CAT | Muscles of Success
I’m a big advocate of balance. In work and play and everything else. Ironically enough, you have to WORK at balance: It simply won’t happen by itself.
Part of balance means saying no. Make that “NO!”
Business owners tend to be doers and joiners. When someone drops a request on our laps, we tend to say yes. Whether its a client, a service organization, a church, or even our own business. When the world puts an abandoned puppy on our porch, we take it in.
But we all know that we have a tendency to do too much. We find ourselves on committees and members of clubs, starting new ventures, and joining others. At some point, we simply can’t live up to all of our commitments.
January’s gone and February is upon us! If you haven’t complete a beginning-of-the-year review of your commitments, there’s still time. Just ask yourself whether you might be over-extended.
When you’re over-extended, several things are wrong:
- You’re not living up to your commitments.
- Others are relying on you and you think you might be letting them down.
- Your business may be suffering due to inattention — or attention to the wrong things.
- You feel stress because you “can’t do it all.”
In the big picture, you’re spending time doing the wrong things. You’re energy is bound up trying to figure out what you should be doing — instead of doing something (anything) fruitful!
So why don’t we stop? Why don’t we drop some of these activities? The two primary reasons are guilt and habit.
Horace Mann said “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day, and at last we cannot break it.”
There’s very little we can do about our habits except to commit ourselves to change. Once committed, we must unravel our existing cable one thread at a time and begin weaving another to take its place.
Guilt is another matter.
Perhaps the best way to deal with guilt is to get some perspective.
Ask yourself: are you really obligated to [this cause/this committee/this organization/etc] simply because you have participated in the past? Probably not. So why do you participate?
Legitimate Reasons to Continue:
- I find it personally fulfilling
- I need a change from the other activities in my life
- I enjoy the people/the project/etc.
- It makes me feel good/important
- It helps me in my business
- People express gratitude for what I do. I’m not taken for granted.
- It makes me happy
- It contributes to my physical or mental health
- It is profitable!
Poor Excuses to Continue:
- Other people expect me to be there
- If I don’t do it, who will?
- I made a commitment at some point
- I started this and now a lot of people are expecting it
- If I quit, I’ll feel like a loser
Notice I added an extra line there?
Above the line are legitimate reasons to continue. Below the line are poor excuses to continue. Most of them involve you believing that the stuff won’t get done without you. Sorry to tell you this, but you’re wrong.
Some time ago I took on the job of program chairman for an organization because the president was over-worked and needed help. Two years later I found that I had taken on too many “outside” activities and needed to cut back. I felt that this one thing needed to be done by me because no one else would step forward.
Then I realized that was stupid. After all, the group existed for many years before I joined and has many members. Any group that relies solely on my participation for it’s existence has a pretty weak foundation.
Some people go through this filtering process once a year. Some more frequently. In January a gave up a number of projects and commitments that just we’re working anymore. Part of me wants to feel guilty about that.
But I know that achieving balance means taking stock from time to time and deciding where to spend my energies. It is not selfish to take care of yourself. It is arrogant and selfish to think that communities, organizations, and projects can’t survive without you.
When you re-evaluate and re-organize your commitments, you’ll end up with more energy to dedicate to the remaining activities. You’re time and talents will be more keenly focused and your contribution will be more meaningful.
So do yourself a favor: Re-evaluate your commitments. Put it all in perspective.
And have a happier, healthier, more balanced year!
Last week I had a chat with my girlfriend Ronda about some changes to my business.
Like many of us, Ronda leads a busy life and can get caught up in the daily buzz, buzz, buzz. But in this instance, she showed me two very important lessons about important decisions.
I have a tendency to get worked up about an issue, formulate some alternatives in my head, and then ponder them for awhile. But once I make a decision, I stop considering alternatives and I push on towards my chosen path.
Well, last week I took an important decision to my local Mastermind Group. I wanted some feedback and advice. Afterward, Ronda asked me how things went. I started to tell her and she interrupted me: “Actually, let’s talk about that when we’re not in the middle of something else.”
I was a little taken aback. After all, I was pretty excited about the topic, the feedback, and what I think I need to do with my business. Would we really come back to this? After all, I would like to hear her advice.
A few hours later (I think over dinner. Maybe over drinks.), Ronda picked up where we left off. “Okay. So tell me about your big discuss with the Mastermind Group.” I then proceeded to lay out my thinking over the last month, what I brought to the group, their feedback, and where I think I need to go next.
But I was keenly aware of what Ronda had done. First, she took my needs very seriously. She didn’t let me jump into a frenzied report when she wasn’t in a position to absorb the information and listen to me attentively. While it felt like being put off, it was really a respectful expression of her desire to give meaningful feedback. If she let me jabber on when she wasn’t able to focus, then she couldn’t possibly give me as much focus and attention as she would like.
Second, whether she realized it or not, Ronda had given me time to organize my thoughts and present them in some kind of meaningful order. Allowing me time to relax a bit and organize my thoughts allowed me to present my ideas with a little more perspective and precision than I would have been able to provide immediately after the group adjourned.
And then something else happened.
I proposed my rough idea of where I wanted to go with my company, and what the first few steps looked like. Ronda asked a few questions, gave some opinions, but didn’t endorse a course of action. A few days later, in a casual conversation, she said something to the effect of “You were so excited, I didn’t want to encourage you until you calmed down and had time to think about it.”
Ronda realized something I didn’t: When I get excited, I have a tendency to start moving in that direction. I really need to follow my own advice and slow down. After all, when we’re excited about something, we tend to overlook or rationalize the downside. We haven’t looked at the finances. We haven’t considered “what else” can come into play. We haven’t considered the down side of the decisions we are about to make.
It’s funny. When we jump on a new idea, we have this tendency to get excited and want to rush toward it. But just when we’re most excited is the moment we most need to slow down and take our time.
A true friend won’t give you advice for a day or two. After you’ve had time to Chill Out, Cool Down, and consider the big picture.
Where do you get inspiration? I’m a big believer that you find inspiration anywhere you happen to be looking when you start looking for inspiration. You just need one little element: quiet time.
That is, time all by you and yourself. No CDs, no headphones, no radio, no nothing. Just you.
Here’s an example.
Not too long ago I was checking my email early in the morning while putting on my walking shoes. A friend wrote me from Canada about a problem he was having with his business. He asked me to post my thoughts on my Small Biz Thoughts blog.
Then I went for a walk.
I don’t carry a pencil and paper. But I also don’t carry an MP3 player, CD player, or cell phone. I just have my thoughts.
So I walked.
And when I got back to my house, I sat down and wrote a whole blog post on the requested topic.
Time and again, we find that when we stop working on a problem and just “turn our brains off,” the solution comes to us. This is a well-known human trait: Stop thinking about a problem and let your unconscious mind do it’s job.
The piece that seems to be missing for some people is that You can stop thinking whenever you want to. You can schedule daily time to sit quietly for 15 minutes. Or take a jog. Or ride a bike. Or paint, or knit, or whittle.
The key to quieting your mind is that you need to either turn off all distractions or block them out.
Our minds and our lives are filled with busy-ness. Life will rarely slow down or stop unless you slow it down or stop it. Don’t wait for that to happen: make it happen.
Schedule some time to just live quietly with your thoughts each day: You’ll be amazed at what you come up with!
Do You Worry Enough? Part 3
This is the third and final installment of the series that started here with “Do You Worry Enough?
Worry brings benefits. That sounds odd to us. Let me rephrase it: Spending time thinking about problems brings good things into our lives.
There are two types of “focusing” on problems. The first is to open your mind and let the problems flood in. Perhaps focus is the wrong term. This is more like out-of-focus. Sit down with a pencil and paper and relax. Take a few deep breaths and try to clear your mind. Think about nothing. Focus on the way your breath feels moving in and out.
If you have things to worry about, they will interrupt your relaxation. As a “worry” presents itself, write down a brief note (not a long paragraph). For example, you might write
- College Savings
- Business partner
- Ad revenues
Don’t pass judgment, don’t try to solve the problem, don’t get into details. Just list your worries. Set yourself a time a do this listing for ten or fifteen minutes each day for a week. I guarantee that by day four you will be a lot less worried at night or when you’re concentrating on something else during the day. Why? Because your mind has been allowed to spend some time on the things it knows you should be thinking about!
The next step is to focus more clearly on your problems. For the next several days spend your 10-15 minutes sitting comfortably and “organizing” your problems. You may want to sort the list into categories such a family, finances, employees, etc.
Then spend a little time writing a bit of detail about each concern. For example:
I’m worried about college savings for my kids because I’m starting late. I wonder what college will really cost. What’s my goal? How do I get started? Who can help me? I need to talk to my spouse about this.
Set yourself a strict limit on this activity. No more than 30 minutes a day! You’ll be amazed! It will give you energy. Worry will stop draining your energy. And as you focus on the problem you will naturally break it down into smaller pieces that are much more manageable.
This, in turn, will lead to taking actions that address the problem. In other words, you’ll be working on a solution! What you’ve done is to stop spending your energy trying not to worry. Instead, you are spending a limited amount of energy focusing on issues that need some attention.
Instead of letting “worry” have an unscheduled, unlimited amount of your time, you have allowed a specific amount of time to be used improving your life!
Again, I guarantee that you will see a dramatic reduction in the amount of time spent on unscheduled worry during the day (and night). Your mind knows that you need to spend time on these activities. When you allot this time, your mind is more relaxed and it doesn’t need to force these thoughts upon you.
And, even better, when such thoughts pop into your mind now, they will be productive and bring solutions. The process of focusing on a problem for a specific period and then setting it aside has tremendous power. It organizes your unconscious mind, which works on possible solutions while you’re doing other things. And then, seemingly out of nowhere, the solutions come forth into your conscious mind.
Problems never solve themselves: You need to worry in a healthy way and you will find a solution. Just as we have to focus on our happiness and our family and our health, we also need to focus on our problems.
You will never be without problems. But you can be without excessive, unnecessary worry. Allow yourself time to work on your problems and you’ll have a much more restful mind throughout the day. Because you’re worrying enough—and not too much.
“Do not anticipate trouble,
or worry about what may never happen.”
– Benjamin Franklin
One of the things you have to remember about work is that it is NOT your life. It can be an important part of your life. It can be extremely fulfilling. When there’s stress at home, going to work can be a relief. And when there’s stress at work, going home can be a relief.
But don’t forget that these worlds can be combined. I firmly believe that you should have friends from work, and be able to work with friends. I personally find a great deal of happiness combining my work and personal lives and keeping a big, black line between the two.
I am me. I’m the me at work. And the me at work is the me at home. And I would love for all the important people in my life to know each other, hang out together, and someday have a great big party.
On a related note, remember that your friends from various pieces of your life can be resources for all the pieces of your life. You don’t have to just ask “friends” about friend stuff and “co-workers” about work stuff. Even when people don’t have specific experience with something, they can bring a new, fresh perspective.
In meditation and Zen practice, there’s a concept called Beginner’s Mind. Beginner’s mind means that you approach something with an open attitude even if you have a lot of experience. This is very important when you’ve been doing something a long time. You can build little ruts at work, at home, in the community, and so forth.
Beginners always have beginner’s mind because they don’t know the history of your problem, your business, your relationship, etc. They take a fresh look without knowing all the stories you tell yourself around the topic. They don’t know what can’t be done. One of the reasons that young people come up with so much innovation is that they don’t know what can’t be done.
One of the ruts we dig for ourselves is to go to the same people for advice on the same topics.
I recently had a problem at work. I could not talk to the people at work about it. And since it involved someone close to almost everyone in my mastermind group, I couldn’t talk to them about it. But I wasn’t stuck! I have friends from all over the world, in different professions. I have relatives. I have an amazing girlfriend.
In other words, I have a complete support system. 99% of the time, I don’t think of them as a support system. I don’t go through life gathering people around me to support me. But on the day that I need advice, these people are all there to support me.
With my recent problem, I had one key point that was stuck in my head and I couldn’t find the answer. I had had many casual conversations with friends, co-workers, and others. Finally, a friend’s name popped into my head. I sent him an email and asked for 15 minutes of his time. Later that day he called me . . . and turned on the lights so I could see the problem more clearly.
I wouldn’t say he “solved” my problem, but he made me understand that I’m not alone and a whole industry works to solve this problem.
In this case, I called on someone I don’t normally rely on for advice. And he was the perfect person to contact.
No matter what you’ve got going on, you’ve probably got a whole team behind you waiting to help. They’re not paid advisors, for the most part. They’re the normal people in your life. And they have a lot to offer.
Tis the season for people to start putting together their “to do” lists for next year.
- Exercise more
- Eat less
All too often this “exercise” is simply an exercise in futility. People add things to their lists because they think they should. Or, even more commonly, they really want to accomplish something next year, but they don’t put together a PLAN in addition to items on a list.
Goals are great. Goals are necessary. But real, meaningful goals have to be coupled with action plans. Think about it this way: When I ask an audience of any size whether they want to be millionaires, virtually everyone raises their hand. Then when I ask how many have a plan to get to that status, I might get one or two hands.
A goal without a plan is just a wish. And most of the time it’s a wish that won’t come true.
We all want to exercise more, eat less, spend less, save more, and spend more time with our families. But some people WILL and some people WON’T make progress on those goals in the year ahead. Overwhelmingly, the people who actually make progress will be those who have a plan and work to make the plan come true.
You hear a lot of talk about dedication or conviction around goals. Without playing too many word games, let me say that most people are dedicated to their goals. But they don’t execute. And the reason is that you really have to have a plan wedged between the goal and the conviction. Here’s what I mean.
Let’s take exercising as an example.
Conviction comes from a sincere desire to accomplish something. But a goal of “exercising more” is pretty imprecise. It’s hard to execute. It’s hard to measure. It’s hard to hold yourself accountable. And it’s difficult for others to help you hold yourself accountable.
But a plan takes the ethereal goal and turns it into one or more visible, physical action steps. A plan doesn’t have to be complicated. It just has to have enough specific action steps to turn desire into results. If the goal is “exercise more,” the plan might be to walk one mile a day, five days a week.
You can measure this very easily. You might even check off days on a calendar or use a software program to track your progress.
But here’s the key: What happens when you slip? What happens when you skip a day or two? If you only have a wish and a desire, it’s hard for conviction to take hold. When you add a PLAN to the process, you have a way to get back on track. The plan gives you someone to grab onto and get back headed in the right direction.
That’s what I mean about wedging the plan between the desire and the conviction. A plan of action gives you something hold onto and something to get back to.
If you plan is written, that’s best. You can literally pull it would a read it. For simple goals, a one sentence or one paragraph plan is ideal. Read it regularly as part of your daily quiet time and it will keep you headed in the right direction.
Good luck with your goal setting for the end of the year. Just don’t forget the important part: A plan to make your goals come true.
The human mind is a very interesting instrument. It is programmed a little every day by every action we take and every decision we make. One of my favorite quotes is . . .
- “Habit is a cable; we weave a thread of it each day,
and at last we cannot break it.”– Horace Mann
That sounds like plain old habit-making. But it goes deeper than that. Think about how you define yourself. Are you a mother, a father, a sister, a child, a spouse, a student, an employee, a manager, a business owner?
Or maybe you’re a parent whose kid went away to school. Or a grown-up who still has scars from childhood. Or a newly-divorced person trying to get used to being divorced.
Maybe you’re torn between who you used to be and who you’re becoming.
We all define ourselves by the roles we play. Not just the things we are but the things we have been. Our lives are a combination of the past and the present. And, of course, we combine these with our hopes and dreams to build our future.
I recently learned about a woman whose house is filled with memories of her past. Painful memories of family members who have died. “It’s like a shrine to the past,” I’m told. But not just a happy past, a past that represents loss and sorrow. This woman defines herself not only by her past but by what she’s lost.
I myself have tried to fill my place with happy memories. Artwork I enjoy; Pictures of my daughter at various ages, growing into a woman. I like to think I spend my time dwelling on the present and the future. But I am product of my past.
My friend Kelli Wilson has written a great book called The Clutter Breakthrough. Kelli coaches people through problems with clutter — clutter so bad that it cripples their ability to lead normal lives.
Kelli’s approach is simple but powerful. When people have an empty place in their lives, or a place filled with pain, they tend to “acquire” things to fill that place so they don’t have to think about it. They fill their lives with activities, collectible toys, knick knacks, shoes, and anything else that keeps them from thinking about the pain.
In some sense, these people are “stuck” between the past and the present. There is no future for them until they get un-stuck and figure out how to move on. Kelli helps them deal with clutter by helping them address the underlying causes of the clutter.
I think it’s very important to acknowledge the past . . . to hold on to the sweet memories. At the same time, I think we need to work to get past the tough times. You might think that this is a blatant double standard: Remember the good times and forget the bad times. But it’s not quite that simple. Let me put it this way:
- Acknowledge your past, both the good and the bad
- But don’t define yourself as your past (good or bad)
It can also be crippling — or at least paralyzing — to be stuck in a happy past. There’s more happiness today and in the future than there is in the past. It’s a real, live, vibrant happiness that’s much more fulfilling than shadowy memories of happiness.
Let me give you a very personal example: After 20 years together (19 of them married), I find myself divorced. Perhaps some day my ex-wife and I will be “friends” again, but not today. We’re not un-friendly, but we don’t share the comfortable, close conversation we once did.
A few months ago I bought one of those electronic picture frames that scrolls through hundreds of pictures that you load into it. I loaded several pictures in there that include my Ex. Why? Because she has been — and always will be — a major part of my life. Even if I live to be 100, she’ll still be the mother of my only child. We had many years and many happy adventures together.
I could (easily!) focus on all stuff that brought our marriage to an end. But I choose to dwell on the positive.
And that’s key. I don’t forget the bad stuff. But I choose to not define myself by the negative experiences. I accept that they are part of my past.
At the same time, I don’t define myself as the happy husband either. That’s part of the past and it needs to stay there. Both the good and the bad brought me to where I am today. I shouldn’t forget that. But I also shouldn’t dwell on either one of them.
It is extremely important to live in the present and focus on the future.
Like any other “muscle” we exercise, our brain can be trained. We can work to create the habit of accepting the past without dwelling on it. We can work on the habit of focusing on the present and interpreting our world in a positive way. And we can work on looking forward to a wonderful future. These are all habits we can create from the ground up.
Yes, your situation might be special. Your past might be horrible and you might have allowed yourself to get “stuck” there for years. Or your past might be so much better than the present that you want to spend your time there.
But there is no future unless you leave the past, move into the present, and begin creating your future. You can begin this process today, tomorrow, and every day. You can reset the process and begin again if you find yourself slipping into the past. Just like any other exercise, you can start over any time and it will serve you well!
You can choose to be defined by your past. Or you can choose to define yourself anew everyday. You can even define yourself as your future . . . and then run to make it come true.
The choice is yours.
Last month I was on an interesting podcast with Stuart Crawford (see The Orange Files) on Work-Life Balance.
Stuart mentioned that he occasionally declares “email bankruptcy” and deletes all the email in his in-box. And guess what? 99.99% of it no one cares about. People don’t panic. The world keeps spinning.
Too often we assume that something in our in-box is there for a reason and therefore requires some of our attention. But it might be there for NO reason and require none of our attention. You give up some freedom and power when you let someone else decide what you should put your focus on.
I recently moved. Ugh.
I moved from a 2700 square foot house with a three car garage to a 900 square foot apartment. For weeks I was focused on getting out of the old house. So that left me living among piles of boxes at the apartment. When I found a place to sit I was frequently looking up at the top of the pile.
Of course one of the good places to throw stuff is on the counters in the kitchen. So my kitchen was stacked high with boxes and loose junk.
One day I decided to tackle the kitchen. When my daughter came home every counter top was bare except for essentials like the coffee maker. It was truly usable space. She asked me what I did with all the stuff. I said I’d thrown it all away.
She paused a bit. The she said that she knew how much I hated the mess, and that it is very believable to her that I threw it all away. So she asked whether I had thrown it away or found places for everything to live.
Does it matter?
Does it matter whether I have one pitcher or two? Or six?
Does it matter if my shelves are full or empty?
Does it matter if my walls are covered or bare?
Unfortunately for my staff, I sometimes take this attitude to work. If your filing hasn’t been done in six months, I say throw it all away. If you had filed it, what would that matter? So it sits in a box for seven years and then you throw it away. What’s the penalty?
One of my favorite analogies of life is the scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark when the Ark of the Covenant is packaged in crate and filed away in a massive warehouse filled with other crates . . . and the message is clear that it will be saved forever and never seen again.
My filing system isn’t like that. Well, it’s not intended to be. When I’m not moving, I am pretty good at finding exactly what I need and never losing things. Part of the reason for that is that I’m also good at just throwing things away.
I always encourage people to prioritize tasks from highest to lowest and work on the highest priority tasks. This is pretty common sense advice. But I go a step further.
When all of your high priority items take up all the time you have for the foreseeable future, delete all your low priority items. Really. You are never going to get to them. Ever. And that’s okay. Stop pretending that you’ll get to them when you know you won’t.
“Stuff” fills our lives. But it doesn’t necessarily fill our lives with goodness and love and happiness. Sometimes it just fills us with “stuff.” If you get rid of the generic stuff you’ll have more room for the goodness and love and happiness.
Just a thought. File under . . . wait, don’t file it at all!
I am lucky to work with some wonderful people. Recently the work I do with a couple of different people has coincided with events in my personal life. And it has been a powerful experience.
Jenifer Landers (http://www.fullyexpressedcoaching.com/) is my life coach. She helps me with business and personal challenges. Because of all the changes going on in my life this year, she has talked to me about leaving space in my life for people and things to “show up.” For example, my daughter graduated from high school and will be going to college in the Fall. Yikes. That will leave a big space for me to fill.
Or, if you think about it, I don’t have to fill that space. I could just leave it open for awhile to see which opportunities arise.
Another wonderful person I work with is Kelli Wilson. Kelli recently published a book: The Clutter Breakthrough (See her blog). In this very powerful book, Kelli does NOT go through a “plan” to clean up the clutter. Instead, she looks at the root causes of clutter. Her argument is that people have painful experiences in their lives, and they fill up their lives with something in order to avoid the pain.
Some people fill these spaces with alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, or any number of other things. The goal is not about the alcohol (etc.), but about coping mechanisms that keep them from having to experience the pain or the emptiness.
There’s a great medical device called a TENS unit. TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation. A TENS unit operates from a 9-volt battery. It creates tiny electrical impulses and has pads that are attached to your skin. For example, if you have muscle spasms in your back, a doctor might use a tens unit to block the pain.
The electrodes are taped to the body near where the pain is.
Inside your body there are large nerve fibers and small nerve fibers. Of course these nerves carry pain signals. Well, actually, only the small nerve fibers carry pain. The TENS unit sends tiny electrical impulses down the nerve fibers. It floods the nerve fibers with these harmless impulses. Once the nerves are “filled” with these harmless electrical impulses, the pain signals cannot travel through the nerves.
This is a great analogy for thinking out the spaces in your life. Space might left because of a true loss: A death, a divorce, the loss of a job, or having a child leave home. Similarly, if you have a space that’s filled with pain, you need a mechanism to either stop the pain or at least take your mind off the pain.
And so the coping mechanisms we develop help us to 1) Fill empty space in our lives, and 2) Avoid dealing with the painful spaces in our lives that we’d rather not address. Just as a TENS unit fills the nerves with electrical impulses that keep the pain from getting through, we can use a variety of behaviors to fill our lives with *something* that’s better than the nothing or the pain.
Whether the space is empty (for example, loneliness) or filled with pain, “coping mechanism” are always a short-term solution. Coping mechanism might help you get by today and tomorrow. But longer term, you need to find more permanent solutions.
In the case of pain, the most important goal is to stop the cause of the pain. In terms of emotional pain, the cause is probably YOU and not whatever you think the cause it. Yes, the original cause of the pain was very real. But the ongoing cause of the pain is probably your willingness to continue dwelling on it. Counseling, prayer, and meditation can help you understand the pain and diminish it over time.
But you need to be aware that that process will leave a space where your “old friend” pain used to be.
In the case of loss or loneliness, you will also have an empty space.
No matter how this empty space comes about, you need to find healthy ways to fill that space. But I really encourage you to take some time filling the space. It takes a great deal of self-awareness to leave spaces in your life and not give in to the urge to fill them with “stuff” (physical stuff, activities, hobbies, bad habits, etc.).
Daily quiet time can be an extremely powerful tool to help you with this process. Whether you use it for meditation, prayer, or some other means of being away and clearing your mind, the very fact that you spend time considering your life will help you to work on the spaces in your life.
You may legitimately decide that you want to take up a new hobby, buy some clothes, or do whatever. But with daily contemplation about where your life is going, you will have a much healthier perspective for examining your options.
You may also find that you’ve managed to create a great deal more contentment than you had before.
Last week my daughter Victoria (age 17.9 years) embarked on an adventure. The plan was to spend three days in New York City just seeing the sights, then hop over to England and Scotland for a week. She has two weeks for Spring Break and this is her senior year.
We had plans for the first night and the last night in the UK, but nothing in between. We had Britrail passes and tube passes, so we were set to just go. Our plan was to wake up every day and figure out what to do that day.
In this modern era it is very easy to hop on the internet and find a hotel at a good price on short notice.
Note: This approach takes a certain willingness to believe that you will be okay and that things will work themselves out. I have been cultivating that spirit for some time.
Meditation helps, as does an actual commitment to being a low stress person.
I believe you can always choose how you will respond to your environment. Sometimes it’s easier than others. The more planning you have, the easier it is. But, as the saying goes, sometimes life gives you lemons and you have to make lemonade.
So here’s what happened to our vacation plans.
After three fun days in New York City, we went to the airport to catch an all-night flight to England and arrive at 8:30 AM. But my daughter could not get on the airplane because of a problem with her passport.
Stop. Vacation gone. Plane departing in two hours. Fix it or forget it.
At this point some people would add: Panic.
I was a little panicky, of course. But I decided a long time ago that I’m not the kind of person who blows up, yells and screams, abuses the person behind the counter, etc. I tried to stay calm, gathered the information I could.
It quickly became clear that I could not solve this tonight and we were going to miss the plane. Period. Nothing we could do about that. We could contact the passport office in New York or Connecticut. Quick phone call. NY was a seven day wait. No good. Connecticut might get us in within 8 business hours in an emergency. And might get a new passport within 8 business hours. But that means 1-2 more days in NYC with 1-2 days sitting around a government office, just so we could spend a day flying to England to continue the vacation.
We decided to do England another time. The next question was: Do we go home or reboot the vacation?
Important factor: My daughter only gets one spring break her senior year in high school.
So where do you want to go? The entire East Coast is at your disposal. Or we could rent a car and drive home, seeing the sights. Or take trains and see America. Or whatever.
We decided to catch the next flight to Florida and spend time in the sun. Went online and booked one-way airfare. Cheap, even at the last minute. Thank goodness for the Internet.
Total elapsed time since vacation destroyed: about 60 minutes.
Was I happy about the situation? No. But I had decided to NOT panic, NOT make it a disaster, and NOT focus on what I can’t control.
Yes, it will cost a lot of money. But we can use those Britrail passes another time. And we had almost no other out of pocket expenses except airfare. Called the airline and cancelled. They’re rebating a good portion of what we paid.
And here’s the key: We can’t control what we can’t control!
The mindset of not wasting energy on things you can’t control is a mindset that you can practice. You can create that approach to life.
The mindset of creating lemonade when life gives you lemons is a mindset that you can practice.
You get to choose how you will respond to the world.
I hope that my daughter will love the new vacation we are creating and that she will always take the attitude of slowing down and looking on the positive side when things go wrong.
“Stuff” happens in life. You can make yourself miserable and dive into the well of dispair, or you can pick up the lemons and start making lemonade.
Daily quiet time, meditation, and prayer go a long way to making this possible.
Status Report: We just finished three days in Orlando. We’re working our way through the Disney parks. On Sunday we’re heading to Church (It’s Easter) and then off to Daytona Beach. We got a nice hotel ON the beach for $46/night. Thank goodness for the Internet.
We’ll head home when we had planned. It won’t be the vacation we planned, but it’s been a Great vacation and a great adventure so far.