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I’ve been thinking for several years now about getting a tattoo. Now in my 40’s, I still worry about what my dad will say. But my delayed ink is more the result of being unable to commit to something that will be with me until the day I die. Funny, actually, since I have real trouble ever truly letting go of anything. Why would a permanent mark on my body instill such hesitation?
I think the answer to that question lies more in the fact that I just get bored too damn easily. I’m afraid that I’ll choose something, look at it every day, and in time grow to hate it because it never changes or evolves. I’m afraid it will bore me. Last month, however, I purchased and wore a temporary tattoo that I think will finally inspire the piece I get inscribed on my skin. The design is a somewhat ornate depiction of two simple words: “Let Go.”
After a decade of more of just thinking about the idea of a tattoo, why would two simple words speak to me so clearly and convincingly? Perhaps it has something to do with a quote by Shannon Adler that I recently read and loved: “Your heart’s strength is measured by how hard it holds on. Your self-worth and faith is measured by finally letting go.”
Lord knows my heart is strong. I have held on to ideas, to things, to people – in many instances – much longer than they held me back. And with that deep urge to hold on, I have maybe sacrificed pieces of myself that I will never reclaim. It’s ok. They have made me who I am. And I believe my capacity to love is stronger and greater than it has ever been.
But it’s time to reclaim my faith and to remember my self-worth. When I pause to think about the things I’ve held on to for so long, I am prompted to question what motivated me to do so. I think in situations like that, we often romanticize the reason for holding on as love, as some once-in-a-lifetime connection, or as some duty we have to an idea or person. But fear is probably the more accurate cause for holding onto something that no longer serves us well. What if we let go and aren’t any happier? What if things change and I make a mistake? What if … what if … what if?
Instead of the viewing the “what if” as a negative and scary thing, I am motivated to take a good look at the “what if” as a completely positive possibility. This means, as the author of my quote suggested, taking those leaps of faith, diminishing my need to control every single thing, and being ok with not always being ok. Every chance we take is the beginning of something new; a chance to learn more about ourselves and the world around us. The greatest beginnings – as they say – are often found in the endings of something else.
What things have you been wanting to let go of? What chances might you take if you could relinquish the need to control what would happen? How much more satisfying might your life be if you could just “let go”?
Like many, I am a huge fan of the show This is Us. More often than I could say, a line from the show causes me to pause, to think, to reflect, to wonder. Last night’s finale was no different. But before this turns into a blog about a TV show, let me shift my focus to the line that prompted this blog. One character to another said, “Next time you tell me that you love me, make sure it’s not out of habit.”
People who love me have heard me ask, “Why do you love me?” I don’t ask that question because I want to hear a list of things someone else admires in me. Nor do I want to hear the person go on and on about the qualities they see in me that make me outstanding to them in some way. Rather, I ask the question for the very reason the line in the show was stated. That is, because I believe it is important to know why you love someone. After all, if love is an active verb (as I’ve often written it is), shouldn’t we be actively aware of what it is in a person that makes us love them?
I have to wonder how many people are in relationships where the cause of their love is somehow lost. Certainly, as people grow and change, some of the qualities we fall in love with in the beginning of a relationship may also change – in both good and bad ways. Therefore, instead of simply getting in the habit of routinely saying “I love you,” day after day, month after month, year after year, I think it is important to reflect on our love for another person from time to time. I believe that reflection is an act of love in itself. It gives us a much greater awareness of why we love someone well beyond the reasons we fell for them in the first place. And then, when we say “I love you,” it is a confident statement rooted in the present, instead of something buried in habit and obligation for which the cause may no longer even be known.
Lots of people stay together or even get back together because they share a history. And certainly, those shared experiences bond us to another person in a meaningful way. But like the character on the show, I don’t want someone to stick around because times were once good or because they once saw something in me worth loving. Love simply cannot be that complacent. Moreover and perhaps even more importantly, I believe that active reflection about love leads to gratitude. And so when I feel annoyed because he forgot to call, or because he left a spoon in the sink, my active reflection about why I love him reminds me that the spoon wasn’t that important after all.
Three words said casually between people who’ve been together for a while can often feel routine. We get in the habit of saying them almost mindlessly. But I’d argue that the words “I love you” probably make us more vulnerable than anything we say to another person. When we say them, I believe they should be said with intention and without doubt that love is an action, promoted by something we can identify and appreciate. So tell people you love them. But once in a while tell them why. That why is a celebration not only of the love that exists, but also of the people who make it come alive.
I’ve been seeing a number of posts in social media lately about how everything that happens in one’s life (especially in relationships) should be seen as an opportunity to learn and grow. In other words, the posts discourage regret or sadness about past choices by suggesting that everything one has endured up to a certain point has been a teachable moment. The messages imply that if you haven’t learned something from a decision that turned out to be the wrong one that you just aren’t looking hard enough for the lesson.
Look, I’m all for learning from my mistakes and growing stronger from disappointment, but what happens if the depth of that disappointment feels like an abyss; like a hole one has fallen into by no fault of their own? But wait. We aren’t supposed to blame others for the things that happen to us, right? We always play a role. OK. So what if our fault lies in loving someone too much, seeing the potential in someone who refused to see it in themselves, or just trusting another human being to do the right thing? You see, here’s where my confusion about the lesson to be found begins. Am I supposed to learn not to love so much? Should I stop pushing to see the good in people? And how about trust? Should I be less trusting?
I know a great number of people who are jaded from relationships in which they suffered deep disappointment. For these people, the answer to most of the questions I posed above is a screaming, “Yes!” As a result of their experiences, these people do approach relationships differently than maybe they have in the past. They might stick a toe in to test the waters, maybe go knee-deep for another length of time, and maybe even make it into their waists. But they never fully submerge – and subsequently spend their lives complaining that they can’t seem to find anything real and meaningful. I guess in these cases I wonder what the value of the lesson truly is. More importantly, I wonder what part of themselves they are sacrificing as protection from future hurt and disappointment. I’m not sure the lessons are serving them well. In fact, I think what is really happening is that they are punishing themselves – and anyone else they meet – for things that happened in the past.
That which doesn’t kill us might make us stronger, but I think its ok to be broken for a while. Some things deserve to be felt, to be grieved. And that’s ok. If you’ve spent all of your energy in loving someone or something that didn’t work out, it’s probably ok to spend some energy grieving its loss. And if you can’t find a lesson in any of it, don’t let that make you feel worse. Sometimes people just don’t have the capacity to love in the same way you do. Sometimes, the lessons they think they’ve learned block them. Maybe knowing that is lesson enough.
In the end, perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn is more about ourselves than it is about any situation or person. And to that end, the most important question we can ask is whether we want to be motivated by love or motivated by fear. A seemingly simple question requires careful introspection. And living true to the answer may require courage. What will you choose? I have a feeling your answer will shape the lessons you learn.
Want to read more about fear vs. love? I found another blog that deals with this topic: https://wordfromthewell.com/2012/08/03/love-vs-fear-the-most-important-decision-youll-ever-make-and-youre-making-it-right-now/
In my quest to be the most loving kind of person I can be (even in the most difficult of situations), I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the difference between being nice and being kind. “What’s the difference?” you may ask. Good question. The answer, I think, lies in the motivation behind the actions that are often characterized by those two words.
In my opinion, the words “nice” and “kind” are erroneously used interchangeably all the time. In fact, I think it is a far greater thing to be kind than it is to be nice. Confused yet? Let’s consider an example.
This morning, I was walking into a store for coffee. The man in front of me waited for just a moment to hold the door. Most would say he is nice. And maybe he is. But I wonder if he is also kind. In other words, did he hold the door because it would have seemed rude to not hold it? Was he afraid of being judged? Did it feel awkward? Or, did he wait and hold the door because of a genuine respect for another human being? Did he have a true desire to demonstrate graciousness and consideration? In the most basic of terms, is he kind beyond the nice gesture?
Maybe in this situation the distinction doesn’t really matter all that much. But if we step back to consider our actions in this way, what we might find is that many of the “nice” things we do every day are really just rooted in our effort to appear a certain way, to fold into a convention, or to avoid criticism. And if that’s the case, isn’t it also possible that our efforts to be nice are doing nothing to make us better people? Certainly, a simple thing like holding a door for a stranger is a menial example. But think about all of the things we’ve done or said simply because we were being nice. In this way, nice is a passive thing. It becomes something we are often guilted into out of fear, insecurity, or a desire to maintain peace. For those reasons, the nice person may indeed be a fake.
Kindness is, on the other hand, a more proactive approach to the world. It is a choice that we must consciously make. Most importantly, kindness is not veiled in pretense or expectations. It does not judge and is not characterized by lies or fear. Instead, I believe that kindness is rooted in a deep desire to want to help, to be there for someone, to demonstrate love for ourselves and for others. There is no pressure in kindness. The kind actions are those motivated by a true desire to make the world a better place, even if just for one person at one moment in time.
All of this is not to say that people shouldn’t be nice. Perhaps it is that basic courtesy that gives the world order. It is probably what creates a sense of politeness in our every day. But kindness, I believe, goes deeper than this superficial response to the world. It motivates us to look at every situation from a variety of perspectives; it generates empathy. It connects us to others. While it may be easier to just be nice, I believe we have to practice being kind. And to demonstrate kindness when we are tired, or sad, or angry, or feeling slighted in some way is an even loftier goal that requires a good amount of courage.
Earlier this year, I wrote a piece about new year’s resolutions and I proposed the formation of the “Be List.” My resolution this year is to be less nice and more kind. That means being kinder to myself and then kinder to others. I honestly don’t care if people think I’m nice. But kind? Yeah. Kind matters.
With the dawn of the new year, there is no shortage of resolutions out there. People are pledging to get healthy, to get more organized, to get a new job, to get out of debt. I call this list of resolutions the “Get List.”
I wonder what would happen if the thinking behind traditional new year’s resolutions was to change? What if, instead of thinking about the things we need to get, we thought about the things we’d like to be? In other words, instead of focusing on the traditional “Get List” of resolutions that often result in outward physical or monetary results, what if we made resolutions that focused more on character and the way we interact with the world? I call this list the “Be List” of resolutions.
This shift from the “Get List” of resolutions to the “Be List” of resolutions is not for the faint of heart. After all, part of discovering what you want to BE requires that you identify what you already are, or maybe what you already aren’t or aren’t enough of on a regular basis. It involves an introspective look at yourself; maybe even some work to uncover the things you’ve worked a long time to hide. It requires you to be honest with yourself about your own prejudices, fears, and shortcomings. And it requires you to be brave in your efforts to improve and to apply those improvements to interactions every day.
So why bother? Well, from my perspective the answer is a simple one. The problem with the “Get List” of resolutions is that once the thing, or action, or behavior is achieved, it gets scratched off our list of things to do. Come next January, many of us are making a similar resolution to go out and once again get the thing we were after the year before. Sound familiar?
The “Be List,” however, pushes us to think more carefully about what motivates us. It challenges us to think about how we could interact or respond to the world in ways that improve not only our own lives, but the lives of others. A “Be List” has the power to reshape ideas, attitudes and behaviors that manifest themselves in many part of our lives. It becomes a definition of our character.
Cavett Robert, recognized as the founder of modern day speechwriters once said, “Character is the ability to carry out a good resolution long after the excitement of the moment has passed.” Probably a good reflection for the countless folks on treadmills in January and February who are back on their couches by April.
Worst case scenario, the “Be List” results in a bunch of people who have made conscious choices and honest efforts to be more of what they’d like to see in the world. Perhaps we find ourselves surrounded by people who are working to BE kind, to BE generous, to BE focused, to BE brave, to BE healthy. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? In addition, my guess is that in their efforts to become the people they’d like to be, they also get much of what they want.
Might be worth some consideration.
If you could choose one word to express your intent in life, what would it be? If people could describe you with only one word, which would you want them to choose? Tough questions, aren’t they? I think we spend so much time trying to be all things to all people. It’s as if we create a competition of words, if you will. Are we smart, sincere, loving, strong, kind, passionate, determined, inclusive? Do we want to see more kindness, tolerance, peace, harmony, or inquisition in the world? Which is the most important? And how do some words conflict with others? It’s a lot of questions, I know.
This thinking was prompted by an ad I saw today on Facebook for a line of jewelry called the MyIntent Project. Featured on The Today Show, the company website says, “We believe there is purpose inside each of us and we want our efforts to encourage people to share more truth and inspiration with each other. We are not a jewelry company – we are an intentions project.”
I won’t speak about the intended marketing goals of the Intent Project, but I will applaud its ability to get people thinking. At least it got me thinking. The company offers a line of bracelets and necklaces that are inscribed with a word chosen by the client. The first step is to “choose your word.” And I’m stuck.
I guess it could be argued that as a writer I take words and their meanings much more seriously than other people. But I think my hesitation in picking a word is really much more complicated than that. Sure, I could order more than one. But that’s kind of against the point, isn’t it? I mean, you’re asked to pick a word. What single word sums up who I am, what I want for the world, what I hope to model or what I value most?
Once a word is spoken, it can’t be taken back. And the spoken word is really so much more than a word, isn’t it? Words are a catalyst for emotion and for action. We are judged by our words, loved for our words, trusted for how we live our words. They must be chosen carefully. In contrast, the words we don’t choose to speak also convey meaning. What is implied by what we don’t say?
Poet Emily Dickinson said, “I know nothing in the world that has as much power as a word. Sometimes, I write one and look at it, until it begins to shine.” Maybe that’s the whole point of picking a word, putting it on a necklace, and wearing it close to your heart. Once written, the word cannot be denied. Once spoken, it cannot be taken back. And once lived, a word has power like nothing else.
It’s important to pick the right word.
Today is my 44th birthday. 44. That’s weird. I don’t feel like 44 years have gone past me (although I admittedly have aches and pains not seen in my 20s and I now find great joy in a Saturday night with nothing to do). But on this, my birthday, I’ve been reflecting on the past year. And through that reflection, I’ve been given a marvelous gift; that is, perspective. In the great summation of another year lived, I am able to learn about myself…and to find lessons that I hope will make me a better person in my 44th year.
I have learned that trust is a rare and delicate gift. I often give it too freely to those who haven’t earned it, or too long to those who don’t deserve it. And I know I don’t thank those who do enough.
I have learned that the heart has a tremendous capacity for joy and an equally intense ability to feel pain. Sometimes the deepest cuts are made by the same person or thing that once brought you that joy.
I have learned that the human spirit is amazingly resilient. I am grateful for those who reminded me about that.
I have learned the value of forgiveness. Grudges cause the most pain to those who hold them. Even greater relief is found in the ability to forgive oneself.
I have learned that despite good intentions and honest effort, sometimes I will just fall short. But if I learned something in the process, the time and energy was not wasted.
I have learned that you can really only love someone as much as they will allow. That said, I have learned that I can love more deeply and unselfishly than I imagined. I am grateful for those who don’t limit my love and who love me back without restriction.
I have learned that every day is an opportunity to be happy. But happiness is not something that happens to me. It is something I create. It is a mindset framed in gratitude.
I have learned that many people are happy to settle for mediocre. I’ve also learned that I am not one of those people. And I won’t apologize for that.
And so, lessons learned. Here I am at 44 … still learning. What better gift could there be?