Foreign Language Break Throughs

I read a book which had as its premise that the game of golf was much more than a game, that it was a metaphor for life…that when played with the proper mindset, all of life’s lessons and challenges could be found, practiced and mastered on the links. I read the entire book, which was neither long nor difficult, because a friend had enthusiastically recommended it. He said that its perspectives had a huge impact on his life in a Jonathan Livingston Seagull kind of way. His reference to this ancient text published in 1970 caught my attention. I was curious as to what he had found so personally helpful and profound.

Just so you know, Richard Bach’s book in 1970 was as popular in its day as was the book published in 2007 entitled The Shack written by William P. Young. Both books ignited lively conversations in unexpected places. The conversations have since died down. The spark was there but the wood was too wet to catch the fire.

Anyway, the book on golfing did not move me. While its life lesson concepts were familiar, their applications to golf, for me, were a real stretch. I’ve yet to meet a golfer who had more of an interest in improving themselves as a person than they had in improving their  score. I don’t make this statement hypothetically.

I actually went out and played golf with friends, acquaintances and strangers with the golf book in my back pocket. I played twice a week for three months at public and private courses. I would pull out the book and ask people if they had read or heard about it. No one had. Not discouraged and because they were golfers, I would give my listener(s) a brief synopsis with the belief that it would start a conversation and invite some interest. It did not. In my attempts to engage and generate more substantive dialogue, I went so far as to talk about and connect specific shot situations with the learning opportunities the book stated would apply.

The glances between the other golfers and the looks I received directly were crystal clear. I was speaking a foreign language, one that they had no interest in learning and that I was far from being inviting. I was annoying.

That was my own breakthrough realization. The lessons about life, the truths about ourselves, can be found anywhere and applied everywhere. We do, however, have to want them. We do have to be willing to seek them, to be open to them and to ACT on them once we have recognized them. Our lessons do not jump out and force us to learn. They wait for us to notice them, to bend towards them and to pick them up for us to use again along our way.

Oh, and about my friend who first mentioned the book that got this all started.

What I discovered/realized was that my friend played golf frequently and had grabbed onto a book that provided him with some deeper underpinnings for wearing silly clothes and taking six hour chunks of a day, four to five times a week, away from everything else.

He’d learned that about himself after years of failing to improve his game.


Pictures in the Abstract

As laypersons, every once in a while life will present us with the difficult task of trying to describe a problem to someone who is trying to help us with that problem. We could be trying to explain our car’s problem to a mechanic, our computer’s problem to a person at Best Buy, our body’s problem to a doctor or our problem with problems to a therapist.

In these instances, as we attempt to depict or describe what we think the problem might be, we also paint a picture of sorts of our abstract understanding of our car, the computer, our physical self and our issues. We give it our best shot, usually using analogies and comparisons.  I can only imagine what the doctor or the mechanic is thinking as I give them my best theory of what’s going on with my elbow or my engine. They smile and listen. I tell myself that I’m being helpful. At best, I’m probably being amusing.

For example, a friend of mine, when I asked him about some medication he was taking, went on to express his belief that his anxiety medication acted in the same way on his nerves as his arthritis medicine acted his knees. Specifically, that both medicines went directly to their target and did not effect anything else. Just like aspirin, he said, which goes straight to his headache and nowhere else. There was no reason to tell him otherwise. He had his own ideas. Side effects were not included in his picture. Besides, I’m not his doctor, only a friend who had no desire to get into an argument. I smiled and listened.

I listened once as a person explained how self-aware they were because they knew where everything belonged in the scheme of things. They pictured their mind like a giant post office, that all of the ideas and experiences that came in were much like letters and packages that needed to be sorted and filed in their appropriate category or slot. Thinking was the mind’s way of putting things where they belonged. Then, whenever they were asked about any subject, they could easily pull out the ideas and experiences they’d filed in that category and send them out into the conversation. It was quite a picture in the abstract. I asked them, since I couldn’t really relate anything positive with the post office, if an image of a massive warehouse for could be used just as well to describe how they understood their minds to work. Turns out, it could. Their picture of the mind was of a mechanized and automated process of storage and retrieval. Their concept of self awareness translated roughly into something like efficient organization.

I wanted to smile as I listened. I really did.

I was too sad, though.

After all, I was the one who had married her.


Naturally, Right from the Start

Take a moment and answer this question:

How often do we want to ‘know'(or be reassured) that we’re going to be ‘good’ at doing something BEFORE we’ll ever try that something for the first time?

….to be told that we could bowl a strike before we ever released our first ball?…or be assured that we would be a good dancer before we even placed a foot onto the floor?…or that we would be a fine cook before we dared to put on an apron?…or that we would be a proper lover before we ever stepped into our first kiss?

It’s not at all unusual.

Whether it’s because of some childhood experience during which we suffered a degree of embarrassment, ridicule and other forms of criticism while we attempted something new or we merely witnessed someone else’s being made fun of, we have all learned to hesitate. This is not about our physical safety but about playing it safe emotionally, being guarded about our ‘self image’, even before we had such a thing.

In truth, many of us when we were younger wished we would discover some hidden talent that would enable us to be a ‘natural’ at something…anything really…anything that we could be remarkably good at from the very first time…because then there would be no risk, no fear of failure, no being ordinary.

More than a few were strongly encouraged to build careers and a life around something that they were ‘good at’ without anyone (even themselves) actually asking if they enjoyed doing what they were ‘good at’. But that’s a whole other blog to come.

This blog would like to remind all of us that no one has ever done their best at anything the first time they tried it. Even if we were ‘good at’ it naturally right from the start, we still all learned and improved as we continued. We developed. Everything we ever try only gets better if we continue to practice…provided we are open to feedback and guidance. On our own and by ourselves, we will be hampered and limited by the singularity of our perspective.

Now, I realize that this may seem like a blinding flash of illumination for the obvious, but it is something we so frequently and easily forget. We often stand paralyzed at the doorstep of trying something new in our lives only because we have forgotten that everything always and only gets better after our first try.



Attitudinally Speaking

I once spent the better portion of a day in the internet (and yes, I meant ‘in’ and not ‘on’)investigating what I thought was a simple enough word: attitude.

As I discovered while clicking link after link, the word comes layered in nuance, analysis and multiple, unrelated applications. Who knew?

Here are some of the uses of the word, attitude:

  • it’s a pose in ballet.
  • It’s an angle of approach when landing or flying an aircraft.
  • It’s a spacecraft’s positioning relative to an object (a star or moon).
  • Attitude can be found in body language.
  • It’s evident and important in vocal inflections and effective communication.
  • Attitude is used as a category in job evaluations and can greatly influence a salary increase or promotion within an organization.
  • The very concept of attitude has been the sole lifetime focus of some learned people in the field of psychology who have attempted to describe, define and diagnose the origins and impact of attitude on personal behavior.
  • Attitudes can be like the poles of a bar magnet with a positive side and a negative side. Unlike a magnet, however, the positive attitude attracts positive attitudes and the negative attracts more negatives. Positive attitudes repel negative attitudes and vice versa.
  • Attitude has both mental and emotional components and can profoundly influence the results of any given action. This is not a placebo effect.


Now please understand, I had started this whole internet searchy thing based solely on a comment my teenage daughter had made at breakfast. She was talking about one of her classes and casually remarked that she didn’t like one particular teacher because that teacher had a ‘bad attitude’ (her voice inflected on these two words to communicate her point) towards the class.

I had wanted to ask her straight away what she meant by that phrase because it struck me as curious, her being 17 years old and all that (no offense 17 year olds), but I decided to do a quick brush up on the word first.

…and there went my morning…link after link…mesmerized by the Pandora’s box I had opened.

I never did ask my daughter what she’d meant that morning.

After everything I’d read, I thought it might seem like a trick question.

I did, however, cop an attitude towards the internet for a while.


Panning for gold

Screened sieves or pans with small holes in their bottoms are still used to this day by seekers of gold in streams all over the world. Amateurs, hobbyists, day trippers and bona fide believers all dipping, sifting and hoping to find a nugget (or multiples thereof) washed down from somewhere upstream and, to their point of view, just waiting to be found.

“Eureka!!!” That’s the traditional shout of the panner for gold upon the discovery of such, although I’ve been told it’s not in much use any longer. There are too many claim jumpers around, too many other people who will rush over to work that spot for the savvy prospector to risk uttering a sound. Rather a shame, I’d say, not being able to shout excitedly after bending over for so long.

In the course of my life I have participated in the start up of several businesses that involved partners. From the very first get together it often felt like everyone was panning their stream of thoughts looking for that million dollar idea. I knew people who spent days, months and then years examining every idea they could dredge up and evaluating its merit solely on its ability to produce gold. If an idea wasn’t a money maker, then they had no use for it. These were not particularly happy people. They were, however, endlessly busy. They would brag to one another about how little sleep they were getting. I was not happy either. But I took comfort in knowing that many other people were driving themselves even harder than I was and coming up just as empty. Meager comfort. Mean spirited and small. But I took it anyways.

I had to leave that life. Panning for gold left me spiritually bankrupt.

It was and is a soul killer.

This is now my daily reminder:

When I equate my self worth to my net worth, I have lost my way.

I hope my hard learned lesson is of some use to you too.



Version 2.0

I’ve met many people who harbor fantasies about starting their lives over by simply walking away from the one they presently have. Their current version of themselves is either too messed up, too convoluted, too difficult or too boring to work through or to bear any longer. So they want out. They want to escape. Bye-bye you losers. See ya. When, with patience and kindness, I point out to them that they had a big part in constructing the life that they want to escape from and that, perhaps, the only thing they really know how to build themselves are prisons, they usually pause. It’s then that they either say ‘see ya’ to me or the real process of personal growth begins.

Then, too, I’ve met more than a few who believe that an internal transformation should be much like any other extreme makeover that they’ve viewed with regards to wardrobe, hair style and face paint (make up). They are searching for some service or some one to swoop in and recreate them internally, Version 2.0, while they sit back and semi-watch. After all, they’re paying for this to ‘happen’. Patience and kindness help me to bring them to the truth…which is that they can hire a personal trainer but they still have to lift weights, exert themselves and do the exercises if they want the results. Again, it’s either ‘see ya’ or the real growth can begin.

Realty trumps fantasy every time.

“Immediately” and “all at once” are holdovers from the magical thinking days of our childhood and from the fairy tales we were raised with.

I like to tell people that the growth they’ll experience takes place “suddenly, over a period of time”.

Awakening and awareness are processes.

Before we can even connect the dots to ‘see’ an over arching pattern, we have to be guided to where the dots might be and what they might actually look like.

This is not our culture’s strong suit.

As Americans, escapism and exploitation is in our blood. Our ancestors were mainly people looking to get away from oppression (or their past) or were people looking for new opportunities to ‘get ahead’. They left everything behind due to desperation or greed. It wasn’t particularly noble but it did require a certain kind of courage and determination.

Even in the ‘New World’, when places got crowded or conditions got tough, people simply pushed out West. We considered this our right and our national destiny. This was America, Version 1.0.

(Please forgive me if I don’t address the Native indigenous populations that were so brutally displaced and abused during this stage. We still can’t seem to reconcile our ideals as a nation with our actions as a people).

Soon enough, we ran out of land that wasn’t a steal. But the twin driving principles of ‘get me outta here’ and ‘how can I get mine in this land of opportunity’ had been firmly established in the national psyche. America, Version 1.0, has since been focused on other forms of escape (alcohol, sex, drugs, gadgets) and all manner of exploitation (charge whatever the market will bear and do whatever you can get away with are two of the fundamentals of capitalism).

But America, Version 1.0, is proving to be unsustainable. The evidence is overwhelming, much like the evidence of climate change, but the denial is fierce.

We need an America, Version 2.0.

It will take courage and determination to forge and fashion.

Fortunately, those are also in our bloodlines.





The circumstance with pomp


I last wrote briefly from a parent’s perspective on graduation…

Never one to leave much alone, here’s a few thoughts about the ceremony itself…what it looks like…what’s really going on…

First of all, the robes never change. There’s never this year’s model. It’s all oddly Medieval. The caps, the sashes, the variously colored braids (all indicative of the discipline or field of study and the degree(s) of advancement) are fashion proof. Buy one and wear it for life. Practical pomposity.

What does provide these learned folks an opportunity for flair is their choice of footwear. Consistently and appropriately the footwear of quite a few professors seem to be making a statement. The boots, sandals and sneakers evidenced on many completely belie the gravitas of the robes draped above them. They’re an unmistakable counterpoint, none too subtle and quite often comical. Bravo to the young at heart!

The students themselves are another group of eagers who have made it to this academic finish line.

It happens. It’s supposed to happen. Every year, in fact. And so every year, the current batch of departing students put on their rented or disposable robes and mimic or mirror the guardians of the institution. The pomp and flourish of the circumstance seems grand but, in a way, it’s a bit of a cover up, a misdirecting of our attention.

They call it a commencement ceremony.

But the truth is that it is a dispersal event. This is a dismissal moment. The last class bell.

Underneath the smiles, there is a real sadness in the graduates. It masks itself as nervous excitement and giddy exuberance. But every student is aware that they are seeing most of the faces around them for the last time.

They may have shared a dorm room, a lab experiment, a class or two or three, an extracurricular activity or just a good time at a sporting event or concert…but now it’s finished.

Each of them is wondering: Who among all of these people will remain in meaningful contact in the years to come? Or even in casual contact via social media? Who will be my real friends and not simply the friends of proximity?

No one is absolutely certain.

That’s what brings on the sadness.

Was any of this real? Did any of our late night conversations, our escapades and near misses, our falling over laughter, our heart break tears, our struggles-failings-triumphs… Did any of it really matter? Did it make a difference?

Or were these four years just about this degree, this diploma, this required stepping stone on the path to a career?

Angst filled questions to be sure. Unanswerable for the moment. Unspoken for the most part.

I would so like to help them to understand that the diploma was the incidental aspect of these four years. That might be too much of a stretch though.

I would like to reassure every student that it was all of those interactions and experiences they shared with others that were what mattered and are what truly matters still.

The book learning will quickly be but a blur. The memory of those whose lives touched yours while yours touched theirs will be with you for a long, long time.

That’s what’s real.



From a parent’s perspective

Tis the season of academic transitions, otherwise known as ‘graduation’. It happens every year but for the parents of the graduates, it’s more like having a birthday on February 29th, a leap year sort of thing, slowing down the marking of time to once every four years. The time passes in two segments. Four years of high school and, if possible or desired, four years of undergraduate studies at college.

Two of mine are transitioning this month. One from high school and one from college. The one from high school is all eager and can hardly wait for the summer to pass so that she can be off and ‘on her own’. The one from college is feeling a tad intimidated and uncertain as to what the upcoming few years may hold. The contrast between them is rather stark, quite appropriate and, at times, humorous. Listening to the 22 year old veteran trying to advise  the 17 year old rookie is to witness compassionate pointlessness.  The 22 year old has already forgotten that 17 year olds are absolutely sure that they know it all.

From my perspective all along, the genuine development during these years has had little to do with the academics. Grades are not the indicator of progress, success or of well being. We all know that within a course of study, there are numerous ways to score well and learn nothing. There are also lots of experiences beyond the classroom that can be damaging or detrimental to their physical or emotional health.

So, for what it’s worth, my indicator of their healthy development has been to observe their responses to pressure and stress. Whether it has involved a coach, a teacher, a peer or a general situation that they found themselves in, I’ve paid attention and listened carefully as they recounted their stories to me (or to each other) as to how they reacted or handled the pressures and stressors they were feeling.

It has enabled me to be subtly but proactively useful. As a parent, that as good as it gets.

You see, I remembered how, when I was younger, I never knew a middle way with pressure or stress. I either gave in easily and completely, which never felt honest, or I wouldn’t budge an inch, which felt equally off the mark. It took me a while to learn how to be centered, to be true to myself and honest with my thoughts and feelings.

I’ve tried to pass that along to many people, including my children.

To their credit and not mine, they seem to have gravitated towards centeredness and away from the extremes.

As a parent, from my perspective, this is as good as I ever dreamed it could be.

I am not so much proud of them as I am overwhelmed with gratitude.

It’s a feeling I’m sharing with many other parents these days.