Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The Point of Beginning

This is a very attractive concept to me....here's the story. The first Geographer of the US was embarking on an enormous project, one that might have been considered impossible to many: surveying the US from Pennsylvania west.

Wow. Untamed, unruly wilderness. Rivers, creeks, swamps. Animals, natives. Tough, heavy reliance on math. You get the idea.

How do you do something like that? Well, the first thing you do is find a place to start. And then you move to the second place. And the next place. And so on.

You deal with the challenges as they arise. But you don't (and can't) deal with them before you start. You put a starting point down, and go. And everything relates back to that point.

And it becomes a monument.

The picture here (courtesy Jimmywayne22 on flickr on creative commons license) is of a monument to the starting point of the US Public Land Survey, which began on this date in 1785.

A couple of things about the survey....it defined and tamed the unruly wilderness. And, the WAY they did the survey defined the future, because it created a nation of small landowners which is integral to our identity and character as a people. (This book, Measuring America, is a great story that teaches us how acts may end up being more significant than we think at the time).

So in our lives, maybe it should cause us to think.

  • Are my challenges bigger than those of the public land survey?
  • If I am facing an emotional wilderness that might as well be an abyss, how can I mark the territory?
  • What is my Point of Beginning? What concrete reminder of that place can I post, so I remember where I started?
  • Do I undetake ordinary acts with the idea that I don't understand what significance they may have in the future?
  • Am I delaying just because I don't know where to start?

Monday, September 29, 2008

So I spoke too soon

I talked a little soon about "my mountain is waiting" and how I energized myself out of bed this morning with my little mantra.

It was not a good day. I was petty, pissy, lazy and unproductive. Oh, and don't forget about self-pitying, perhaps the trait I hate worst of all.

Its 11:30 at night. And I know I let myself down today.

I know I can't change it. Its over.

Vince Lombardi once said, "it isn't how often you get knocked down. Its how often you get back up."

Or, after the Battle of Shiloh, Sherman approached Grant and said "Sir, we've had the devil's own day."

"Lick 'em tomorrow" said Grant.

So tomorrow is another day. It won't be like this again. I am the master of my destiny.

I think I broke my little toe

Yes, I know. There's nothing they can do for it.


On the good front, I woke up early this morning---like 4:30. In the past, one worry would have led to another and pretty soon I would have been up the whole time. I would arrive at work tired, and in a bad frame of mind.

I think between my meds and my hard work on self-talk and my identity, I've been able to calm these demons. They haven't gone away, they just aren't screaming at me all the time, and I can tell them to shut up.

When I did wake up, I uttered my new slogan: My Mountain is Waiting, which is from Oh the Places You'll Go.

I will say this: I am really worried for the future, the big-picture, 30,000 foot future, as it relates to my economic life in America in the coming years. I don't let it dominate my thoughts, but I am not confident.

All I can do is what is before me today.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Managing the Offense, managing your life

If you follow football, the phrase you keep hearing is that quarterbacks have to "manage the offense."

What does that mean?

It means the quarterback took the play, understood the objectives, what he information he needed from the defense to make the play, and how we could take what was available to have a successful play.

It also means that the QB left the huddle with a plan. Part of "managing the offense" is to look at what's the defense does, and adjust accordingly.

Sometimes it means calling a timeout if he needs to think about it.

It doesn't mean that its time to stress out because things were not as you suspected. It means you look at the situation, think about what your options are, and execute one of them effectively.

And then you go back in the huddle and do it again.

I'm not a "football teaches life" guy, and not because I don't think you can learn things from football, because you can. In fact, you will learn from any activity in which you push yourself against recognized standards of performance and commit yourself to succeeding, whether its sports, music, acting, politics, etc.

Enough to say that I am as much a "football teaches life" guy as I am a "concert piano teaches life" guy.

But, what if you took the concept of managing the offense, and you used it to manage your life.

You'd have a game plan....you'd know what you need to do and how to get there. You'd also have thought through what to do if things are different than you thought--what audibles to call when you get to the line.

And then you'd do it for the next play. And then the next.

As I'm feeling overwhelmed, as I am now, it seems like a good metaphor, a positive and competent way to handle the pressures of a day.

For example. I got a bill from my apartment for electricity (from before I moved in) that might have stressed me out at one time. Instead, I wrote a note explaining it, and walked it to their drop box right away.

First down, me.

Next play.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Take Care of others by taking care of yourself---or the selfish chronicles.....

This is a concept I find really interesting. When I was struggling with the end of my marriage, lots of people told me to take care of myself. I didn't want to do it, because I was busy shouldering the whole world. But I didn't start to really get better until I learned to take care of me. Like everything we talk about, there is a sweet spot here...you can't be too self-centered. But, if we are healthy, are we better able to make those around us healthy too?

This article in the Harvard Business Journal says we can. It makes sense. An unhappy, polluted personality is not going to be able to raise emotionally healthy children. I guess you have to learn to take care of yourself right along with everyone else.

Procrastination Costs Big Time

I am a terrible procrastinator. I am now, and I always have been. And, in some sense, I probably always will have those tendencies--under normal circumstances, that's the way I will always tilt.

But, I guess through your own effort you can move the needle from REALLY BAD to BAD, right? Or, from UNACCEPTABLE to ACCEPTABLE.

For example, I got my energy bill over the weekend. In the past, I would have filed it away, and then dealt with it right before--or after--the due date. All the time, it would have been rattling around in my head....don't forget to write pay the bill, etc. And, if I was in an anxious state, bound up with my fears, I would have been afraid to open the envelope and begun to imagine how much it was for.

First, I have signed up for ebilling. When the bill arrived on Saturday, I logged onto DTE and posted payment, direct from my account, to be paid on the due date. The whole thing was done in 3 minutes.

Think of the time my brain would have spent on this issue. Paying the bill took the same time Saturday as it would have in two weeks. That time was already committed at some point. So nothing is lost by doing it now, and something is gained...a small amount of peace of mind and clarity.

This isn't the type of change that "changes everything" if there is such a thing. Its just one more habit to try and be at peace, so that life can be at its best.

Monday, September 22, 2008

View from my back....

Shot tonight, lying on my back near my apartment while my son played on the playground equipment. Beautiful fall day--the first day of Fall, in fact---and a moment you have to appreciate.


For the first time in a long time, I woke up early with a start, bolting up and sweating. Its certainly the first time since I moved out.

Probably par or ahead of the course. I have some debt issues which I need to manage.

A couple notes:

I got up and did something right away, which I might not always have done.
I had high anxiety for, let's say, 15 minutes.
I think I had a healthy response. I started to breathe, and then gave myself some self-talk about what I could do to try and manage the issue. And I got some steps identified--even some things that I had planned to do before I move.

This is a difficult issue--and financial management was destined to be my most difficult issue.

I'm tired now, and still having some lingering effects. I need to do enough to manage the issue effectively AND get it off my mind. In the past, I would have just tried to get it off my mind.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A backlash against GTD? Apparently so, based on this and this.

In a way, I know what they are talking about. As a former 7 Habits Guy, I sort of feel like you can end up in, as Covey says, the "thick of thin things."

The complaint is that GTD places a priority on project management, not on high quality thinking or innovation.

Taken one way, that's true. But, not if you ask yourself, WHY does GTD focus on project management. The whole idea is to manage your projects in such a way that they are not floating around your brain, polluting the atmosphere. This should in theory, free you up for two things that are tangentially related:

  • True leisure time (where Covey would say that you would sharpen your saw and truly re-create)
  • An ability to focus on innovation and creativity on the projects where it is required.

This is partly Allen's fault, because of his rhetorical focus on moving widgets. You have to be able to grasp the idea that doing some creative is moving a widget, and that it is moved until it's created effectively. What that will require you to be is less literal, and able to tolerate some ambiguity, which many people simply cannot do.

Second, Allen always made it clear that you could adapt his system to your needs. You don't have to do EVERY part of the system to be effective. I'm going to write about how I manage GTD and 7 Habits soon....suffice it so say that you can adapt it and make it work.

7 Habits never did it for me because it didn't help me manage the virtual blizzard of stuff in my windshield every day. But, I do believe the two philosophies can be accomodated. I use 7 Habits roles and visioning to create my overall direction, help me decide on projects, and help me ensure my projects do not simply reflect today's urgency. That's all part of my weekly review.

And then, I use GTD to manage those issues on an hourly basis.

To me, this all makes perfect sense. Different things for different people. But, you know what. You can't discard systems because they eventually butt up against the time-space continuum. You have to adapt them, using your own knowledge of your life. You cherry pick the things that represent timeless principles, and then move forward with velocity when needed, and float on the river when needed.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

My Mountain is Waiting

So, a very good friend of mine (my rebound friend, in fact), gave me a copy of "Oh the places you'll go" by Dr. Suess shortly after my divorce. She told me to read it when I had some quiet time, but something to do.

She was right. I read it last night, and then I took a long walk.

It is an incredible book, a Gettysburg address for its simplicity and elegant use of language. Every part of it moved me, two parts made me feel like the top of my head had blown off.

One was the end.

be your name Buxbaum or Bixby or Bray
or Mordecai Ali Van Allen O'Shea,
you're off to Great Places!
Today is your day!
Your mountain is waiting.
So...get on your way!

My mountain is waiting....that really moved me, made me want to get to work, and do for today what I needed to do to move my mountain.

The second is the paragraph about waiting....

...for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting, huh? Waiting for life to fix itself? Waiting for something, and when it happens, what? You'll wait for something else.

A wise book. Life is for living. Don't be reckless, but don't wait. Get busy living.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

On the Rebound

Ouch...so my first relationship post-marriage is falling apart. Well, I don't know how OUCH it is.

My advisors have all told me that I shouldn't rush into a relationship. Some (mostly women) have even told me I should wait a year before I leap into a relationship. Need to know myself better, not really ready to be a partner to another person, and wasting a year in the life of an otherwise innocent person.

Well, I didn't do it. Right or wrong. What we had was a good relationship, but I knew for about three months it wasn't going to work out. But, as long as no commitments were being made or no one was being led on, it was OK, right? And certain parts of it were great.

In fact, she taught me I could be attractive again, and I could be sexually vigorous again, and I could please a woman. And I could enjoy a woman's company. And we had some great, great times, way outside my comfort zone, where I need to be.

Well, our parenting schedules rarely mix, and we don't live close to each other, and we (apparently) were both wondering what whether something else was out there.

So we decided to see other people. Her suggestion, manipulated to look like it was my idea.

Mostly, its a relief. I was beginning to wonder how I could get out before it got too far and someone got hurt. And, it wasn't right long term.

Mostly its a relief, but it hurts a little. Maybe more. And I don't know why. I keep telling myself, I got what I wanted and she wanted it too...hmm, you mean sometimes people don't know what they want?

Anyway, there's fork in the road now:

  • Do I take my freedom with thanks, and retire from the stage for a while, at least until the end of the year? (This is what my mother-brain says I should do).
  • Do I jump right back in and start meeting people. (This is what my gut tells me to do). I even thought---what if I made a goal to go out with 20 women between now and this time next year??? Ambitious....would it make me happy?

I'm not going to worry that I'm not ready for a relationship. Everyone brings baggage to a relationship, its not a crime, so long as no one gets led on.

I don't know what I'm going to do. I am registered on an online site, but I haven't filled it all in yet. Maybe I'm not ready. During the last 18 months of my marriage, my mental health was FAR worse than I knew at the time. So, I feel ready, but maybe I am not.

There's no hurry. No rush. No pressure. But people say follow your gut, right? Could it really hurt anything?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Can we just say Yes?

I was at this movie and I saw this trailer, which is based on a very interesting premise (much like Liar Liar, another Jim Carrey Film). The Film is called Yes Man, and Carrey's character basically tries self-help through saying Yes.

Like telling the truth all the time, I suspect this has some potentially funny unintended consequences.

But it got me to thinking. Saying YES is one of those Ying-yang things. There's a correct balance, like between acceptance and discontent. In general, I have thought for a long time that what was holding me back was a difficulty saying NO, not yes. I would get in over my head because I wanted to please everyone.

But maybe not. Maybe I have failed to be as open to new adventures as I could be. They often say that when you are old, you regret what you didn't do.

Like I said, somewhere in all of this is a groove, where you have an upward trajectory, based on growth, but you are not pointing the trajectory so steeply that you cannot manage.

Also, (and here it gets really interesting), the more you say NO, the more you can say YES.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Friday, September 12, 2008


Keeping my sense of humor is important. I have two sayings as it relates to this:

The secret to a happy life is to be easily amused.
The other secret to a happy life is to be able to amuse yourself.

So I was thinking this morning about the food I am eating lately. Specifically, I am not eating things I really, really like, such as sushi (because it is expensive) and fat (because it was making me sick). Then, I thought to myself, well, sushi and fatty foods are "sometimes foods" not "all the time" foods.

Which led me to look up this clip, as listed here. For anyone who grew up with Sesame Street, this one is a scream.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Deer in Cemetery

Deer in Cemetery
Originally uploaded by orangeandbrown
I'm really proud of this. Its probably the best photo I ever took. It was in a cemetery in Luzerne, Michigan. We happened along, and saw two deer wandering around. This photo just worked out perfectly. Of course, snapped about twenty others, too.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Charging onto the field

You know, I'm a big college football fan, and when I see my favorite college football team, and they're waiting to hit the field, and they're jumping up and down and screaming and beating on each other, it makes me wonder. Why can't I start the day like that? Why can't I have that kind of enthusiasm and drive?

Is it because I don't have 20,000 people cheering me when I walk in the door? Well, that would certainly help.

Is it because I'm not 20? I don't know...I'm as excited to see them come out as they are to come out.

Is it because this isn't a game? I don't know.

Obviously, I don't want to charge the field...but I wouldn't mind being able to find about 20% of that enthusiasm at the beginning of the day.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Human Mind maintains our parity

I have always been interested in how our mind deals with our experiences. Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness talks about how our mind compensates when we have bad experiences, and helps us cope. (Gladwell has written extensively on this in an article that features Gilbert). And, similarly, when we have good experiences, our mind has that awful tendency to drag us back down again.

Which is why things that are supposed to make us happy often don't, and vice versa.

Here's something interesting I heard on a podcast from Scientific American's 60-second psych. Researchers working with split brain patients stimulated the right side of their brain to laugh. Now, remember, nothing was actually going on. They asked the person why they laughed, and the left side of the brain--figuring there had to be a reason--said it was because the researcher was funny. The brain responded similarly to anger.

Our brain is always compensating, creating reason, even when it has to completely make things up. It seems to me that the challenge is to let it have free rein when we are feeling bad, and then self-talk ourselves around the issue when we are feeling good. But not TOO much.

An even keel is probably good. Even if you have to make it up.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A David Allen affirmation

Not to put too fine a point on it, but I don't like affirmations. I feel like Al Franken playing Stuart Smiley. I do like David Allen, though, and I remembered he had a pretty good affirmation in his GTD book. I've put it to a picture here. You know, I was feeling stressed last night, and I said this to myself and it helped. The interesting thing is that the part I thought was stupid (the word "easy") is actually the word that makes the whole thing work. Because, using the system, it is or should be easy to manage the priorities. Doing the work might be hard, but that usually isn't where the stress comes from, is it?

Saturday, September 6, 2008

More on my weight

Recently saw this, courtesy of Gretchen @ The Happiness Project. Is it more important to be fit than not to be fat? Its interesting, and I believe its true that physical activity is a great antidote to many things, including mental health. But don't I keep reading that obesity is a risk factor for many things, including cancer?

And I weighed myself today....lost two more pounds, down five in a a little less than a month, which is about what we were looking for.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Been trying to lose weight....

Whoa! You say. A divorced man is trying to lose weight. There's a first. My goal was like a pound a week, maybe down to 220 by the end of the year. So far, since mid-August, its b33n from 238-235, which is a start I guess. I had made it a big computer thing, counting calories online with everything I ate. But, that's too much work. I'm just going to eat the way I have been until early October, and see where we stand.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

One of my favorite quotes

One of my favorite quotes is listed to the right....its from a novel (actually three novellas) by a guy named Billy Lee Brammer, called The Gay Place. (No, not that kind of gay!) Its a brilliant political novel that chronicles the lives of journalists and public officials in Austin, Texas, during the 1960's. Its very compelling. I am always shocked at how much people used to DRINK, but, that's not what I'm writing about.

The quote below is said about the Governor of Texas, a Lyndon Johnson, larger than life type character. (Brammer worked for LBJ and as a journalist).

Its about putting an umbrella up instead of cursing the storm, your fate. Its about the difference between being gifted and clever. It gives me strange comfort in stressful times.

And I know that you sometimes need self-analysis and even disillusion. Just as I know that you can't accept everything--if Lewis and Clark accepted everything as it was, the Corps of Discovery would have wasted their lives. But, I think the meter is often wrong. We spend 75% feeling disillusion and 25% running things, where a person at peace might make it like 10% and 90%.