Death of a Lobster

I found a restaurant in Santa Monica that sells lobsters for $45 apiece. I’m no expert, but I get the impression the price can go a lot higher at an elegant establishment. Here, the dock price is $6.

It’s a temptation that can’t be resisted. Several times I’ve gone into the kitchen to find lobsters crawling around the counters as one or another of our housemates prepares for dinner. Continue reading “Death of a Lobster”

Advertisements

Bravery & Honesty

I recently wrote and submitted an essay to a popular wedding-and-marriage themed website. It was the sort of post that gets praised as “honest” and “brave” and I was almost certain it would get published.

After a week of suspense, it did. I even received a kind note that the editorial staff “all really loved what you had to say.” Naturally, I was tickled pink. I was thinking to myself, “If what I have to say helps even one person, I will be so happy.”

On the appointed day the post was posted, I (naturally!) eagerly read the comments, and promptly realized why honesty is so often labeled as “brave.”

It was, surprisingly, something I had never thought about before. My approach to life is very much: let’s all be open with each other, without taking offense, so that we can all learn together. There are certainly people who think there are better ways of interacting and I have, in certain situations, given in to that advice… probably for the best. But in general I haven’t noticed any overtly negative reactions that would make me change my view. My honesty has almost never called for bravery; and it had never called for bravery after the courage to confess was mustered.

I wrote the post because I had felt alone, realized belatedly that I was not, and hoped to spare others the same shamed loneliness. And then all the comments up until lunchtime were about how others had exactly the opposite experience I did. They were perfectly happy. They had never had this problem. Though I have never seen a truly trollish comment on this site, one person did go so far as to say that perhaps her experience was different because her parents had provided a good example. (I didn’t mention my parents in the post, and as it happens, they were also a good example. But thanks for the implication, sweetie.)

I spent my lunch hour near tears.

In the afternoon, however, the tone changed. Several people thanked me for the post and said it was exactly what they needed to read.

So I stopped reading comments. I’m sure the post has acquired more, and perhaps the not-so-kind commenter, who was gently rebuked by others, has even backtracked. A part of me is curious. The bigger part of me knows that I don’t need to know. Whatever the sum of the reactions, what I said helped one person – more than one person – and that is enough.

It was a small experience but an important one. I can now be brave when I am honest. But it changes nothing else. The world needs more honesty. And perhaps more bravery too.

Failing v. Falling Short

The company I worked for hired a new Executive Vice President (EVP) of Sales & Marketing and I lost the sometimes enjoyable position of being the only person in the company who knew anything about marketing, and therefore the one whose recommendations about what we should do got followed most of the time.

Within the first two weeks of his arrival he sat me down and went through the current state of our marketing. Had I done this? What about that? Had we ever considered such-and-such? None of this list, which went on for about 15 minutes, was something I hadn’t thought of, but the answer to most of these questions was “No, we haven’t gotten to that yet.” The state of our marketing sounded dreadful even to me and, to be honest, I’d thought it was dreadful the whole 16 months I “ran the department.”

I went home and cried and announced, “I failed!” Continue reading “Failing v. Falling Short”

Prove it’s Easy

As a teenager I once spent a day at a challenge camp where, long story short, I chickened out and failed to reach the top of a 10-15 foot rock-climbing wall.

It was a failure I occasionally thought of over the next 10 years, always with a sense of disappointment and a wish for a re-do. Consequently, when my dear new husband suggested we visit a rock-climbing gym with a 30’ wall, he found me much more persuadable than I usually am about exercise. Continue reading “Prove it’s Easy”

Memory is All We Have (part 1)

Roughly a decade ago I stood in a shop in the little tourist village of Portmeirion, Wales, debating which book to take home as a souvenir. The choice was between two books by the same author I had never heard of, selected almost at random for their titles and covers, and took a surprising amount of time.

Considering that the one I chose, the one about the old diary rather than the one about the forest, has been one of my favorite books ever since, and is unequalled by anything I’ve ever read for its pacing and structure, I’ve often thought about that decision, and the chance that led me to this one that I love so much.

But it wasn’t until I was re-reading it yet again this week that I wondered why I’ve never hunted down the other one. I know the author is published in America; I looked into it when I realized I would eventually need to buy a replacement copy.

The answer is simple and a little strange. I’ve tended to assume, all these other years, that I could never love the other one as much as this one, and this book is so magical to me that I fear it would be spoiled by reading another in the same style.

At first I thought this was completely opposite my usual practice, considering that I have tracked down and read almost every available work by other authors I’ve particularly enjoyed – Jane Austen, Henry James, Dorothy Sayers, Alexander McCall Smith. But it’s not, really. I’ve never re-read Portrait of a Lady, my favorite of Henry James’ works, because I feared it wouldn’t speak to me the same way the second time around. The first time I saw Whale Rider it was spectacular, the second time it was special, and the third time it was merely a very good movie. After being equally blown away by Almost Famous I never took the chance of the same thing happening.

All we have is our memories. We don’t like to think that; we’re always being told to “live in the moment.” But if you don’t believe me, try having a conversation when you’re so tired, so distracted or simply so in-over-your-head that you can barely remember what was discussed five minutes before or how one subject segued into another. “The moment” becomes rather surreal when you can’t rely on memory and it is memory that gives importance to each moment.

But I Don’t Want To!

The wail sounds often and wordlessly in my head. “But I don’t want to call the HMO/ get up in the cold pre-dawn to go for a walk/ write my blog/ etc!” Usually, the presented alternative is not even some other useful thing, but to take it easy, to relax, to take whatever “reward” or indulgence I tell myself I’ve earned.
 
I suppose this is normal or even nearly universal. The problem is giving in to it too often; the frustration comes from reflecting on how many people have overcome it. If they can, why can’t I? No reason at all, so the question becomes, why won’t I?
 
For the last few months I’ve been locked in an endlessly revolving struggle with this: seeing something that should be done, not doing it, arguing and insisting that it should be done while countering with all the reasons it is impossible to do just at the moment, finally becoming so exhausted that the thing (so I tell myself) legitimately can’t be done, and so granting a reprieve, which usually lasts far longer than it was supposed to, sparking the cycle again.
 
After a while, it becomes obvious how much energy would be saved if the thing were done in the beginning and all this were skipped. How much more would get done! How satisfying! But of course, the cycle exists because I won’t do that. And around we go again. “Just do it” must be the most deceptively simple advice in the world (if closely followed by “Just relax and be yourself!”).
 
There absolutely must be a way of sidestepping this.
 
What was it Einstein said? “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result”? Aha!
 
Fighting over failure never works. (Remember the Sylvan Learning commercials? Parents fighting with and punishing unhappy teenagers for bad grades before finally seeing the light and getting them help?) And now that you mention it, haven’t studies shown that better results come from saying, “I’d like you to do this, please,” instead of “You must not do that”?
 
If I “must not” procrastinate, then what would I like myself to do? What is this progress I would like to make?
 
I made a list. Just writing it out, I felt a surge of inspiration. Yes, if I could hold on to that, it would be much more effective than nagging and trying to force myself to do things I don’t want to do. I’m reminded of an excellent article I have quoted before about how to effect change:

Doctors had been trying to motivate patients mainly with the fear of death, he says, and that simply wasn’t working. For a few weeks after a heart attack, patients were scared enough to do whatever their doctors said. But death was just too frightening to think about, so their denial would return, and they’d go back to their old ways….So instead of trying to motivate them with the “fear of dying,” Ornish reframes the issue. He inspires a new vision of the “joy of living” — convincing them they can feel better, not just live longer. That means enjoying the things that make daily life pleasurable, like making love or even taking long walks without the pain caused by their disease.

Calling a phone tree to do battle with a careless bureaucracy is enough to bring out the procrastinator in anyone. But thinking of it as taking care of an outstanding bill to remove one more source of stress, or taking steps to find out how to resolve a nagging health issue, makes it a bit more alluring.
 
(Of course, this also taps into the old wisdom about the power of specific goals and defined steps for getting there; “Relax and be yourself” may be useless as advice, but makes a decent goal, which “take three deep breaths and tell yourself a joke” might actually help you to reach.)
 
Next time I start to complain, “But I don’t want to!” I’ll find a way to turn it into, “Yes, but I do want to…” and I’ll let you know how it goes.

One Stranger at a Time

Traveling often makes me think about the images we project. In a new city, nobody knows you, so you can be anybody you want. Blank slates mostly terrify us, but in small doses, they can be liberating. Blank slates, like new beginnings, often create growth. Because, when you can be anybody, why be a shy mouse?

Yes, I’m here to tell you that strangers are the secret to overcoming shyness.

What’s harder to overcome than shyness? Inertia. What’s more difficult to change than that bad habit you’ve been resolving about each of the past three New Years? Other people’s pre-conceived notions and dearly-held opinions about how things are and what box you fit in.

Say you go to the same coffee-shop every day and buy the same cup of coffee from the same 2 or 3 baristas. You’re shy, so you keep it all business – maybe a please and thank you, but no other words that aren’t absolutely neccessary. Over time, you come to envy the light banter some of the other patrons have with the barista, but how do you start? You’re so entrenched in the pattern of not speaking that you don’t even know what you would say. And what if, in your nervousness, you make a mess of it and now the barista thinks you’re weird?

What’s scarier than the monster under the bed? The fear of doing something wrong or messing up in front of the people you have to see every day.

But say you go to another city on a business trip and stop into a new coffee-shop in the morning. This barista doesn’t know that you never say “good morning” to your barista at home. For all this new barista knows about you, you might be the friendliest, happiest, most confident person she’s ever met. It’d be a shame to disappoint her, don’t you think?

So you smile, say good morning. Maybe even comment on the weather. Odds are, this interaction goes perfectly. But even if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter, because she doesn’t know who you are, and she’ll never see you again. No risk, lots of reward. Nice. So you do the same thing with the waiter at lunch and the cab driver on the way back to the airport.

And when you get home you realize there are plenty of people in your own city you’ll only see once. The man with his dog you passed three streets over on your evening walk. The woman waiting next to you at jury duty. You’re the nicest, friendliest person they’ve ever met, right? So it’s no big deal to make a little light small talk about what a beautiful dog he has or to say you’ve heard good things about that book.

And it gets easier and easier the more you do it and before you know it, it’s not such a big deal to approach people you should have known all along or wish you knew better.

Because you don’t have to start off with a deep conversation that makes up for all those years of shyness and distance. You can start with a few small moments over time that make the other person want to talk to you, so that they share the work of building the bond.

Because, now that you don’t need to hide in the crowd, you can join the table where just one or two other people are sitting alone. Their gratitude allows you to have a much more rewarding conversation than if you joined a discussion already in full swing, with no room for you, and more and more people will be drawn to the group you started. (Seriously, this is the single greatest trick I’ve learned about dealing with those situations where you don’t know anybody in the room.)

Most shy people – and I say this as a formerly-painfully-and-still-occasionally-slightly shy person – go about dealing with their shyness in exactly the wrong way. They hide in the familiar, among the people who only know them as a shy person, and it reinforces their fear.

The worst thing that can happen to a shy person is to have a confident companion to hide behind. The real way to get over shyness is to go find a stranger to talk to, because really, a stranger is a shy person’s best friend.

This is Your Brain on Happiness

Happiness is scary. At least if you’re sad or frustrated, you’re motivated. But happiness is like a warm bed on a cold morning: there may well be, and probably are, things you need to do outside of it, but why would you want to?

And so, it seems to me, happiness can be its own enemy. The happier you are > the less motivated you are to deal with things, be it growth or grocery shopping > the more things pile up > the more likely something reaches breaking point > chaos and stress > not happy.

But is it maybe even scarier if you stay happy and float along in blissful unawareness of all that’s not getting done? Is that even possible? Or the similar problem – getting sucked into a vortex of contented routine and going along for years without noticing that the happiness is gradually evaporating. It’s unhappiness without motivation… until somebody wants a divorce. (Hmm, maybe I’ve been reading too much Ladies’ Home Journal lately.)

Happiness is like sleeping sickness for your brain and I’m happier when my brain is alert and childlike with curiosity and amusement. This is a strange conundrum. Strange enough that, while I’m sure I can’t be the only person who’s ever run across it, it feels like I might be.

Fear = Nothing

I don’t mean it doesn’t have its place when a ruffian is rapidly approaching and brandishing a gun, knife or yo-yo saw. I’m talking about the everyday boundaries we set up in our lives.

Someone once asked me, “What would you do if you were completely fearless?”

What would you do if you were completely fearless?

My guess: be more remarkable. Do more things more worth doing. It’s worth making a list of things you would do if you weren’t somehow, for some reason, afraid of doing them: Take a class. Move to another city/state/country. Introduce yourself to more new people. Whatever it is for you.

And then, once you’ve made your list, ask yourself, seriously, why you’re afraid of doing each one. Sometimes all you turn up are symptoms – for instance, you’re afraid you’ll fail at some new endeavor because you were too nervous to take the necessary risks.

But even if you’ve come up with a rational reason for your fear, does that really make the thing any less worth doing? (Of course, if the thing you’re afraid of might kill you, maybe it does – but again, that’s not what we’re talking about here.) If you’re afraid your relationship will fail because, after all, the odds favor breaking up – does it mean it isn’t worthwhile to have a relationship? If you’re afraid you won’t be hired for your dream job, does that mean it isn’t worthwhile to go on the interview?

What would you do if you were completely fearless?

 

(As usual, I find that Seth Godin has already said something wonderful on the subject.

Easier Done Than Said

Bill Taylor over at the Harvard Business Review gives it as his opinion that “There’s nothing more boring than when bloggers write about their own experiences as a way to make a broader point about life, work, or society.” How embarrassing. Now back to our regularly scheduled programming…

This week I have the opportunity to do something I don’t often get a chance to do, though: I get to share a success story about doing the difficult thing.

Even the most self-directed person starts to lose steam after a few weeks if they don’t have ultimate decision-making authority and project approvals are lacking, and this is what was happening to me. Each day of the week prior I expected to get the answers I needed, and each day I knew I should really pick up the phone and ask for them, and I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Continue reading “Easier Done Than Said”