Would you live differently if you knew when you were going to die?

Gravestone - flickr mezzoblue

OK, a few random thoughts that I’ll connect in a second:

  • We live in a world with massive numbers of distractions (if you are in front of a computer, there are millions and millions of websites that are just a few clicks away).
  • I’m always looking for ways to motivate myself to work on projects that are important to me but aren’t urgent, or that involve discomfort in some way, or for some other reason I don’t wake up and want to do them immediately.
  • So those distractions become, well, distractions.
  • One of the reasons that we don’t think about our mortality is because it’s an unknown.  We don’t know when we are going to kick the bucket, so we can’t wrap our heads around it.
  • Because we can’t wrap our heads around our mortality, it’s easy to get sucked in by distractions because we think we’ll have time to work on whatever projects we want to…later (the infamous someday).

But what if you knew when you were going to die?  What if you truly understood the exact endpoint – your exact endpoint – and how much time you had left?  What would you do differently.

I thought this morning, “What if I knew that I was going to live to 100?  No more, no less. I’m going to come to a screeching halt in September of 2076.  Would I surf the internet for 10 minutes today?  Would I play Xbox 360?”

The answer that came to me was that I still might play some Xbox, but I’m going to really enjoy the heck out of it.  I don’t think it would cause me to change everything overnight, but there are definitely some things I would do differently, or some I might completely drop.

This might sound morbid, but it’s not.  Most of us aren’t even going to live to 100, so I’m giving myself a ton of time.  I’m not saying tomorrow is my last day so I better “Carpe diem”.  This idea lets me truly understand that the time I have is finite, and I need to treat it as such.

Imagine your 100th birthday.  Imagine that it will be the last one you get.

What will you do differently today?

Can We Just Have Black Wednesday Next Year?

OK, this whole Black Friday thing has totally gotten out of hand. I’ve got an inbox full of emails about the best Black Friday deals ever. I have blogs crammed with people writing about the bizarre circus that Black Friday has become – a weird conglomeration of corporate retail and a culture that promises happiness can be found in a new 55″ TV. And then there are people bitching all over social media about the fact that stores are now opening on Thursday and how horrible that is. But let’s face it, they kept opening earlier and earlier on Friday and people kept showing up, so it’s the next natural step to open up on Thursday.

Black Friday - Macy's Fox BusinessAnd I think that’s totally f’d up. It’s a national holiday. The post office, the banks, the government… they’re all closed. But now, if you are a Best Buy employee selling what are essentially non-essential goods – you have to show up (and you will because in this economy a job is a job). That’s ridiculous.

I’m embarrassed to admit that for a moment I was looking at going out on Thursday; because even though I know happiness isn’t in a big screen TV, I found a great deal on one and it’d be a lot of fun to play Assassin’s Creed 4 on a sweet flatscreen. And then I pulled my head out of my ass and remembered that this is supposed to be a time of mindful reflection, not mindless acquisition. So I’ll take care of my shopping on Friday.

But because I’m a solutions kind of guy, I have a suggestion:

Black Wednesday

Let’s give up the charade that Black Friday has anything to do with shopping for Christmas presents; we’re buying stuff for ourselves. And considering that they are already selling holiday stuff after Halloween, it’s not like it would be a stretch. Everyone could go nuts shopping on Wednesday, hit the bars for the their pre-Thanksgiving drinking, and then enjoy their family and friends on Thursday. No one would have to work retail on Thanksgiving (except in the grocery stores) and you could get a full night sleep to digest your meal.

But then again, if we did Black Wednesday it would only be a matter of time until it started creeping up and up. Pretty soon it would be “Black July 5th – Get the Best Deals of the Season”

I give up.

And while I’m writing. Here are a few things I’m grateful for and thinking about this year: my health, my family and their health, Helen, my goddaughters, my nephew, Colette, Chrissie, Amy, Pat, Mama K, Liz, Rob, Jason and the Ajax team, my work, RockStar clients, the freedoms that we take for granted that are denied many around the world, salsa dancing, Zumba, really good Zumba instructors, really good beers, people who are passionate about making the world a better place, funk music, the fact that someone actually read this far down the list…

Happy Thanksgiving

Breaking Up with Myself

A few months ago I went through a pretty rough break-up. We’d been together for almost 3 years…actually we’ve had a bit of an “Off-again, on-again” relationship over the years; sometimes dating for six months or three here and then. But this was the longest we’d been together. And sure, I had a fling here or there with other women, but it was never a serious threat to our relationship.

We were great together and it was such an easy relationship. I was always happy about the parties we chose to go to, and I usually got to pick what bars and restaurants we went to. I never got hassled if I had a crazy work schedule and had to travel for a few weeks in a row.   I could look at (and flirt with) attractive women and not get in trouble.  And it was totally OK if after a long week I just came home, ordered a pizza, and vegged out on the couch to play a little Xbox.  I even got lucky whenever I wanted.  It was awesome.

But a few months ago I met someone else. I met her dancing (which admittedly works better with another person). She had a smile that lit up the room and a wicked sense of humor. I knew I was in trouble.  We flirted by text for a few weeks, and I kept it hidden from myself. I tried to pretend that it wouldn’t get in the way, but it became more and more obvious… I had to break up with myself.

I’ve heard it said that relationships are like smoking cigarettes – you have to recover for the same amount of time that you were actually in the relationship. That might be true because it’s been a little while since the break-up and it’s not always easy. Sometimes I find myself sometimes thinking about the old days and wanting to go back to my old habits and patterns.  And in many ways, that’s what an old relationship represents – a way of doing things that you are used to, that you are comfortable with.

So I was used to the “normal” I had when I was dating myself, and now I’m getting used to a new “normal”. The new normal is fantastic, but it’s still different and I’m still getting comfortable with it. I keep in mind that it is an adjustment, and that it will take time, and that’s OK.   It’s been (and continues to be) an amazing opportunity for growth and the rewards keep coming.

Me and myself are still friends, and we still see each other. I think myself is actually happy that I’ve moved on. I know that I am.

The Year of the Delivery

Every year I do two things for my birthday: I throw myself a party (I’m a big fan of my birthday) and I do a little introspecting about where I’ve gone over the past year and where I want to go in the next one.

One of the traditions I started a few years ago was creating a theme for the year. (Last year’s theme was The Year of the Dragon). It seems a little odd, but it actually is a useful exercise.  Over the past few years it has given me a guiding principle; not something that I have to do forever, but a focus for that specific point in my life. For example, even though my focus on the Year of the Dragon trailed off as my 36th year went on, in the first six months after my birthday it was consistently on my mind. It actually kept me on track for some changes I wanted to make in my personal life. By the time my birthday rolled around this year, my perspectives and my choices aligned more closely with the confidence that I was looking for in choosing that theme.

Over the past three years I’ve had:

  • The Year of the Phoenix – About putting myself back together and starting a new chapter.
  • The Year of the Fearless – About facing the fears that had held me back.
  • The Year of the Dragon – About developing my knowingness and confidence.

So here’s the theme for this year (cue appropriate music):

The Year of the Delivery

It doesn’t necessarily have the same initial badassness as The Year of the Dragon, but I’m pretty excited about it. What is “the Delivery“, you might ask. Well, since you asked…

photo from flickr user Alexander Edward

The Delivery is about manifestation and creation. The past few years have focused on preparation – about developing some inner resources and clarity. That’s an important part of the process, but I’ve often been left wondering if I had actually accomplished everything I could. It’s actually a thought that has followed me through the years; I’ve often felt that there were great things I could do if I just __________. (Fill in the blank with “focus, have the confidence to pursue lofty goals, ask for what I want, go for it, etc.). So the Year of the Delivery is about looking at that blank and going “OK, let’s actually see what happens if I take myself out of my comfort zone and the habits that keep me there and actually push past my limits.”

What I’m delivering spans the spectrum from professional (speaking to more and bigger audiences, taking my coaching to the next level) to the personal (improving my physical health, traveling to new places, expanding my creativity). I’m reminded of the Mallory quote about why he climbed Mt. Everest: “Because it is there”. He saw the summit as something big that he could work towards.  In the same way, I want to use the Year of Delivery as an anvil for my soul – I want something hard to work against so I can walk out of it a bigger person that I came in. The changes I bring into effect, the “deliveries” along the way, will be great but that’s not what’s important. The most important delivery is going to be in a year – that’s when I want look in the mirror and know that I’m seeing a me that knows he can deliver.

What are you looking to deliver?

Package by Tesla314

Hey Ladies, Prince Charming Called…

Prince Charming - Loren Javier…and he got tied up in fantasy land. So you’ll have to accept us real world guys. I’m sorry but:

  • I’m not 6’2″ with the perfect smile and immaculate manscaping.
  • I don’t have a beautiful white stallion so you are going to have to carry your own baggage.
  • And I’m not independently wealthy so if you’re waiting for a castle and the servants that go with it…keep waiting.

It seems commonplace for women to talk about the unrealistic expectations that they are held to. And rightly so. All it takes is a walk past the newsstand to see a landscape of airbrushed supermodels in bikinis with articles on how to balance motherhood and career, be a sexual gymnast, and still bake a fantastic apple pie. (But don’t eat that apple pie yourself or you won’t fit into the bikini.)

But ladies, it goes both ways. If you were raised on a diet of romantic comedies, prime-time dramas, and wedding magazines then you probably have an image of your own personal Prince Charming. Your unrealistic expectations may not always as obvious as a size 0 woman, but it can be just as insidious (and damaging to your chances of having a solid real-world relationship).

Here’s the deal: it’s just as hard for us guys to balance everything that you and the world wants us to accomplish. Heck, we’re still trying to figure out exactly what you do want. Remember the sexual revolution that changed gender-roles and put us onto the path of equality? I’m a big fan, but that upheaval and uncertainty has affected us too. These days I don’t know if I’m going to be considered a gentleman or a patriarchal jackass if I open the door for a woman.

So not only are we trying to figure out how we’re supposed to be, but we also have  figure out how to do all of this.  We’re focusing on building our careers so we can be successful care-takers, spending time with those close to us to develop our relationships, and hitting the gym so we can carry you up the stairs and ravish you (in a mutually consenting way).  We’re spinning just as many plates finding ways to be emotionally-available, financially-sound, and physically-attractive men… and still trying to find time to watch the game with our boys (because we want to be good friends too). So yes, we’re tired.

But it’s not a competition!  I’m not trying to say we’ve got it harder or easier.  If we want to create relationships as equals, we have to acknowledge that both sides have their work cut out for them.

Am I saying to settle for slug and get rid of your standards?  Not at all!  But be aware that your expectations might not always be achievable. You probably want us to treat you with compassion and understanding as far as our expectations…well, it goes both ways. If you want to tell us that you can’t be a domestic, career, and sex goddess all at once, that’s great (and accurate);  but be aware that we’re not supermen and we might not be able to achieve everything at once either.

In the end, know that most us are working hard at being the best version of ourselves that we can.  We want to be amazing for the women in our lives, and we do want our relationships to be the best they can be.  Remember, just as the authentic you is more interesting and attractive than a 2-dimensional magazine cover, so is the real us.  And when both sides can get past our artificial expectations, then we can create some amazing things together.

I Really Wish I Could Kick the Monkey Out of the Pool

“How do you meditate on something?”

That’s what I was asked this afternoon.  She was curious how I would meditate on a problem, situation, or wish…considering the main goal of meditation is usually to not think.  So after I gave a disclaimer that I’m not really a meditation master (see my thoughts on my success with meditation here), and after I stumbled around for a bit, I came up with this idea.  It’s a conglomeration of different views on meditation I’ve heard throughout the years.

Think of the subconscious part of your mind as a pool of water.  A really nice pool of water in a warm sunny place.  If you look into the pool and observe the gentle rhythms of the water, it will give you a lot of information.  It won’t solve anything, but it will give you some feedback on what your spirit or soul or unconscious thinks is a good idea.  It’s natural state is one of calm, but very few of us obtain that state of calm…

…Because there is a hyperactive monkey (your conscious mind) making a ruckus in the shallow end of the pool.  He has his waterwings and goggles and he’s splashing away.  Because of this crazy primate, if you try to get any wisdom from the water you are shit-outta-luck because the water is so chaotic.

Meditating on a topic, then, involves two steps.  The first is quieting down the monkey.  You aren’t going to get anything from your subconscious if it’s all rough and choppy, so you have to calm the waters first.  Your mind and your emotions are often so loud and overpowering that you can’t hear anything your higher self is trying to say.  Meditating is the process of getting the monkey to practice the dead-man’s float so he’ll stop splashing.

Once you’ve quieted the water down, you can look for some ideas.  (Of course, with the completely irritating logic of mediation you have to actually try to not try because effort just fires the monkey right back up.)  The second part of the process is to throw a little pebble in and then see what happens.  Ask a question like “What are my feelings on this new career opportunity?” or “Why am I resisting getting help in my relationship?”.  And then see what comes up.  You might not like it, or maybe it will reinforce what you already knew, but it gives you an opportunity to see and know at a different level.

What you do with that information is up to you.  I know that I’ve meditated on topics and have gotten very clear feedback that I then spent years resisting.  There’s no easy path and taking action is never as easy at it seems.  But there’s a lot of wisdom available to you on specific topics in your life if you are just willing to listen.

Of Course I Hate Change, But I Keep Trying It Anyways

4388396268_87224c6556_nA few weeks back I was volunteering with my parents at a festival in Milwaukee. We’ve been bartending there on the Friday night of the festival for almost two decades, and it’s almost a tradition like Christmas for our family. Well, this year there were a bunch of changes to how everything was set up. None of us were excited about it, but my mom was the one who shook her head and said, “I guess I just have problems dealing with change.”

They were wise and self-aware words, but what was interesting in her tone was the resignation…she thought that she was supposed to like change and should want to embrace it. Somehow she had thought that she had failed…but the reality is that I have yet to meet a person who genuinely likes change.

That’s not a new thought, but let’s take this a little further. Most of us are wish our lives were different in some way – maybe we want to make a little more money, be in a relationship (or out of one), live somewhere else, have a better job, or have a healthier lifestyle. And these are great things to pursue. But I was reminded that even if something is an improvement, it’s still a change! So not only do we have to put in the work to improve our situation, but we also have to fight against our inherent resistance to change.

I’ve been especially aware of this as I try to bring some new things into my life. I’m actually trying to create change; and they are positive changes, but they are changes nonetheless. And I can feel my internal resistance during every step of the process. I’m uncomfortable and my instinct is to stop working for the change.

yhst-59118648745518_2272_151956293And this is the place where I’ve fallen flat in past, and I think it is something that pushes back on most of us. Imagine that you have one of the old spring-driven chest expanders. Your left hand is holding your past beliefs, circumstances and habits, the right is holding the changes you are trying to effect. No matter how hard you pull on the right, the left is pulling back with ever more force. It’s why most people give up on their aspirations.

So how do I move past this? To stretch the analogy (pun intended), the trick is to somehow keep the right hand where it is (the present) and let the left hand (the past) move towards closer to the present. Is this possible? I think so, but I’ll admit I’m running this experiment in real-time. Here’s a few things I’m trying:

  • Forgiveness – Even if I don’t like the past, it’s hard to not identify with it. The habits, thought patterns, and mistakes might not be something I want to take into the future, but dammit, they are mine. Finding some acceptance and releasing attachment to who I was in the past lets me move on. Maybe I might have this conception in my mind that I used to be really stubborn and not listen to others’ points of view in the past (possibly rooted in reality). Forgiving myself for being a jackass in the past is the first step towards letting it go and moving on.
  • Focus – I pay close attention to the areas where I know that I’m making changes to deep-seated beliefs. I talk about it a lot to myself; and I talk about it to other people. For example, no one in my family talked about physical health when I was growing up. Now we all talk about going to the YMCA and our exercise programs. And we’re healthier because of it. Or another example: I try to acknowledge when I need help or support in my romantic relationship. It’s still challenging, but I’ll think to myself, “this is where you wouldn’t ask for what you needed in the past, and that didn’t always work out. Can I do something differently?”
  • Forgetfulness – Science is continuing to show that our memory is not a complete file cabinet of our experiences, but a highly-subjective interpretation of what went on in the past. Until we manage to invent a time machine, the past is done with and we can’t change it, but we can change how we think about it. Use the highly malleable nature of your mind to remember what helps you and forget what doesn’t. It takes a little effort, but it pays dividends. I heard someone say once, “If you want to be happier, think more positive thoughts and don’t think about the things that make you sad.” Obvious, but true. The mental discipline of intentional forgetfulness can be really valuable.

If you have any other ideas, I’m totally open.  Good luck with your change!