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Personal Development

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As the old saw goes, “A stitch in time saves nine…”

My father used to say that, and it makes sense. If you take care of a problem immediately, you will likely save undue time, effort and trouble later.

It’s like a homespun way of asserting that being proactive beats procrastination any day.

Have your air conditioner checked before it peters out in the middle of a sweltering summer or a subarctic winter. Check your oil before your engine seizes up, leaving you stranded at the side of the road in rush hour traffic.

If something is not right in your personal life, speak up. You might not need to “forever hold your peace,” but speaking now is infinitely better than bottling up your feelings until they turn into resentment and anger.

Take care of yourself. Stop kicking the can down the road when it comes to your well-being.

Do you really need a crisis of any kind? Sure, crises can be calls to action, but a little vigilance goes a long way – and small, preemptive measures can help you correct course in the present.

Take action. Show up at the gym. Throw on your running shoes and go outside.

Politely decline an invitation to some event you have no interest in attending. Call your mother. Show appreciation for the kindness of others.

Call somebody on their bullshit, or they will continue to lie to you because they think you believe them. Do you really have time for that?

By taking small and positive actions, you will reap dividends of peace of mind and of clarity.

Say no when you want to say no.

Extract yourself from toxic situations, people and conversations.

Say yes to the simple steps that lead to a life free from drama, fear, worry and anxiety.

By you I mean me.

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Most of my life, I’ve been made giddy by possibilities.

With life spread out in front of a young person, the options seem endless and there is ample time to explore any avenue that appeals to them in the moment. If they are lucky, they have at least one parent on board with the concept – and luckier still if that parent encourages them to spread their wings far and wide.

I had one such parent in my father.

Dad was the perennial youngster. He died at 70 but was endlessly drawn into a sense of childlike wonder about life, places and people. Sure, he had his down moments, but he was full of love, life and joy most of the time.

I will never meet anybody quite like Dad.

But is there an expiration date on the endless-possibility mindset? Doesn’t this encourage a mile-wide-and-inch-deep way of living – relegating a person to life as a generalist?

I bet this exacerbates ADD…

Does seeing the world as full of endless possibilities – especially at a certain age – limit one’s ability to focus?

Can a person reverse this – and when is it time to throw a dart at the map and move toward that coordinate?

Maybe we “possibility people” can enjoy the best of both worlds. We can throw the proverbial dart and move toward one main thing while keeping our hearts and minds open to happy coincidences, serendipity and spontaneity.

Can we move in the direction of that main thing without becoming so rigid that we cut off our ability to find joy in the realm of possibility?

It’s possible.

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I was recently impressed with a quote from Jason Leister that went like this:

“You do not need permission to be who you are here to be.”

Sounds compelling, doesn’t it?

Why is it that so many of us feel as if we need a nod from others before we embark on our genuine lives? Why is it that we transfer our innate power to others? Why do we leave it up to others or so-called fate to decide which is the best direction for us?

Why do we play the waiting game?

Why do we hitch our wagons to the stars of others instead of forging ahead in our pursuit of the hopes and dreams we cherished when we were young?

Did somebody important to us – a parent, a sibling, a close friend, a boss – squash our self-esteem?

Did something someone said or did take the wind out of our sails?

Did a major setback, loss or disappointment take all the fight out of us?

Did we settle?

Did we abdicate the throne of self-direction and choose instead to live as subjects to a new monarchy of control, restriction and suffocation?

Did we buy into the trading-time-for-money paradigm for so long that its walls closed in on us?

Did our past decisions lock us away in a prison of despair and self-doubt?

Did we decide to numb the pain of our abdication with drugs, alcohol, food, sex, gambling, shopping or ambition?

Do we expect to buy our way into heaven with good deeds?

Do we think God is punishing us?

Do we harbor bitterness and resentment?

Did one too many gatekeepers deny us entry?

Do we make too much of small things?

Do we overreact to perceived slights, only to realize that the offending party isn’t even aware of having caused any harm?

Were we programmed early on by school, church or state to obey others in “authority” before ever considering the malign motives at play?

Do we long to break out of our self-imposed prisons?

We must bake the file into our own cake. We must not expect others to “bust us out.”

God does not punish us.

We punish ourselves.

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Didn’t Patty Smythe once sing, “I am the worrier?” No, wait…

This one goes out to the worriers, the procrastinators and those like me with a propensity to gaze inward rather than outward.

Introspection is one thing, but sometimes the inward gaze is insidious. It can take us into dark imaginings and a landscape from which escape is dicey.

How many times have we fallen down the rabbit hole of indecision, mulling over every scenario we can possibly dream up until we wind up lost, confused and in much worse shape than when we started?

Have you ever stalled so much that an opportunity simply passed you by?

Inaction robbed you.

I can’t begin to count the hours I have wasted, waiting for the “right time” to do something – and the sad thing about this is that the something in question might not have been consequential to begin with.

It’s mountains-out-of-molehills, worst-cast-scenario thinking at its finest.

As the years go by, the more I am convinced that action is far superior to inaction, and that executing even an imperfect plan is head-and-shoulders above a well-intentioned delay.

Why?

Because we can usually correct course as we go.

A good plan doesn’t have to be perfect – but without action, any plan is useless.

The magic happens when we take action.

Take it from “Old Blood and Guts” himself, General George Patton:

“A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.”

There comes a time when we must put the ball in motion, to “pull the trigger,” as they say.

I have experienced firsthand the benefits of taking action – and it could be as simple as making that phone call, attacking that overdue project or simply showing up where you need to be – and it feels good, every time.

I’ll leave you with the words of Albert Einstein:

“Nothing happens until something moves.”

Begin.

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As we slouch into 2021, I have so far resisted the urge to participate in my usual self-imposed orgy of navel gazing…

I don’t know if I can hold out much longer, but I hope to take a different tack this year by being kind to myself instead of running down what I did wrong or failed to do altogether.

Should I enumerate all of the times I have been disingenuous this year? Did I fail to show compassion to others? Was I greedy? Was I selfish? Was I arrogant? Did I talk more than listen? Did I procrastinate?

Yes on all counts.

But given the duality of humanity, I don’t think I’m putting together a laundry list of personal shortcomings in my journal this year.

Have I been kind? Have I loved? Have I laughed with others? Have I hugged (Damn you, COVID-19)? Have I been sincere? Generous? Gracious? Of service?

Were my intentions understood more than they were misunderstood?

The longer I live, the more I realize that I have been lucky – and this is coming from a man who has been through the proverbial wringer more times than he would like to admit.

To any thinking person, the choices I have made resulted in the obvious outcomes, positive and negative. The old saw from the bygone commercial, “It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” is a bit erroneous.

We can’t fool mother nature. And as much as our magical thinking would like it to be true, there is no skirting of universal laws. If you think this is not so, give it a bit more time.

You’ll see.

Cause and effect, y’all.

Come on, 2021. Happy New Year to all.

Be nice.

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That moment when you’ve had enough…

That moment when you say “to hell with this” to a situation and begin at last to correct course…

That moment when the pain of the status quo becomes so unbearable that you put the steps in motion to rise above it at any cost…

That deep realization that “insanity is doing the same things over and over and expecting a different result…”

The knowledge that “what got you here won’t get you there…”

That nagging and persistent feeling that you were made for more than this…

The acceptance that your challenges are uniquely yours, and the only person who can pull you out of them is you…

The quiet assurance that you can overcome…

The confidence that others have risen from much more difficult circumstances…

The upward thrust of action…

The moving toward…

The leap of faith…

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There’s a Bible verse about worry, to the effect that each day has its own trouble and that we shouldn’t entertain thoughts about what drama tomorrow might bring.

It’s Matthew 6:34:

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” [NIV]

I have also seen or heard riffing about the fact that a large percentage of the things we worry about never come to pass. It’s all in our heads…

Here’s some input from 16th century French essayist Michel de Montaigne:

“My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.”

I have written here before about my moments of mountains-out-of-molehills, worst-case-scenario thinking that runs counter to my predilection for personal development – and I know that concocting scenarios can come to no good end. At best, this thinking saps my energy and makes for a “blah” day. At worst, I might be summoning a wave of negative energy that could be very difficult to quell.

Which brings me to a contrasting question:

When something good happens in your life – especially something that you have been wishing, hoping and praying for – how does that make you feel?

It could be something as simple as an unexpected check that covers an overdue bill, a passing grade on a daunting test, a phone call you have been waiting for – or as dynamic as a job offer from the ideal employer or a much-needed reconciliation.

When cool things happen like that, I feel a rush of joy, well-being and gratitude.

It’s important to be grateful.

If you are like me, you have experienced so many wonderful and serendipitous moments in your life – so many blessings – that, in the moment, you know these to be brushes with divinity.

I have experienced too many of these “God moments” to ignore them. That being said, however, why do we sometimes have trouble realizing that the “troubles of the day” can be met and overcome by the same cosmic presence?

Memory is a funny thing.

If we know that many of our worries never come to pass and that we have experienced examples of what I’ll call divine providence, why is it so easy to revert back to limiting beliefs and overthinking?

I want so much to remember once and for all that we have the power to choose our responses to any situation. We have complete control in this realm, whether we believe that in the moment or not.

Take it from the “Father of American Psychology,” William James:

“Human beings can alter their lives by altering their attitudes of mind.”

Yes, please.

When I was 12, I “gambled a stamp” and sent away for details on the Charles Atlas course.

Those of a certain age surely remember the above ad that appeared in comic books for years, featuring a guy who finally had enough of being marginalized, bullied and having sand kicked in his face.

While I can’t say I was physically bullied, somewhere in my childhood I was made to feel less-than by certain kids at school – and a daresay some adults I encountered outside of school. With apologies to my twin brother, he and I were the ones left standing when teams were being picked in phys-ed – until each side begrudgingly accepted one or the other of us.

We were different, Chris and I. Old souls, and literate before we started the first grade. (Math is another story. I still gaze slack-jawed when faced with a seemingly easy fractional equation.)

I never understood the sis-boom-bah – rah-rah-rah mentality attached to sports and foisted on kids who have absolutely no interest in participating. Most of the other boys embraced this mentality, but I wasn’t having any of it. Neither was my brother. I still don’t, and Chris doesn’t either.

But the Charles Atlas ad appealed to me in a visceral way, and when I got the booklet in the mail, I was ecstatic…

Here were success stories (modern marketing would call these case studies) of young men who had transformed their nerdy bodies into chiseled and rugged masterpieces.

I just had to order the course – if only to get even with those who ever doubted me. Not that I wanted the chance to compete with the other boys on the athletic field, but rather possess the ability to be ready and able to kick their asses if they decided to ramp up their disrespect.

But nobody actually beat me up or even tried to. Me and my brother never got jumped by marauding bands of street toughs. But it was enough for me that some of these kids were dismissive and that, if given the chance, they would exclude us from their reindeer games.

They didn’t understand different. And we were different in spades. The fact that we were finally embraced by kids like this after we started playing music is another story.

The course was expensive for that time. If I remember correctly, it was thirty dollars, payable in installments of five dollars each time a new component arrived. The course itself arrived, I believe, every couple of weeks or so – with each mimeographed section no more than like ten pages of instructions followed by what looked like ancient photos of Charles Atlas performing the “Dynamic Tension” exercises. These looked simple enough – and each installment focused on another part of the body.

“Dynamic Tension” was what many would come to call resistance training. The course also covered nutrition, grooming and some advice about the dangers of smoking and drinking to the physical specimen. I also recall advice from the strongman about being careful not to dissipate one’s energy on promiscuity. He didn’t use that word, but the gist was the same.

The first lesson was all about building up the pecs – and was supposed to continue throughout the three-month program – and then we were to add additional body parts as we went along. I can’t tell you how often I started, stopped, and started again.

I never finished the program, but even at 12 and 13, my chest was pretty well developed. I still have the course somewhere, and it would be fun to see it again.

At 57, I can tell you that the biggest bully I ever encountered was myself – and he beats me up regularly.

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There are so many avenues to explore – but be mindful about the potential rabbit hole of having too many options – or believing you do.

There is only so much we can accomplish in our lives, but what we can accomplish is likely vastly more than we believe we can.

Someone once said that we overestimate what we can accomplish in a week but underestimate what we can accomplish in a year. That makes sense. We cram so many activities and “busy work” into our to-do lists that we always have items left undone at the end of the week. But many people surprise themselves by the progress they have made at the end of the year – especially when it comes to the action they took toward a specific goal.

But we can also crash and burn if we lose sight of our goal, failing to see that consistent action throughout the year would have brought us the result we were after.

We all know about how crowded gyms are at the beginning of the year and how attendance usually flattens a short time later. Bloomberg cited an analysis from Strava, a fitness-tracking app developer, that found most Americans giving up on their fitness resolutions as early as mid-January.

We give up so easily.

What if we made consistent progress on that one thing– the overriding thing that keeps us awake at night – the dream we can’t shake…

Just a bit of progress every day…?

One of my favorite writers and broadcasters, Earl Nightingale, “The Dean of Personal Development,” is attributed with the following quote, but he might have found it somewhere else:

“Success is the progressive realization of a worthy goal or ideal.”

Makes sense to me. To-do-lists are one thing – but taking daily action on that one thing can make all the difference in the world.

Remember: Successful people get that way by doing the things that others are not willing to do.

Of course, success means different things to different people.

This could be about getting exercise every day, saving money, or waking up an hour early (or going to bed an hour later) to learn a new skill or write that story, or devoting quality time to your family.

And make your bed.

options | The Relationship Architect

Can being a generalist be better than specializing?

That’s a good question. Being a specialist makes sense in some ways because you are laser-like in your precision when it comes to your area of expertise. But it must also be true that we become so caught up in our respective niches that we fail to see the options.

There are blogs about blogging – and presumably there are blogs about petunias. And many hard-at-it bloggers extol the virtues of a niche.

If there was some one thing I would blog about as a niche, it would be personal development. I am drawn to this because we are all on paths that could culminate in a zenith of self-aware bliss. Of course, another outcome could be the train wreck of nihilism.

But could I really add to this conversation? You bet. Anyone drawing breath can do the same. We all have something to bring to the human party, and we all come to it in varied ways and with diverse perspectives. And we all have a platform – a group of friends, perhaps, to share our views with.

Hell, some crash the party looking for free drinks or company with nothing to give in return. But at least they showed up.

But there has to be such a thing as too many options.

All my life, I would thrill to what I perceived as an endless supply of available options. I would love to be able to explain the excitement that welled up (and still does, for that matter – only in smaller doses) in the face of such intangibles. And it seemed (and still seems, although I am keenly aware of the inexorable march of time) like anything was possible – as if one could order and consume every existential item on the menu.

You might be able to order everything on the menu, but there’s no way you could finish it in one sitting. Let’s say this “one sitting” is your life. You now have all of these options sitting in front of you. It doesn’t matter to the restaurant owner what you do with them. In point of fact, the lion’s share of that stuff will wind up in the trash.

But you paid for it.