pursue writing as a career; my college degree was in music and I’ve spent most of my working adult life in sales. But as the desire to write became more prevalent, it brought satisfaction on many levels. Sometimes, it actually feels compulsory.

In September of 2013, I began writing articles which were intended to benefit any who invested their time in reading them. It’s a daunting responsibility and one which I take quite seriously. It is also with the deepest gratitude and appreciation that I realize this gift was given to me and I must uphold a sacred duty to do it justice.

There is one person whom I would like to heap lots of praise for inspiring and perhaps even initiating my love of writing, and that person happens to be my mother.

This past week, she celebrated her 88th birthday and it was important for me to sing her praises – rather than only sing her happy birthday. Some of you may already know that for a majority of my 200 posts, she has been my editor-in-chief. Each Saturday morning, I send her the finished draft and then call her to make the final corrections. The best part is when we are finished, we spend a few mintues catching up on the week’s happenings. This, too, is a blessing and one for which I am extremely grateful.

My mother’s affection for the written word has been more from the grammatical aspect. There’s a personal story which I love to share and while it wasn’t funny at the time, we often laugh about it and I’m confident it brought me great awareness of the importance of proper grammar. My oldest brother was in 7th grade and she was helping him with grammar homework. I was watching TV with the kitchen door closed so my brother could concentrate.

Not paying much attention to what they were doing, I suddenly heard my mother say in an elevated voice, “No, it’s a preposition”!

Now there would be no reason for a fourth grader to recall this story. However, shortly after, my mom repeated it again louder. I don’t recall how many more times she yelled it but I can certainly remember thinking to myself, “I’m going to remember what a preposition is.”

Full disclosure, my brother did eventually catch on and much more. He ended up getting his degree in the Classics: Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit and taught Latin to high school students.

In some ways, I believe that my mother’s interest in the written word has positively influenced her bright mental state. She loves word games, doing crossword puzzles, and even reading the newspaper just to see how many errors she can catch. Sometimes during our conversations, she’ll apologize for repeating herself but I assure her by reminding her that I, too, have been guilty of that as well and that she’s not showing any signs of forgetfulness.

One of the greatest blessings I could have never imagined is being in your sixties and still having the privilege to reach out to your mother. I do realize many have not been as fortunate with their own experiences; however, I wanted to share my thoughts for the incredible gratitude I feel.

It couldn’t have been easy raising 3 sons and a daughter on her own. We buried ourselves in school activities which translated into ignoring chores and family responsibilities. Sunday mornings, she wouldn’t start to make breakfast until the yard was mowed because that was the only way it would get done.

If there were anything I could change, it would be the times when I ignored her or didn’t appreciate all she did for me. Thankfully, she persuades me it wasn’t as bad as I’ve remembered. I do, however, chalk that up to a mother’s love.

Perhaps the biggest challenge with blessings and gifts is they’re never fully appreciated as much as they ought to be. Perhaps the lesson here is to honor that gift by honoring the ones who’ve inspired and cultivated it within us. Indisputably, my mother has been one of those major contributing factors.

For those of you who were never able to share in this kind of experience, there are other ways, and no doubt people, to honor and appreciate. Gratitude is worth acknowledging. It leads to compassion and a greater awareness of everything around you. Each of our journeys follows a different course but it’s up to everyone of us to find our own ways of expressing thanks, acknowledging our responsibilities, and lovingly pass it on to other eager and enthusiastic minds.

This is how we leave our greatest legacy.

My thanks to Igor Kasalovic on Unsplash for the wonderful picture and of course, my deepest gratitude toward my mother.

A better place

Photo by Anna Goncharova on Unsplash

“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” – Albert Einstein

Knowledge isn’t overrated. The lack of it can be a hinderance but most would agree it’s best to be overstocked with this asset rather than it be in short supply. However, knowledge is not simply the ability to retain, remember, and recall information quickly and accurately. The dictionary defines it as: “facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.”

The ability to amass data on an array of subjects used to be the job of an encyclopedia. With nearly universal access via our personal devices, many can quickly retrieve access to an abundance of information, making those once omnipresent volumes now relegated to libraries and other institutions of historic learning.

Having instant availability to practically unlimited information at our fingertips has not always been advantageous either. It provides more options, more choices, and more time processing information and the added worry of its accuracy. This underscores the importance of having both the experience and the skills to apply it.

As was discussed in last week’s article, another negative impact from knowing that you are right is what I’ve identified as, “Benevolent Ignorance”: the presumption that what you know or believe is the only right answer, and entertaining something different is futile, a waste of time, or perhaps a corruption of values.

After cautioning against this kind of leaning and admitting that I, too, am careful not to fall prey to its trap, some comments were kind enough to mention that I would never fall victim to it. While I am most grateful for them, by choice I will always remain vigilant. And perhaps that is the reason why these sentiments can be made in the first place; because of the decision to always be on guard against a buildup of arrogance. It will be part of my lifelong journey.

However, is that really logical? Should it be a requirement for everyone to be this diligent against not falling prey to their own values and beliefs? Is there not a moment when we’ve reached a point where we’re fully convinced we will never be guilty of being a know-it-all?

Clearly there is precedent for constant vigil. Many professions force a heavy demand on improvement. Athletes continually train. Artists tirelessly practice. Certifications of continuing educations are a necessity for many professionals so why shouldn’t one who professes personal opinions not have some minimum standard to uphold?

The opening quote was attributed to one of the greatest minds of the twentieth century. His advice was to “not stop questioning.” Curiosity can be a good thing, but I don’t believe there is anything wrong in questioning a belief. It doesn’t mean that particular belief is wrong because the conclusion may only strengthen that belief.

The damage comes more from not questioning. And, an even greater destruction occurs when you demand others accept those same viewpoints.

The more zealous one becomes because of the “rightness” of one’s views, the more propensity for “Benevolent Ignorance” to be at hand. When someone presumes they know what’s better for you than you, corruption, exploitation, and dishonesty have an easier chance to initiate. It often begins with honest intentions – hence the “Benevolent” portion of the saying. But the benevolence quickly devolves into a strain of arrogance fueled by all of the perceived opportunities for power.

Now more than ever, we need people to question and not swallow every morsel of a polished message. Questioning doesn’t denote an ambivalence in your beliefs, but rather a willingness to be open. It demonstrates a willingness of inclusivity and a regard for others’ views and needs. The current headlines frequently demonstrate how divisive and discriminatory the world is becoming due to lack of engagement and unwillingness to listen to anyone being perceived to question their benevolence.

The momentum seems to be flowing in the direction of the dividers who willingly segregate others because their views differ. The tide is flowing so swiftly that it seems we’ve nearly past the point of no return.

But hope is never lost. The remedy is not easy. Medicine is often difficult to swallow.

Each of us needs to become that pillar. If there are no role models paving the way, it’s time we get our own shoes dirty. It’s a difficult decision and not something eagerly anticipated nor producing immediate rewards or benefits. But it’s time we stand up simply because it’s the fair action to take and not what we’ll get from taking that action.

It takes practice. We don’t just wake up one day and decide to change these behaviors. But we must begin to change the process. Try listening to one another and get a better understanding of another’s points of view. See if there is someone this week with whom you’ve disagreed and try to be patient and understanding. Let’s see if we can wipe out this pestilence that is slowly degrading our world.

In some ways, we all have a responsibility to make this world a better place and the best place to start is with ourselves. As for me, one decision I make is to perpetually be on guard against discounting the opinions of others. And there’s no better remedy than being open to questioning the thoughts of others… and my own.

My thanks to Anna Goncharova on Unsplash for the wonderful picture and I look forward to your comments.