Celebrate Yourself (and keep going)

My friends tease me that my catch-phrase is “I celebrate you.” I celebrate names on papers, first trips after getting a driver’s license, and winning Nobel prizes with equal amounts of congratulatory gusto. Yes, equal. I have noticed, however, that I’m doing much less external celebrating lately, and the reason is simple: I can’t celebrate for you or with you if your fervor in drawing attention to yourself far exceeds any measure of congratulations I could offer.

I’m not just talking about selfies. I think they’re fun, spiffy, and contain just the right blend of self-congratulation and attention seeking to be mildly annoying and occasionally excessive. What I am referencing is the attention seeking that validates one’s reason for the effort. Did you really just get an A in Chemistry so that I could celebrate you? I surely hope not.

I hope, for all our sakes, that our reasons for exerting extra effort don’t rely on someone else drawing attention to that effort. If you want to run a marathon, that is awesome, but your joy should come from the fact that you lived through the experience and not from the fact that I will hug your sweaty, electrolyte-depleted self and say congratulations.

People who succeed at whatever endeavor they undertake don’t attain their goals so that someone can shout hurray from the mountain tops or so that they can prove someone wrong. They may begin that way, but they succeed on blood, sweat, and grit because that journey becomes more about themselves and less about others. Their successes are mental, not public. Of course people like knowing their efforts are appreciated and will work harder in response to that recognition, but at some point don’t we have to put on the Adult Pants and celebrate our own selves without the validation from the multitudes?

I am reminded of a video clip I watched recently about a person who lost 70 pounds in her quest for a more healthy lifestyle. That’s awesome and I would hug and celebrate her if I knew her. The thing she mentioned having to come to terms with is how little people cared about her weight loss, and how sometimes people undermined her efforts or gave her negative attention for it. That made me sad at first, but then she pointed out that she began to understand that her healthy eating journey was hers. In other words, the things that are most important to you are most important to you, not necessarily anyone else.

We definitely need to do a better job of celebrating others, but we also need to do a better job of recognizing that our own efforts are ours, and not for someone else to celebrate. I am reminded of the phrase that “You have to toot your own horn.” Well, good, but that doesn’t mean that everyone else is obligated to sing along, or that you’re any less worthy if you don’t get a parade in your honor with confetti and balloon animals. It just means that we should all build some internal motivation to be a better version of ourselves each day without seeking permission or acknowledgement from others. It’s time to get out those Adult Pants, get to work on whatever thing of awesome we’re passionate about, and let the confetti fall where it may.

And Now a Word From Our Sponsor   

I’m back from hiding, metaphorically peeking out from under my blanket just in time to vote for the next President of the United States. I enjoyed an odd summer away from writing and spent it doing nebulous, whimsical, forgotten yet cherished activities which I didn’t even bother to post on my social media. I think that might mean they never happened. However, I am now looking to see whether it’s safe for me to come outside of my little self-protective cocoon.

I have been doing my day-to-day adulting of course: do the job, love the job, worry about the job, obsess about the job, switch topics and fret about my children, go back to obsessing about the job. Lather, rinse, and repeat. Oh yes, now I can obsess about my sparkly and prematurely grey hair, which while I like it, I’m on the worry train and it hasn’t switched tracks yet, so I’m just riding this to its ambiguous destination. Kind of like my writing.

I have become dizzied by the political whirligigs and maelstroms slinging around 2016. I consider myself to be a fairly reasonable person who believes that information is generally good and that research goes a long way toward understanding, but I am stuck. I can’t process the information as it concerns the American presidential candidates. Do we really lack anyone better? I’m reminded of a novel by Isaac Asimov in which the current global president is someone who doesn’t want the job, but who would accept it as his/her duty for six years before giving it to the next person. I like that idea a whole lot. I liked it enough to check on my Googles for the title of this novel, but the Googles linked me to a listing of books that offer alternative (obviously dystopian) versions of political life in the future. The Handmaid’s Tale and Wall-ee (yes, really) jumped into my short term memory. Yep, there you go: Wall-ee for president. I’ve oversimplified the reason for that list, but my Googles at least made me feel slightly better. No more informed, but better.

That’s the whole point, though. I think. I may have forgotten what my point actually is because I’ve been assaulted with ignorance and character assassination masquerading as information for way too long. I am not going to feel good about exercising my democratic right in November. I didn’t feel good about it during the primaries either. Although I am vaguely aware that there are two other party ticket runners, I am only aware about them in the sense that I am aware that eating right and exercising are good for me. In other words, I am not aware of them. Does this make me horrifyingly under-informed? Yep. Guilty as charged and now please pass me the green beans while you measure my pulse. I think I still have one.

I’m overexposed and also blighted for information at a time when I most need it. As a good American would, then, I will look for sparkly diversions. I hear there’s line dancing at the Ignorance is Bliss Bar and Grille. They have free chips and salsa on Tuesdays. This rant has been brought to you from our sponsors. Who are they? I don’t even know that. Looks like it’s back to the blanket for me until I can sort this out.

A Different Kind of Creative Tension

About 20 years ago, I attended a training series that showcased Peter Senge’s model of workplace innovation reflected in his book The Fifth Discipline. It was at this training that I learned the idea of creative tension. According to him, creative tension is the distance between a workplace’s vision and its current situation. Cool, but not being a particularly organization-minded person, I began to apply this to other situations. Since then, I’ve applied the notion of creative tension as a way to understand how to bridge differences or meet goals.

Parenting, for example, is chock full of creative tension. The toddler definitely does NOT want the nap, but you know that if said toddler doesn’t get a nap they will become Category 5 hurricane of mood and impulse. Intense negotiation, filibusters, strikes, and either compromise or capitulation is par for the course. Any workplace is full of creative tension. We may agree on goals, but how we reach them can be – and often is – wildly different. It’s no coincidence that shows like Parks and Recreation or the comic strip Dilbert feel so real to us.

Our personal goals and visions are playgrounds of creative tension. I might have the desire to finish my reports and grade my papers before I go home, but it’s Friday and the call of my friends and family rings loud and clear. The distance between my vision and my current reality is never quite so clear as it is on a Friday. While I love Friday, I have also begun to recognize one of my symptoms of creative tension: getting tired. My desire to complete all my tasks so that I can begin other projects is directly inverse to the amount of residual energy I have left at the end of the work week.

At the end of a long week, instead of spending time with friends, returning to this book or that craft or, please no, doing housework, I sit. Once I sit, I fall asleep. There’s little I can do once the Friday rest impulse strikes. I could watch a movie, which I’d view behind closed eyes. I could talk on the phone, but I tend to either become monosyllabic or giggle too much when I’m tired. I could go out with friends, but I’d come home early. I eat my Wheaties (metaphorically) and take care of myself, but no matter how much I desire the time to tap into my creative genius, Friday fatigue is the boss of me. Maybe for some, Sunday is a day to relax; for me, it’s Friday evening. My creative tension will have to wait until Saturday.

I Didn’t Adult Very Well Today

Most days, I adult pretty well. I bring my lunch, mind my manners, do the day, and go home to reflect on how I can do better the next day. Last night, I got organized: clothing ready, lunch prepared, and lessons planned. I even packed my homework bag so I wouldn’t forget anything.

Today started out straightforward enough: morning routine, made it to work at the usual time, got the day percolating along. Then it happened: I was in a bad mood, the type of mood that greets the world with a growl rather than a grin. I had no particular reason for this, just that there it was, the unwelcome visitor to my regularly scheduled programming. My students, who I respect and admire, pushed the teacherly buttons. The eyeball rolls, the resistance to the lesson at hand. Not educationally awesome. Of course I accept the ebb and flow of a school day, but there’s a pretty good reason I have labeled this time of year the Third Quarter Blues. Today was the exemplar of that reason.

Rather than chugging along, the day hobbled, then fell apart. After I put it back together, it was time to go home. While I’m thankful for every day, sometimes I’m just thankful the day is over. As I sit and reflect on how I can do better tomorrow, the only thing I keep coming up with is that I need to not have today happen tomorrow. Fortunately because time is like that, it won’t.

For days like today, I will forgive myself my mood and try doing that adult thing again tomorrow. Instead, I will drown my self-absorbed sorrows in motivational YouTube videos or reruns of I Love Lucy.

The Courage to be Yourself

In a recent classroom activity, when asked what constituted bravery, most of my middle schoolers answered with some version of ‘doing the thing that no one else will do.’ This included jumping off cliffs, skydiving, and other truly foolhardy adventures. If you are a skydiving cliff jumper, I mean no offense. I just think there are other forms of bravery less likely to make me vomit.

As a devout fan of the Venn diagram, one of my favorite books is a Venn diagram collection of ideas for living a good life (Jessica Hagy, How to be interesting in 10 simple steps). Her illustrations depict various tasks and challenges designed to remind us that our life is our life, not someone else’s. We know that, but all too often we don’t choose to actually live that.

Hagy’s passage on bravery: “Bravery is needed to have contrary opinions and to take unexpected paths.” As the quality of life increases, so renders her diagram, the amount of fear decreases. I really, exponentially like that. This doesn’t mean the cliff diver is brave just because they take an unexpected path. I’m quite sure it’s great fun, but my lack of a desire to plummet and experience the Earth’s gravitational pull in a very real way does not make me a coward. However, I enjoy the whole ‘contrary opinions and unexpected paths’ notion.

I am an abundantly uncool person. I have too much energy combined with too little desire to hang around water coolers and talk about other people. I don’t generally go out to clubs. Sorry if I’ve disappointed you, but there it is. One of my acquaintances tends to ask, “Do you, like, have plans this weekend?” as if my potential negative answer is a reason to pity me. I can’t summon the energy to worry about it overmuch, because I’m perpetually looking forward to pursuing any one of my skabillion interests.

In one sense, though, this makes me brave. I live unabashedly happy in my skin, and I don’t apologize for being who I am. Occasionally, I feel like an ostrich in a field of swans until I remember that I love ostriches and swans are simply pretty.

There are days where I annoy the living daylights out of myself. Wouldn’t it be easier to blend in, to follow someone else’s lead? Probably, but that’s how lemmings jump off cliffs and we’ve already established I’m not a cliff jumper. I am convinced that ‘doing the thing no one else will do’ most assuredly includes being myself. Living out loud as a self-fulfilling person is pretty brave. Not cool, often annoying, but most definitely brave.

Bookstores: For those who live out loud

Picture a hazy Saturday morning spent with a dear friend browsing through books at the book store, the only sound punctuating the happy silence the occasional turning page. Then there’s me: laughing out loud, tossing my book in my daughter’s lap to point out a particularly colorful turn of phrase or swear-laden pledge, and her patient response of, “I’m just reading this text, right here. You know, the one in my lap, not yours.” Well, sorry my progeny, momma shares her literature (though occasionally I apologize for interrupting her tranquility).

For those of you who don’t find a book store to be an exciting adventure of awesome, you haven’t gone with me. Where else can you go to find freshly repurposed elephant or rhinoceros poo transfigured into notebook paper? Or refrigerator magnets featuring Jean-Luc Picard face palming his oh so sexy forehead? Or bookmarks that don’t look like my used up envelopes, spoons, pens, or the other flotsam I usually use to mark a page? Bookmarks are cool and all, but I don’t use them. I just admire them. Oh, yeah, then the books.

I don’t care why or how you actually find yourself in a book store, just get yourself there. Used book store, brand-spanky-new bookstore, commercial bookstore – I don’t care, just go. There’s some happy stuff hiding out on the shelves, lining the floor, and adorning the wall space of a bookstore. Do you miss the 60s? You’ll find them again at the bookstore. Love comic books but hate to admit it? Own your personality and get yourself over to the bookstore, where there’s these zany things called graphic novels: kinda the adult version of comic books, but quite a bit more R-rated and much sexier than I remember the Archie comics of old.

The beautiful thing about a bookstore is that nobody is going to judge your nerdy/geeky/sports-enthusiast behind for the fact that you entered it. We’re all there together. I had a great conversation a couple weeks ago with a guy whose political opinions were remarkably different, and we got along just fine. Because, you know why? We’re not jerks, and we were after the same book. Yesterday, I found a fantastic vegan cookbook. I’m not vegan, but I eat food and the recipes were amazing. Sign me up. Though I have never seen this nooch stuff in my life, I’m ready for an adventure.

Those of you intellectual superiority types, get over yourselves. If we’re at the bookstore together, chances are we have something in common. Oh, yeah: printed material. I don’t care if you want to read the 500,000 best novels ever written and I’m over in the home improvement section wishing I cared enough about painting my walls to make them gloriously harmonious, we are in this environment together for a reason, so share some space with me please.

I am not quiet at bookstores, not complacent, not minding my own business. There’s all these happy words bounding through various mediums and you expect silence? Nope. Not happening. I will make eye contact with you and I will ask you what you like about the book you’re holding, not because I want to date you, but because I want to know what you think. For real.

Bookstores are fantastic gathering places of all the personalities and thoughts we have smashed together with greeting cards, tshirts, print art and what-nots. If you haven’t been in a while, go. You’ll find all the food groups in one place: the snack food group, the beverage food group, and the good-for-the-soul food group. See? Bookstores are good for you.

Alone vs. Lonely

On the introvert-extrovert scale, I don’t even qualify as an ambivert: I am about 80% introverted. I love my family and friends dearly, I adore making chitchat with strangers in lines, and I can out cocktail party chatter even an 80% extrovert. The reality for me, though, is that I don’t get my energy from other people. I need to recharge my social/emotional batteries without all that many other people around me. My challenge is that, in the act of recharging, I occasionally get lonely. I don’t mean adopt 10 cats lonely or isolate myself from the world and write a manifesto lonely, I mean simply that I begin to crave other people’s company. This is usually a good sign that I’ve recharged the batteries sufficiently to go get back out there and have great conversations in lines again.

I began to explore the whole alone side of the alone vs. lonely equation recently. I know that loneliness is just my system’s signal that it’s time to connect with people, but this whole alone gig bothers me. I’m not usually alone. Even when I’m recharging my social/emotional batteries, I have my husband and either one or both of my kids around. But alone? Really by myself? Nope, not all that often. Enter my learning opportunity: I wanted to go see a whimsical romp of a movie recently, and I’ll avoid insulting anyone by naming it. My daughter was away at school and my son and husband were out on their weekend Railfan adventure. I thought about calling a friend or two to go see the movie with me, but I realized I really didn’t want company; I just wanted to go see the movie.

I toddled on over to my local Cineplex, bought my ticket and sat in my favorite spot of the theater. The world had not yet exploded, and the ground wasn’t shaking so I figured time was plodding along in its normal manner even though I was by myself. Nobody seemed to notice or care that I was sitting there without a companion. The movie began: I didn’t have to share my popcorn, comment about anything, or answer my husband’s questions. When the movie ended, not only did I have the cathartic experience that an enjoyable show provides, I was giddy, grinning, energized.

I called my daughter to tell her about the show and her first response was, “Mom, I would have gone with you.” I thanked her, and explained that I had legitimately wanted to go by myself. She rattled off a list of the friends I could have asked. I pointed out that, nope, I didn’t want to go with them either. This trip to the movies was my equivalent of hunkering down with a bowl of popcorn and watching Netflix at home, except for the fact that the movie wasn’t on Netflix and I wanted to see it on the big screen.

When one of my friends asked how my weekend was the following Monday, I answered, “It was great. I went to the movies by myself and had the best time.” She agreed and said that she likes to go to the movies by herself when she needs to recharge, but not with her usual people. Plus, she said, she doesn’t have to share her popcorn.

I’m not going to suggest that the whole not sharing of the popcorn is a reason to go places by oneself, only that enjoying my own company was the most fun I’d had in a while. The strange thing is that I haven’t had a bout of loneliness since then. This is an incredibly busy time of year for me, and even through all the social gatherings, I’ve been able to recharge more quickly, all because I know that me, myself, and I are pretty good company.

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