Seeing yourself through a different filter

A popular quotespirational phrase that people pass on to their daughters and loved ones goes something like this: “If you could see yourself through my eyes, you would know how special you are to me.” My first question is and always has been, why not our sons? Don’t they deserve to know how we see them? My second thought is that, while the sentiment is lovely, it’s still a little selfish. As in, you’re special to me … but you might not be special to that guy over there and definitely not to that other person over there. Wrong. Nope. Nuh-huh. Plain and simple, I will correct the other phrase for you and remind you of this simple fact: you are special.

You are present, powerful, awe-inspiring because you are you. Maybe you got distracted and forgot to pay attention to yourself. The other day you were quick to point out that you couldn’t bench press 200 pounds like some other person, totally ignoring the fact that your current bench press is up 20 pounds from when you first started. Another you was saddened by the fact that someone else got to be the keynote speaker at the event, while you got passed over; you didn’t know that this person has been trying for six years, while you’ve only tried this once. Give it time. Another you is jealous of how easy another person has it – they’re brilliant, stylish, popular, and you feel invisible. Do you see yourself? Or are you too busy looking at someone else?

Here’s the thing: I see you. I see you try, and I see you try again, and I see you smile, and I see you when you’re angry and frustrated. I’m not Santa Claus or the Ghost of Christmas stalker-land, I’m just reminding you that you’re pretty cool. No, I haven’t been watching too many Barney shows (is he even on TV anymore?) and singing “You are special” until my brain has become anesthetized; I just see how conflicted we are this time of year. Do we give a gift to the friend who doesn’t celebrate Christmas, do we share goodies, bake them/buy them, and oh my gosh can you believe that Suzee is going to France over the winter break? She’s so lucky.

That’s where we get off track. We shouldn’t compare ourselves to these other, more wondrously awesome-seeming people because we don’t know their whole context. We can’t walk a mile in someone else’s shoes (as a way to understand them) when we can barely make it a mile in our own shoes without taking a break to regroup. Like anyone, I tend to get distracted by what everyone else is doing, or at least what it seems like they’re doing, I lose focus on my own goals, my own sense of purpose, my commitment to myself and the people I love, and for what? So that I can compare myself to an idealized version of someone else? That’s not the recipe for contentment and well-being; that leads to envy over someone else’s presumed situation.

So, especially this time of year, please take a moment to look at yourself the way you would look at someone else you love. Do it often enough and you might even become a little more focused on all that is you, and less focused on whatever all those other people of awesomeness are doing. You have your own awesomeness to nurture.

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My New Library

After accepting the fact that my desire to read all the books ever written has impacted my finances, I returned to my local library today for some free words-in-print goodness. I love the shelves upon shelves of awesome at the library: Young Adult fiction over here, Books on DVD, over here, adult fiction and nonfiction over there — all ordered using the Dewey decimal system. The sliding doors even whoosh in a celebratory manner when I walk in. In my mind, the library showcases the slight musty smell of well-loved books, and the soft noise of small children trying their best to be quiet by using their whisper voices: “MOM! LOOK HOW WELL I’M WHISPERING!” I’ve heard on more than one occasion – while I’m in the adult section. With headphones on. I am always proud of my fellow parents who will answer, “You’re doing great, try talking like this now,” before they create a whisper game.

I am only digressing a little since kids and parents feature in this narrative again. I entered the library humming a jaunty tune (off key, Prince for you inquiring minds), went through the lobby, the sliding doors, heard the whoosh – and stepped into the Starship Enterprise. Gone were the juice-box spilled carpeting, the books for sale section, the rotunda of librarians on call, and the cluster of parents with their overflowing baskets of movies and books. In its place was gleaming flooring, computer stations galore, and noise level posters with accompanying directions on how to set the phones. No musty smell, no bounding children (they were in a sequestered section with soundproof glass or something because I saw them tumbling about even as I couldn’t hear them). I felt underdressed because Captain Kirk the librarian was standing at his station looking dapper in his polo shirt and Dockers. Me, I was in my library uniform of denim cutoffs and a slouchy t-shirt.

I was disoriented. With the emergence of Librarian Kirk and his triple-screened computer system, it appeared as though Dewey Decimal System had taken a semipermanent vacation. I found my way over to a computer terminal and began teaching myself how to find the books I wanted. I tried four times before I found the Young Adult section, but at last I found it. You might wonder why I didn’t ask the librarian to give me a tour. I might wonder why you’d ask such a silly question. Teaching myself means trial and error until I can kinesthetically absorb the knowledge. It is the most effective way I have to navigate new surroundings, and these surroundings were bright-sparkly new. Eventually, I figured out the system. The challenge then became a personal dilemma over whether to get audio books, of which were abundant, or e-books. Many of the classics have been rendered available and check-outable on e-reading devices. Cool, I have one of those, so I asked Librarian Kirk to show me how to check out e-books.

While still slightly bemused, I turned to leave the library, and heard the dulcet tones of a child who was practicing his whispering: “MOM! LOOK HOW WELL I’M BEING QUIET!” Thank you, small human person for reminding me that the more things change, the more constant they are. Leaving the library with nothing but a couple of download code options, I was content.

If you haven’t gone recently, please join me in reading all the books ever written (or audiotaped, or electronically published) for free. I will be wearing my Lieutenant Uhura ensemble the next time I go so I feel dressed appropriately for the occasion.

The Art of Getting Lost

I have an abysmal sense of direction. Because of this, I often leave an additional 15-30 minutes to get to a new place. It is a sad, ridiculous (and now funny) truth that one time I went to go pick up a friend who lived in the Near North side of Chicago and ended up in Wisconsin. Yes, this is a great and mysterious talent. I figure that my inner compass must have wanted a yummy cheese snack.

I mention this because, if I’m being logical, I shouldn’t get lost. I can read road signs, tell that cars are – or are not – turning, see for myself that if I’m heading toward a business area and I’m looking at houses that I’ve probably turned the wrong direction somewhere along the way.

As a metaphor, though, the idea has some appeal. A person can have all the tools they need to get to some Where of their lives and take a detour. Or get rerouted. Or even get lost. That’s not always a recipe for disaster; in fact, it’s probably how we all end up where we do: some combination of circumstance, focus (or lack thereof), desire to keep going or the appeal of stopping and resting for a while.

However we arrive at the places we are, we blend what we thought we knew we were doing with what actually happened. Sometimes that’s easy to reconcile, sometimes not. Sometimes the act of getting lost is nothing more than shedding some preconceived notion of what would/could/should happen with what actually does. If we don’t like how things have turned out, we can change directions. Some people’s paths are a straight line, some people’s curve a bit; mine has been a meandering river floating above a rocky undertow.

Ultimately, I don’t worry so much about getting lost any more. Because of that, I find I don’t get lost as often. Isn’t it interesting that, even in getting from A to B, worry has more of an impact than simply understanding that eventually I’ll find my way. Not a bad analogy for how to live.