Thursday, October 23, 2014

Autumn Road Trip

Autumn and early winter are my favorite times of the year.  I love the cooler weather, the fall colors, Halloween, pumpkins, Thanksgiving, and the spirit in the air during the Christmas season.  I have a personal goal to enjoy every day of my life but tomorrow I am going to kick it up a notch and take the day off.  My wife and I are driving to Elizabethtown to visit our youngest son.  He is a Catholic priest and is currently the associate pastor of three parishes.  Part of the experience will be to have lunch at the Whistle Stop CafĂ© in Glendale, Kentucky.  It’s a small place right next to some railroad tracks but the food is to die for.  I am looking forward to the drive there and back because we are at the peak of the autumn season and the leaf colors are beautiful.  I can only hope the construction on I-65 isn’t as bad as it was the last time I headed south.  It is a good thing to occasionally take a day off from work to enjoy the simple things of life.  My wife and I are fortunate.  We have two sons and both of them turned out well.  They seem to enjoy being with us and we enjoy being with them.  I am sure we occasionally make them crazy because that’s part of our job description as parents.  On the flip side they occasionally make us crazy because they are still our children even if they are grown men.  Bright and early on Saturday morning I expect to see my granddaughter.  She will spend the weekend with my wife and I and we’ll go see the new “Book Of Life” movie.  Every year when they announce the Academy Award nominations the only category where I’ve seen all the movies is the children’s animated films.  My granddaughter is the icing on the cake of a blessed life.     

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Unfiltered Life

It is said that every time two people meet there are six people in the room.  For each person there is the person they think they are, the person the other person thinks they are, and the person they really are.  I was thinking about this after reading some thoughts on how to see life and reality unfiltered.  Let’s be honest.  Few of us see life as it really is.  Most of us see life and reality through a variety of filters.  These filters, much like the many layers of our personalities, have been formed throughout our lives by all the experiences we’ve had, the way we were raised, and, in many cases, by our education or lack of it.  It’s probably safe to say that few of us truly see things the same way.  In the work environment, for example, there are people who are very happy and content.  There are some people, however, who think they are in a concentration camp.  Some people are happy with everything while others are happy with nothing.  Our happiness is generally in direct proportion to our gratitude.  Some people are grateful just to wake up in the morning and realize they have been given another day of life.  Others people are never grateful for anything.  Why are some people happy and grateful while others are unhappy and feeling like nothing good ever happens to them?  Certainly attitude is a big factor.  Another factor, however, is how unfiltered your life is and how much you are able to see life realistically.    

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Being Criticized

All of us are sometimes criticized.  It is often referred to as constructive feedback to give it a more positive spin but it still usually feels like good old criticism.  I have been criticized many times in my life and I admit that I didn't always take it very well.  It's not because I think I am perfect.  It's more because I really strive to do things well and to always do the right thing.  When someone tells me I am not meeting an expectation, it hurts.  I don't know if there is a painless way to receive and accept constructive feedback.  I do believe, however, there are painless and positive ways to give constructive feedback.  First of all you must always respect the dignity and feelings of the person on the receiving end.  Constructive feedback can be presented in a gentle, even loving, way.  Constructive feedback doesn't have to be presented with negative terminology.  The reality of a situation can be presented in a non-threatening way balanced with positive examples of how the situation could have been handled or how it might be handled in the future.  I don't believe any decent human being comes to work or does anything with the intention of making mistakes or doing poorly.  In today's complex and highly technical work environments the use of computers often makes the possibility of errors more likely than not.  Some management gurus, like W. Edwards Deming, believe that mistakes in the workplace are usually the blame of a system or a process rather than people.  When was the last time a "system" or a "process" was put on a work improvement program?  People seem like the only option for criticism so they are usually given the blame.  None of us are perfect, we do sometimes make mistakes, and sometimes our mistakes may be carelessness.  Sometimes we may need encouragement or some deserved criticism.  If we deserve it, we need to be humble and accept that we have made a mistake or need to get our heads on straight.  If we are the leader, the parent, or the friend, do it in a caring, non- threatening way so the person walks away with some dignity and resolve to try harder.  Encourage them.  Don't break their spirit. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Time Is A Loop That Grows Smaller

Each workday morning my alarm goes off at 5:45 AM.  This alarm is a warning shot that I have 15 more minutes to hug the sheets before I actually have to get out of my bed.  I usually thank God for the extra 15 minutes as though I had hours to go.  6:00 AM seems far away while at the same time my 15 minutes goes by in the blink of an eye.  Later in the day, when I am at work, the clocks seem to be frozen.  The last two hours of my day seem like eight hours.  Our perception of time can vary wildly.  I have my own theory of relativity.  I am no Albert Einstein but here’s what I think.  Time is like a loop.  I know some people say time is like a river but I think it is like a loop.  When you are a child or young person, the end of your life seems very far away.  The loop stretches a long distance and you have the perception that you have all the time in the world.  Remember when you were a child on summer vacation and the days seemed eternal?  As you get older and closer to the end of your life the time loop get smaller and your new perception is that the speed of your life has increased dramatically.  The smaller the loop, the faster life seems to pass by.  We all know that in reality life moves at the same pace all the time.  There are sixty seconds in a minute, 60 minutes in an hour, and twenty four hours in a day.  However, the perception of minutes, hours, and days is vastly different for a child like my granddaughter and a sixty three year old man like me.  If life seems to be moving too fast for you, the best way to slow it down is to be more mindful and more conscious of the moments that make up your day.  Enjoy life as it unfolds and don’t “wish your life away” as my mother used to say to me.  Time is valuable.  Spend it wisely.          

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Live Your Own Life

Your time is limited so don’t waste it living someone else’s life.  Don’t be trapped by dogma which is living with the results of other people’s thinking.  Don’t let the noise of others opinions drown out your own inner voice.  And most important, have the courage to follow your own heart and intuition.
-Steve Jobs
One of the joys of growing old is that I really don’t care anymore what other people think of me.  Don’t misinterpret that statement.  I’m happy if people like me and I don’t intentionally try to annoy anyone.  Well, maybe sometimes.  However, I have spent much of my life trying to please other people, many of whom did not really care about me.  I sometimes joke that I live to serve.  The reality is that I have served the needs of many people and I don’t regret any of it.  My reality as a 63 year old man is that time is huge for me now.  There is no time to waste on BS.  I know I have more years behind me than I do in front of me.  I recently read a statement that said, “Don’t do anything that doesn’t make you happy”.  This doesn’t mean eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may be dead.  I think it means live with meaning and purpose and joy.  For better or worse I no longer have blind faith in anything or in most people.  There are so many things in life that are dysfunctional and broken, i.e., most of our institutions.  I like the teaching of the Buddha which says “Believe what you experience”.  Many things in life have disappointed me, including some people, but many other people and things have helped me and been my teacher.  Even disappointment has been a teacher.  Many people and things in life give me joy.  I care about other people and I respect their opinions.  I may even be influenced by their thoughts enough to incorporate them into my own thinking.  What truly guides me, however, is my own inner voice and the values I have acquired from my experience of life.  Whether you are young or old, I urge you to follow your own inner voice, follow your bliss, be a peacemaker, do things that make you happy, and always choose love over hate.  You will never regret it.  You own your own life.  Don’t waste it.     

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Life Is Our Teacher

Regardless of what spiritual belief or philosophy guides your life we all have one common teacher and the teacher is life.  No matter what we believe each of us has to deal with the life we have and the demands and challenges of our life.  Life is the teacher and life is the test.  When I was in the monastery there was a discipline of prayer.  It was no easier to get out of bed for prayer than it is to get out of bed for a day at the office.  In the monastery we had night prayer called Vigils at 3:15 AM every day.  In my young life as a parent I had night vigils at approximately 3:15 AM for feedings and diaper changes.  When I was a young man I complained about having to work.  My father in law said, “Wait until you’ve been doing it for forty years”!  Well, I have been doing it for forty years and I now understand what he was saying.  Work has been a discipline and a teacher for me too.  In addition, forty years of marriage, thirty six years of parenthood, and ten years of grandparenthood have also been my teachers.  As I once said, “Education gives you knowledge but life gives you wisdom”.  Life is a great teacher and the experiences of life can fill us with wisdom.  Our individual lives also challenge us in many ways to be faithful to our beliefs and personal philosophies.  If you believe in love, kindness, and compassion, life will test you in many ways to determine how much you believe in them.  Your life is not designed to annoy you.  It is designed to shape you, mold you, teach you, make you stronger, and to fill you with wisdom as you grow older.    

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Are You Content With Your Life?

Do not spoil what you have by desiring what you have not; remember that what you now have was once among the things you only hoped for.
How many of you reading these thoughts are content with your life?  I am not always happy and sometimes I am restless.  In spite of this I am basically content.  What is contentment?  I think contentment is the feeling you have when you realize your basic needs are being met, you have acquired a good deal of what you want, and there are people in your life who care about you.  I have not always been content.  Much of my life I struggled on a number of different levels.  As I have gotten older I have gotten smarter and wiser.  I don’t make as many mistakes as I did in my youth and my needs and wants have gotten simpler and more basic.  I have a greater appreciation for the moments that make up my days and it doesn’t take much to make me happy.  Just yesterday I returned to my desk at work and found a piping hot latte waiting for me thanks to a thoughtful co-worker.  It was a simple gesture but one I deeply appreciated.  I thoroughly enjoyed it.  I am sure part of my contentment is due to being older and being in a time of my life where demands made on me are slowing down.  Most days, when my daily work is done, I am able to simply go home and relax.  Today is not one of those days.  I have to pick up my granddaughter at school this afternoon but that is a labor of love.  Life has not always been this easy.  I know that many of you are young and life can seem like an uphill battle.  There are children to be raised, homework to be done, houses and apartments that need to be cleaned, and probably things that break down on a regular basis.  Speaking as a grandparent I think there is a reason we have our children when we are young.  It is exhausting to be a parent.  After a weekend with my granddaughter I need a nap.  Wherever you are in life, whether you are meeting yourself coming and going, or living a more leisurely life like me, take some time to stop and smell the roses.  In the quieter moments of life one can learn to appreciate what is good and valuable.  When life is lived in gratitude one is less likely to be focused on what seems to be missing.