Flawed and a Little Crazy. It’s a Good Starting Point.

I have to admit it, but I’m deeply flawed and a little crazy. Aren’t we all?

Much of life is geared about trying to seem normal and healthy to all those around us. In the workplace and around our friends and acquaintances we work hard to show only the positive things in our lives. We are smart, witty, and engaging. Everything is going well and we are all happy.

Sometimes I’ll hear people say, “Wow Bob and Mary seem to have it all together. They have great jobs, a beautiful home, and their kids are amazing”.  While  that looks true I usually think, “That can’t be true. Nothing is ever that perfect”.

What’s with the negativity?  If I’m honest I am flawed and some of my thinking is a little crazy and I’m not the only one. My wife and kids are flawed and their thinking can be a little crazy too.  Flawed and crazy is a human experience.

The sad truth is that we all work too hard holding up a facade we hope people believe because we are afraid of social and psychological rejection.   But trying to be perfect and maintaining that facade takes a tremendous amount of physical and psychic energy. Day after day and year after year of trying to appear perfect only adds stress to an already complicated life. It’s not worth it.

Why is admitting that I’m flawed and a little crazy a good starting point for life? 

First, because it’s true.

Second, because we don’t have to work so hard trying to look and behave like perfect people.

In the On Being podcast, host Krista Tippett interviewed relationship expert and  philosopher Alain de Botton.  In this interview Alain states that healthy relationships are those where individuals understand they are deeply flawed and that their partner is deeply flawed too. In this relationship the couple is not looking for their partner to meet their every need, but see the relationship as a way to help each other become their best selves.

If we start our relationships with the ideal that other people are and should be perfect, then we are headed for disappointment and disillusionment. If our friends or partners expects us to be perfect, they are headed for the same disappointment.

Here’s a link to the blog and podcast: On Being With Krista Tippett

By embracing my flaws I can have compassion on myself  and that compassion can extend to those around me. I believe that we all do the best we can given the context we are in and the knowledge we have. No one is trying to consciously try to screw up their lives. We are all doing our best and if we could give each other a little compassion for being human, we will all grow in the right direction.

Embracing the fact that we are all flawed isn’t a justification for our behavior, but it does explain it. The goal is to continually evolve and grow in life and embracing your flaws is a part of it.

Here’s are handful of my flaws and crazy thoughts that I know my friends and family have to experience:

  • When I feel I’m right, you’ll know about it
  • If I  believe it, I want you to believe it too.
  • I’ll convince you of what is right.
  • If you are not convinced, then it’s your fault.
  • I need to be right to be OK.

As you can see these are not very generous ways of living with others, but these are flaws that I’m working on and my goal is to have awareness of my crazy thinking and behaviors. I don’t have to act out on them and let them interfere with my goals and relationships.

Having awareness of our flaws and crazy thinking is a great starting point for living a intentional and meaningful life . Living without awareness will hamper our ability to authentically connect with others.

Embrace your flaws and crazy thinking as a great starting point for having meaningful and intentional lives.

 

Are You Living the Life You Dreamed Of?

Credit: Gianandrea Villa

Credit: Gianandrea Villa

Looking back into my 20’s I can remember the dreams I had about what kind of life I’d be living right now.  Am I living the life I dreamed of? In short, no.

It is so hard to predict what the world will be like in the future.It’s even harder to predict what our relationships will be like and what careers we’ll be having. The world is constantly changing and the dreams we have when we are young are a moving target.

Our youth is filled with energy and passion for the things we believe in and it’s that idealism that moves us in life. I don’t want to crush anyone’s idealism, but to believe we can predict what kind of live we’ll be living 10, 2o, or 3o years later is naive.

When I was younger I could not predict:

  • the relationships gained and lost
  • the certainty and doubt
  • the career success and failures
  • the faith lost and transformed
  • the pain, joy, and grief
  • the idealism lost and regained

Am I living the life I dreamed of?  No, but I’ve come the realization that it’s not as much about the external realities of what I do, but the internal realities of who I am.

Today I am more the person I’m meant to be than when I was 20.  I have a deeper understanding of my strengths, my wisdom, and expertise.  I’m also more aware of my weaknesses and failures.

I still want to accomplish great things in this world, but I realize that external success without being a great person is empty. I can think of many people who have achieved what they dreamed of when they were young, but they are not the kind of people I would want to count as friends.
I know other people who have not had as much success externally but who are solid and respectable people. I’d like to count them as friends.
Is is possible to achieve your dreams without sacrificing your values and degrading your humanness?  Absolutely, but I believe we need start with who we are first and let any success grow out of that.
I remember a saying from a motivation speaker by the name of Jim Rohn.  He said, “I wanted a black belt in Karate not because I wanted the black belt, but because of the person I’d need to become in order to get a black belt.” If we live life as our true selves, success may follow.
As we progress through life we cannot predict what we will encounter. Many of you reading this have gone through experiences, both positive and negative, that you could never have predicted. But the real question is, “are you happy with who you are?”.
Am I living the life I dreamed of? No.  Am I more the person I know I was meant to be? Absolutely.

I am grateful for the life I have. I am grateful for the lessons learned. I am grateful for the people I love.

Can a dream life be any better than that?

 

The Real Struggle of Affluence

Depositphotos_12745182_m-2015I was listening to a podcast where a guest was recounting the enormous mental and physical challenge of running a 100 mile ultra marathon.  It was a fascinating story where they where at the breaking point of mental and physical exhaustion many times, fell and cut open their knee, and vomited multiple times yet still managed to finish.

It was an amazing feat to run that far, but it occurred to me that this suffering, although very real, was self-inflicted. They paid to run the race, trained for the race, and chose to run the race. It was a suffering born out of affluence.

In a very different scenario, I’ve been thinking about buying a new car. I have a 2001 Subaru Outback with 163,000 miles and I’ve been wondering if it’s time to replace it.  One one level, the car runs good and I could get another 100,000 miles out of it.  On another level, I’ve been driving it for 13 years and I’d like something different.

As I have been researching new cars, I’ve found myself getting stressed.  How much money should we spend?  Should I get a luxury brand or go with another solid Subaru? Should I go with a German, Japanese, or American car?  It’s strange, but researching new cars has added a layer of stress I didn’t expect. It’s a struggle born out of affluence.

There are people today who are struggling to survive. They live in war torn countries, have no access to clean water and food, or are barely able to pay for the basics of life. Some are inflicted with disease through no fault of their own.  Many peoples’s struggle is born out of poverty, strife, and illness.

When I put my struggles up against this, I realize my stress is inconsequential.  The reality is it doesn’t matter what car I buy when compared to the real suffering others are facing.

This feels a little like when I was a kid  and being admonished to finish my dinner because there are starving children in Africa.  Is it fair to say because we don’t live in poverty that we shouldn’t struggle? No, but our struggles are different.

Our struggles do matter because they are often reaching for inner needs that we may not be aware of.

I have found it helpful to go back to Psychology 101 and look at Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Source:Wikipedia

Source: Wikipedia

In the first realm, it’s all about meeting the physical needs of food, shelter, and health. The second realm is safety, including physical, emotional, and psychological safety. Once you have achieved physiological and safety needs, you have the foundation to work on the higher needs of Love/Belonging, Esteem, and the peak of Self-Actualization (you know yourself and are at peace).

I think the struggles of the Ultra Marathoner and my stress fall into the higher categories of Love/Belonging and Esteem.

If we have our basic needs met, then many of our struggles have to do with:

  • Am I accepted?
  • Am I worthwhile and talented?
  • Do I belong?
  • Am I loved?
  • Am I an equal?

Maslow built his ideas upon the 3 Needs developed by the psychologist Alfred Adler, who is considered the grandfather of cognitive psychology.  Adler postulated that all humans have 3 core needs:

  • The need to be safe
  • The need to belong
  • The need to be significant

Adler dissects each of the needs into finer detail but here you can see Maslow’s further development of Adler’s ideas.  Why does this matter?

Once our core needs for the basics of life are met, our attention turns to how do we feel a sense of connection with other people (belonging) and feel like our lives have a purpose and matter (significance). Our concern is if we fit into the group we want to belong to or are excluded.  The need to belong and fit it, no matter how old you are is a significant driver of human behavior.

The need for significance or self-actualization is also a core driver of behavior and our choices. Engaging in certain activities (like a  ultra marathon) or buying a certain class of car (like a Audi) can be an attempt at feeling significant in the eye’s of others or belonging to a certain class of people.  But if we are trying to gain significance through external activities or objects, it’s a short lived experience. As soon as the race is over or the car is no longer new, we need a new source.

Corporations and manufacturers know this too. If you look at the way products are marketed to us, they communicate that our needs for belonging and significance will be met if we buy whatever they are trying to sell.  Good luck with that. We all know the experience of thinking a thing, person, or event will make us happy but as soon as we have it the experience fades and we are on on the hunt for the next thing.

Spiritual Teacher, Eckhart Tolle states:

“…we can not really honor things if we use them as a means to self-enhancement, that is to say, if we try to find ourselves through them. This is exactly what the ego does. Ego-Identification with things creates attachments to things, obsession with things, which in turn creates our consumer society and economic structures where the only measure of progress is more.” A New Earth: Awakening Your Life’s Purpose

I wish I didn’t struggle with this but I do. There are days when I think that driving a brand new Audi will make me happy and a better person. There are days I think I am better person because I drive a 15 year old car. Both are wrong, because I am trying to get my sense of significance through a car.

This is what we all face and it’s difficult to not get sucked up into a culture that says more stuff and more activity will make us happy.  It creates real stress that has real consequences in our health, our relationships, and our work.  I get that.

Is running an Ultra Marathon antithetical to belonging and self-actualization?  No, not necessarily.  It could be a way to belong to a new group of people that share a common set of values.  It could be a way to test oneself and understand one’s abilities and limitations. It could be a way to connect with nature.

Is buying an luxury car a failed attempt to fill our higher needs?  Maybe, or maybe not.  It greatly depends on if we try to use it meet unfulfilled needs. If you understand that buying a high end car won’t make you happy, give you a sense of belonging, or a true sense of significance then buying it is more about having a car you enjoy driving.

I have no judgement on the ultra marathoner I heard on that podcast, because I cannot understand their internal process of what that race meant to them.  What I can do is evaluate my  stress and remember that nothing I buy or any event I participate in won’t satisfy my higher needs for love, belonging, and significance.

The real struggle of affluence is that we are looking for love and acceptance, self-esteem, and self-actualization in external and  material things,  rather inside of us and in our relationships. It’s through self-understanding, self-acceptance, and living out our values that we have a chance at meeting those higher needs.

Let’s work together to be our best selves and how do we do that?

  • Know what you value most in life
  • Live according to those values
  • Work in alignment of those values
  • Have relationships that honor those values

 

I’m not sure what car I will buy and when, but I do know it cannot make me happy and a better person. But it may be fun to drive, and that’s OK too.

 

What If The Golden Years Are Right Now? (And You’re Missing Them)

Credit: DeduloPhotos

Credit: DeduloPhotos

 

How many times have you had the thought,

“When I get to ______ life will really be great!”

That is what I call the Golden Years.  A time in life where we look forward to our future becoming better than what it is today.  Life will really be great:

When I retire.

When the kids go off to college.

When I get that promotion.

When I buy that house.

When I take that trip.

When I lose weight.

When I meet Mr./Mrs Right

Having goals for our future isn’t wrong. I have goals for my future, but what if we are missing out on what’s available to us in the present because we are so focused on the future? Worse yet, what if we actually get to the future and we don’t find it as great as we thought it was.

I’m bored in retirement.

I miss the kids.

I’m stressed in my new job.

The house is so big I can’t find anyone.

It rained the whole time during my trip.

I lost weight, but gained it back.

My relationship ended.

The future could be as great as we think it will be, but we can’t know that today because it has happened yet. If fact, there is no guarantee we will get to our future. Life can get cut short through illness and accidents,  jobs can end through layoffs, and houses burn down.

What I’ve been realizing though, it that the Golden Years are right now where ever I am and where ever I go.

The reason I’m not experiencing the Golden Years is that I’m not fully living in awareness of what I’m experiencing today. I’m too preoccupied with the future, too stressed about what hasn’t happened yet, and too anxious about my goals and if they will happen.

Here’s an example:  I’ve had this idea that my blog and podcast will really be making an impact in people’s lives when I hit 100,000 readers each month.  Right now I have about 22oo, and if I focus on how far I am from my goal I get discouraged and feel like I’m wasting my time.

But what if the Golden Years of my blog and podcast are right now?  If I practice the skill of living a life of awareness I realize that writing and speaking my ideas is helping me become the person I want to be. I appreciate the people who are showing up each month to read and listen.  I’m meeting people I never would have met if I had not started a podcast. I’m grateful for the experience.

Living a life of awareness means that we are paying attention to the present moment.

What am I feeling right now?

What am I thinking?

What is grabbing my attention?

What do I notice?

What do I see?

What do I hear?

What am I sensing?

Living in the present is challenging because our internal thinking, the demands we place on ourselves and demands from other people can rip us out of the now and into the anxiety of the future.  Living in the present brings a deeper and fuller experience.

When I am living a life of awareness and living in the present:

I appreciate and love my wife more.

I see how extraordinary my kids are.

I experience the beauty of my surroundings.

I am more open and flexible.

I’m less frustrated when things don’t work out.

I find more meaning in my work.

I’m more content with what I have and what I don’t

Don’t waste time, relationships, and experience waiting for the future. Practice living life with awareness and being present in the moment and see how the Golden Years are right now.

 

Here are some resources that I’ve found helpful as I’m learning how to practice living in awareness.

Slow Down to the Speed of Life, by Richard Carlson and Joe Bailey. This is a great read about how to get your mind out of the past and out of the future so you can live with more peace and contentment in a busy world.

Interview with Joe Bailey Co-Author of Slow Down to the Speed of Life on the 5Percenters Podcast. Click here. Joe and I talk about the concepts in his book and apply them to living an excellent life.

Zen Parenting Podcast with Cathy Cassini Adams and Todd Adams. If you have kids this is an excellent podcast about living the life you want your kids to learn. Their tag line is, “The best predictor of your child’s well being is a parent’s self-understanding”. Even if you don’t have kids, this is an excellent podcast about living a life of awareness.