Lesson #9: Just Listen

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Note: This is the ninth of my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.

I have a strange tendency, in social interactions.  I get nervous, fidgety, and become very eager to fill the pauses in the conversation with fascinating and funny stories.

Now, telling a good story is wonderful, but it does nothing to ease my nervousness in the interaction.

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Did I talk about myself too much?  Have I made myself interesting?

Do they like me?

I think for most of us, conversations are a lot higher-pressure than we want to admit.  We’re planning out what we’re going to say, while the other person is talking.  We’re not doing this because we don’t value the other person.  We’re doing this, because we want them to like us.  We don’t want to be judged.

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And yet our efforts turn into a cycle.  We play our role, plan our words, and make it through one interaction avoiding judgement.  But then, we feel more pressure in the next.  We feel like we need to wear masks, and hide behind personas, so that we will be liked.

So how do we change this?  By realizing that we are misunderstanding the entire situation.

The people we talk to are not focused on us.  They are concerned about their own words, and about avoiding judgement for themselves.  They, too, are stuck in the illusion.  And if we offer them a way out, they will more than likely be grateful for it.

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The way out of the illusion is to listen.  Listen to what the other person says, hearing without judging.  When you inevitably begin to plan out what you’re going to say next, think of questions that you can ask.  Be genuinely interested–not because what you have to say is unimportant, but because your curiosity will be healing to both you and those around you.

I remember a time that I visited two friends, and they both spent the entire time talking to me.  It was as if a listening ear opened a floodgate for them–they were yearning to feel valued, to be related to without fear.  And at the same time, I heard their stories, and saw how we were similar.  Our fear of being judged comes from the misperception that we are different, inferior, vulnerable.  By listening to those around us, we can see are shared fears, our shared love, our shared humanity.

It is through seeing past the illusions of fear and judgement that we truly discover our connectedness and ability to love.

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Touch the Earth, Kiss the Sea

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Our first evening at the cottage on Thunder Bay, I saw the sun beginning to set.  I said, “I gotta do something,” abandoned our Mario Kart game, and headed out to the beach with my camera. 

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So barefoot, in the sunset, I wandered across the place where it all began.

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It was here that Rob proposed to me, over the frozen waters, at the dawning of the new millennium.

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It was here that I first sailed, aboard the Sonnet.

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It was here that I faced my first storm.

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It was here that I took the helm for 6 hours, as Moonraker was taking on water.

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It was here that we set out, for 13 hours in hurricane weather, determined to bring the newly-repaired Moonraker back to our home port.

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It was here that we returned , won victories in arriving and leaving, before saluting our worthy adversary.

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It was here that we anchored for a month, when my blogging began to take off, with my guest post published on Miss Minimalist.  It was through that guest post that I met many of the friends who helped me through the challenges that were to com.

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It was here that I first began to look fear in the eye—it’s where my current journey truly began.

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Walking along the beach, wading through the water, where it all began, I saw how it all connects, how it all matters.

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Watching the sun set over this house of healing, I saw that the best, the worst, and the seemingly insignificant events of our lives factor so much into the grand scheme of things.

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All working together, to create the beauty that is life.

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Lesson #6: There is Always a Path

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I have decided to come back to my 35 Lessons in 35 Years.  This is lesson #6, which I learned last summer.

As we were finishing the endless decluttering, we decided that it would be best to find a place to live, before our arrival in Houston.  We had the name of a good school district for students with special needs, and it just so happened to be the same school district that Beanie would attend if we moved into a marina.

I called up the manager at a nice looking but reasonably priced apartment complex, and she got the ball rolling.  She said that we would be able to send in our deposit, as soon as they got our credit report back.  I had warned her that we were in the process of doing deed-in-lieu with our house, but she said that should be fine.

What I hadn’t realized, was that, until the process was completed, the mortgage company had listed the amount we still owed on the house, as a landlord debt.  This led to a conference call with our case manager from the mortgage company, and the apartment manager.  The manager said she would plead our case with the company that owns the apartment complex, and that we would have an answer in two days.

It was a long two days.

During this time of waiting, my imagination spun out of control.  What if we couldn’t get an apartment?  What if we had to live in a dangerous neighborhood?  Send Beanie to an unsafe school?  What if we were homeless?  What if?  What if?

I began to doubt my decision to leave.  Here we were, leaving a 4-bedroom house that we owned, in a place I had worked for 10 years.  I had chosen my daughter’s kindergarten teacher years ago.  Yet we were leaving this stability behind, and plunging into the unknown.

I was fortunate to have many good friends who helped me through that time.  Three things that were said to me, really stuck in my head.  “There is always a path,” “You can not fail,” and “Do not let fear blind you to how powerful you are.”  I repeated those lines to myself, as I took my morning walks.

And, better yet, I began to believe them.  There would be a path.  We would have a roof over our heads.  We would find a way.

Finding a way was not necessary, as the manager who was working with us (who is now our neighbor, and it was really sad when I had to give her my letter of notice), pulled some strings and got us the apartment.  It’s been an enjoyable year, living here.

But still, knowing what I know now, there would have been a way if the apartment hadn’t have worked out, and it would have been fine.  We could have lived in an RV park, near the marinas, that we didn’t know existed at that time.  We could have lived in an extended stay hotel, in the same school district.  There would have been infinite options for us.

Sometimes we get so attached to the path we want to be on, that we fail to see all of the other possibilities.

 

 

Finding Meaning Where There is None

It’s time that I levelled with you again.

I’m a hypocrite.

Fortunately, we all are, but I still thought I would confess my most recent hypocrisy to you tonight.

I’ve talked to you about fear.  I’ve talked to you about believing in happily ever after, and not waiting for the other shoe to drop.  I’ve talked to you about not letting fear paralyze you.

So, it may or may not surprise you to know that I’ve taken the opposite of my advice on all three counts.

Two days ago, I was sitting in my classroom, realizing that I was holding back, shying away from things I knew I could be doing.  I was acting tentatively, not wanting to get settled in or comfortable, because I was waiting for everything to fall apart.

I was drawing parallels to the situation I left, and finding meaning where there likely is none.  What if things happen the same way this winter?  What if it all falls apart?  What if history repeats itself?

What if?  What if?

All over again.

Sometimes I need to take my own advice.  And sometimes I’m glad that my friends are kind enough not to throw my own words back into my face.

It’s one thing to know something intellectually, but it’s a whole other thing to live it, all the time.  Fear is sneaky.  That hesitancy, those “what if’s” have a way of sneaking in, after they’ve been friends (or at least familiar) for so long.

My first instinct is panic–here is fear, with a capital F!  I worry that I’ve let it slip in, then become angry at myself.  I thought I was beyond this!

But then, maybe fear is just a normal part of the human condition, regardless of how perfect we aspire to be.  Maybe it is something that will keep coming back, keep sneaking in.  If that is the case, then maybe the solution is not to overthink and become critical of ourselves, but to feel the fear…and move forward anyway.

And that is exactly what I’m doing.  I don’t regret giving life my best, before it all went downhill last winter.  Bad things can happen.  This winter could very well be as bad as last winter.  But will it be any easier, if I shy away and hide in the shadows?  No matter what happens, I will still feel better if I know that I gave it my all.

So, let’s all give it everything tonight.  Life is too short to spend locked inside, letting fear get the best of us.

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Please check out my guest post on Pick The Brain, How to Overcome Fear and Live Your Dreams.

Believe in Happily Ever After

There are two things to aim at in life: first, to get what you want; and, after that, to enjoy it. Only the wisest of mankind achieve the second.
Logan Pearsall Smith

But Charlie, don’t forget what happened to the man who suddenly got everything he wanted…He lived happily ever after.
Willy Wonka

Last winter, a friend of mine wrote about having “survivor’s guilt,” because her life was going so well, while so many other people were struggling.  She couldn’t enjoy herself, because she was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.  And it did, weeks after she wrote that.  She ended up facing some horrible struggles, that nobody should ever have to endure in their lifetime.

The tragedy, however, is that waiting for bad times to come, did not make them any easier.  It did nothing to prepare her, for what was around the corner.  Instead, it only deprived her of happiness, when all was going well.

We don’t like to be blindsided.  We want to be prepared for whatever will come our way.  But is the shock of being blindsided really worse than the inability to be happy, because we’re always worrying about what lies around the corner?  Does worrying really prepare us for anything at all?

I was blindsided last January.  It happened immediately after we returned from our trip to Madison.  Do I wish that I would have seen it coming?  The weekend in Madison was one of the best trips I have ever been on.  It brought Rob and me a lot closer, and, through the conversations we had that weekend, we discovered some earth-shattering things about each other.  I am very glad that I didn’t worry about what was to come.

Right here, right now, my life is perfect.  I live somewhere with palm trees and sunshine, my daughter is doing well in school, and I have a job that I love and many good friends.  I’m trying new things with my writing, and I’m pleased with the direction my blog is taking.

However, until yesterday, I was not happy.  I was not able to stop trying to peek around the corner.  Last winter was horribly difficult, and I have been trying to prepare myself, in case something like that happened again.

Accepting “happily ever after” is difficult.  We all know that life is about change, and that more challenges will come our way.  But I know that last winter, I was provided with the resources, friends, and supports that I needed to get through it.  We need to trust that the supports we need will be there, when we need them. 

Right now, I’m living happily ever after.  There is no longer any need for me to create problems where there are none.   I understand that life is about change, but I am not going to waste my time worrying about when and what that change will be.  Right now, things are good, and my only responsibility is to accept and enjoy this new reality.

What is keeping you from finding your “happily ever after”?

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Note: Please check out my post on Katy’s new blog: Liteskip Consulting.  You may remember Katy’s previous blog, Big Little Living.  Like many bloggers, Katy is trying a new creative venture, so let’s all head over and check it out!

Thoughts on Courage

“Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear – not absence of fear.”
Mark Twain

At least once a week, I am told that I am brave.  And my reaction to this praise, is to laugh.  Me, brave?  I am a person whose life has been dominated by fear, for way too long.

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I’ve held back from trusting people, because I feared being hurt.

I’ve hung back in the shadows, afraid to stand out, because I feared rejection.

I spent 10 years in a situation that no longer suited me, because I was afraid to try something else.

I spend one year getting nothing more than one chapter done on my book, because I feared that it wouldn’t be good enough.

I’ve remained silent when I have seen other people being mistreated, because I feared that it would happen to me.

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We’ve all let fear get the upper hand, and we’ve all acted in ways that we are less than proud of.  I can criticize survival mode, because I’ve spent much of my life experiencing it.  Fear has been a constant state for me, for most of my 34 years on this earth.

So what does it mean, to be brave?  Does having courage mean that we’re never fearful?

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I don’t believe that it does.  I think that courage is simply a matter of making a choice.  It’s a matter of realizing that the risks of maintaining the status quo are greater than the risks of making a change.  It’s a matter of taking a situation that could destroy you, and using it to create something amazing. 

There is fear involved.  Great changes always involve some amount of fear.  But courage involves understanding the fear, acknowledging it, but moving forward anyway. 

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I was terrified the first time I sailed through a storm, but the prospect of never being on the water again was even more frightening.

I was terrified when I requested autism testing for my daughter, but I was even more afraid of her not getting the help she needed.

I was terrified the first time I opened up to all of you on this blog, but I was even more frightened of not accomplishing all I can with my writing.

I was terrified when I quit my job and moved across the country, but I was even more afraid of staying in a situation that made me unhappy.

I was terrified the first time I rode my bicycle to work, but I was even more frightened of not discovering another source of joy in my life.

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The risks of doing nothing, of staying on the shore, are almost always greater than the risks of trying something new.  Stagnation should scare you more than failure.  We humans have the amazing ability to get back up, after we fall flat on our faces, but we do not have the ability to turn back time, and to do all of the things that we wish we would have done.

We all experience fear, every one of us.  But have courage–work through it so that you will not look back on your life, and see nothing but a list of things you wish you would have done.  Our time here is precious, and it is up to us to make sure that we live fully.

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Reality Sinks In

I love our new life.  I really do.  It’s beautiful, sunny, and everyday can feel like vacation.  In fact, our first month here was absolutely euphoric.

However, recently, I’ve found myself back on the emotional roller coaster.  I always had an excuse for being fearful or anxious, but it seemed that I was missing something, as my emotions went from one extreme to the other.  I thought that perhaps the thing I was missing, was that I was actually going crazy.

Which of course led to me deconstructing myself and potentially causing a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But then, this week, it occurred to me.  If we assume for a moment that I actually am human, then we should acknowledge the obvious.

I lived in the same area, of the same state, for 34 years.  I worked in the same job for 10.  And I emptied out my house, got rid of at least 90% of my possessions, kept my beloved Moonraker in storage (remember, 2 years ago, I told you that Moonraker was my soul–apparently it isn’t), loaded up our station wagon and moved from a two traffic light town to the fourth largest city in the U.S.

In our new reality:

  • I live in a state I had never even visited.
  • I work in a school that is larger than the entire district, where I worked before.
  • I do not speak the majority of my students’ native language.
  • Beanie’s school looks like a high school, to me.
  • Our family and friends are over 1000 miles away.
  • There is absolutely nothing that is familiar, except for Rob, Beanie, and the darned cat.

I should probably be more concerned about myself, if I wasn’t feeling fearful sometimes, if I never doubted myself after making such a huge change.  Uprooting everything will cause some strong emotions.

And yet, I do not regret our decision–I don’t even question it.  True, I am not always brave, but I am still glad to be here.  I can enjoy the roller coaster ride between the euphoria of having actually made this change, and the fears and doubts about the unfamiliarity.  I can enjoy this part of the world–this part of my own country–that I have never seen before.  I needed change and newness, to satisfy my curious spirit.   The challenges are not only surmountable; they will be wonderful.

So, please, don’t ever let doubt and fear hold you back from making changes and taking risks.  Know that you will feel those things, but it will also be so amazing that you can’t help but enjoy the ride.

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