Thursday, October 29, 2015

Thirty Years

On Tuesday I was recognized for 30 years of service to Humana.  It is difficult to believe how much time has passed and how quickly it has gone by.  I began with Humana in 1985 as a claims adjuster.  This was the first year that Humana was in the insurance business.  I was the 295th claims adjuster that was hired.  I worked here 10-12 years before there was an internet or anyone had heard of an excel spreadsheet.  In those days everything was paper.  Each team had a clerk who spent their day picking up and delivering claims and referrals to and from “in” and “out” boxes.  Sometimes I feel like I have been on a 30 year episode of Survivor.  I have outplayed, outwitted, and outlasted many people.  It wasn’t quite that nefarious but I have seen many people and things come and go.  On the positive side it has enabled me to change and adapt better than most people give me credit.  On the downside it has contributed to some of my cynicism.  Overall Humana has been very good to me and I have known, managed, and worked with some wonderful people.  There were a few I would have voted off the island.  Most of them left on their own but some had their torches snuffed at a Tribal Counsel.  I have done things in the last 30 years that make me proud.  I have also done things I never thought I could do.  I have learned skills, developed talent, and tried to be a mentor to others.  It makes me happy that many people I have supervised over the years have gone on to bigger and better things.  Working at Humana has also developed my own sense of worth and self-esteem.  I have had to deal with many kinds of people and situations and I have done it successfully.  I am a well-known advocate for introverts but I know I can step up, put myself out there, and take charge when it is needed.  Thank you Humana for keeping me employed for 30 years.  My career, however, is winding down.  When it is over I hope I am remembered as someone who cared for people and worked to make everything a little better.  If I have raised some people’s consciousness along the way by teaching what I know about Zen, mindfulness, and contemplation, all the better.       

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

You Can't Please Everyone

I cannot give you the formula for success but I can give you the formula for failure which is try to please everyone.
-Editor Herbert Bayard Swope
Everywhere you turn there is someone who has expectations of you.  Even a robust attempt to please everyone will end up mostly in failure.  I am not sure I have ever totally pleased anyone.  I’ve tried to be a good son, good brother, good husband, good father, good employee, and good leader.  The only thing I am confident I have done really well is being a grandfather.  I also try to be a good writer since writing is the closest I have ever come to having a gift.  At this point in my life I have an attitude that many may find difficult or unacceptable.  My current attitude is that I am doing the best I can and if it’s not good enough for you, too bad.  I believe most people, including myself, are generally doing the best they can to be all they should be.  I don’t expect perfection in myself or others.  The older I get, the more tolerant I am of human weakness.  Life is difficult, those around us often expect a lot, and our ability to deliver can vary wildly on any given day.  Abraham Lincoln supposedly once said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time”.  These are wise words from a wise man.  I try to put my best self out there as much as I can with the hope I will make a positive difference in the world.  Sometimes my less than best self makes an appearance and I hope that he does no harm.  My advice is to not worry about pleasing people.  I encourage you to focus on doing good.  If you do good things you will please more people than you annoy.  Actually I think annoying some people is a good thing and I occasionally I take pleasure in doing that.  

Monday, October 26, 2015

Do No Harm

I once read a very good book entitled called Wherever You Go, There You Are by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  It is a book about mindfulness.  One thought in the book is the idea of doing no harm.  If you don’t know what to do, at least do no harm.  This is a good mantra for those who find it difficult to actually practice love, kindness, and compassion.  It is similar to the Dalai Lama’s teaching that if you can’t love everyone, at least don’t hurt them.  I think the idea of doing no harm is a great default mantra when love, kindness, and compassion seem beyond our ability.  I like to believe that myself and most other people are driven by idealistic motives.  However, my experience is that being optimistic, positive, and caring takes a lot of energy.  It is energy well spent but it does take a lot of effort to be a good person.  Doing no harm may seem like a negative way to live but I think it can only have positive results.  By doing no harm we keep ourselves from unleashing negative energy into the world.  The laws of karma would say that by doing no harm, no harm will be done to you.  In a perfect world we would all be driven and motivated by care for others and doing good things.  In the real world it is challenging to always do these things.  I still hope to practice love, kindness, and compassion as much as possible and whenever possible.  However, I also know that some days it seems beyond my ability.  When I am feeling less than charitable, I hope my backup plan of doing no harm kicks in and keeps me from saying or doing things I will regret later.  

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Finding Your Gift

In my many years as a leader I have supervised hundreds of people.  It has been my experience that most are hard-working, dedicated, salt of the earth types that always strive to do a good job.  There is a small percentage that are driven and ambitious.  There is another small percentage that are unfocused, immature, lazy, and who have a lot to learn about life.  Talent is not always found in the ambitious and it is not always lacking in the low performers.  There are truly exceptional people and there are ordinary people who think they are exceptional.  I have also seen extraordinary people who think they are ordinary.  Sometimes there are hidden diamonds among those who seem unexceptional.  When they find their gift or purpose in life they often blossom.  One of the most difficult things for most people to accept is that they are ordinary.  However, in my experience, even the ordinary have gifts and purpose.  Maybe you aren’t the greatest at what you do but you can still be a great person.  Maybe you are not the smartest person in the room but you can still offer your opinion and insight.  Maybe you will never get an award for your productivity but you can still be a positive influence and morale booster to those around you.  All of my life I have been an ordinary person.  I got average or poor grades in grammar school and high school.  I did, however, perform significantly better when I took college classes.  When I was young and played sports I never made the All Star team.  When I graduated from high school I was not “Best Looking”, “Most Likely To Succeed”, or “Most Popular”.  Much of my life I have felt ordinary.  It wasn’t until I was 50 years old that I realized and accepted that I have a talent for writing.  Even though I still feel very ordinary, people tell me I’m an excellent writer with a lot of insight about life.  If any of this is true, I wish I could inspire myself as much as I inspire others.  If I have a talent, I don’t know how it happened.  Some talents are simply a gift.  It is not something I learned to do.  It is simply something I can do.  Most of us are ordinary people but do not let that keep you from doing great things.  I know I have touched and even changed some people through my words.  You can do good things too.  The first step is to discover your talent, find your gift, and then figure out how you can share that with those around you.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Is Youth Nothing But Pre-Mature Old Age?

At eighty I believe I am a far more cheerful person than I was at twenty or thirty.  I most definitely would not want to be a teenager again.  Youth may be glorious but it is also painful to endure.  Moreover, what is called youth is not youth; it is rather something like premature old age.
-Writer Henry Miller
I am not yet eighty but I am a long way from twenty or thirty.  I don’t know if I am happier in my sixties than I was in my twenties or thirties.  I have always found happiness elusive.  Usually the best I can do is to feel reasonably content.  I can say one thing with a fair amount of certainty.  I would rather be sixty than twenty.  Looking back there were too many parts of my life I found difficult and I would not like to relive them.  In my current age I feel a sense of relief that many of life’s challenges are behind me.  Daily life is still challenging and I don’t know what lies ahead but in general I am more relaxed and more comfortable in my own skin.  When one gets older you think more and more about less and less.  You have a greater appreciation for life’s simple joys and it doesn’t take much to make you happy.  You are past the stage where you want to build an empire and most would rather have less.  A simple life has great appeal.  Perhaps it is in this simplicity, when you spend more time letting go than gathering, that people find the greatest happiness.  Occasionally I do wish I had my sixty four year old life experience and wisdom in a twenty year old body.  However, that might be a dangerous combination.  You cannot experience old age without doing time as a young person.  In all fairness, every stage of life has it’s joys and sorrows, it’s challenges and rewards, and it’s pros and cons.  If you are lucky you will experience them all.  Some of us have old souls when we are young while others are young at heart in bodies that are falling apart.  Happiness and age are in the mind and in our attitudes.  As I once said in a previous daily thought, “When we are young our bodies drag our minds around, when we are old our minds drag our bodies around”.  Think about it.  If you are young I advise you to live well now while you still have the energy.   

Tuesday, October 20, 2015


I don’t care, frankly, what people think.  I do what I like.
-Chef Julia Child
I don’t believe this quote means that we should have no concern whatsoever about other people and that we should just do whatever we want regardless of the impact on those around us.  Unless you’re a hermit, and you have little contact with the rest of the human race, we do have to live our lives with some degree of cooperation and tolerance of others.  I think what this quote tells us is that you can’t live your whole life trying to please other people, trying to impress them, or comparing yourself to them.  Each of us has been given one life and we have to live it the best way we can.  We will go through different stages of growth, immaturity, pain, and awareness until we have achieved some level of self-actualization.  What is self-actualization?  I believe it is that point in our lives, usually when we are past our middle age, when we become who we really are and we begin to realize our true potential and personal power.  Self-actualization is at the top of Abraham Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs”.  You will never be who you are meant to be if you spend your entire live trying to please others or meet their expectations.  I think Julia Child is saying that pleasing yourself is not inappropriate, or selfish, and that each of us must walk down the path that calls us.  In her case, it was the call to learn French cooking so  that anyone could cook like a chef with a little effort.  Each of us is more than someone’s son or daughter, someone’s brother or sister, someone’s mother or father, or someone’s husband or wife.  We may be one or more of all these things but self-actualization is when we discover our true essence and our true self.  Do not confuse identity with roles.  Doing what you like may seem selfish but it can also be the path to your self-awareness.       

Monday, October 19, 2015

The Time Is Now

There are dreams of love, life, and adventure in all of us.  But we are also sadly filled with reasons why we shouldn’t try.  These reasons seem to protect us but in truth they imprison us.  They hold life at a distance.  Life will be over sooner than we think.  If we have bikes to ride and people to love, now is the time. 
-Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
For those who may not be familiar with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, she is most famous for her groundbreaking work with the dying.  It seems appropriate and good that someone who has spent a great deal of time studying the end of life would also be someone who encourages us to not waste a minute of life and to live it to the fullest.  I have often grown weary of my own maturity, responsibility, and dependability.  There are times I get so tired of being the guy who always does the right thing in sacrifice of love, life and adventure.  However, I am also aware that some people actually admire me for these rather boring traits.  Since most of my life has not been spent sailing the high seas, flying around the world in a hot air balloon, or climbing the highest mountains, I have tried to get the most out of a quieter life that seems more ordinary than extraordinary.  Still, even those of us who live ordinary lives, doing mostly ordinary things, can have an attitude of yes to life’s possibilities.  If you are young, and even if you are old, I encourage you to say yes more than no.  If there’s an opportunity to do something, then do it.  If there’s an opportunity to be something, then be it.  When something new is knocking at the door, do not turn off the lights and pretend that you are not at home.  More importantly, don’t assume you will have time to do something in the future.  The time to do something is now.       

Friday, October 16, 2015

Seasons Of Life

What is life?  It is the flash of a firefly in the night.  It is the breath of a buffalo in the wintertime.  It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself in the sunset.
-Last Words of Blackfoot Warrior Crowfoot
The images in this quote speak to me of mindfulness and paying attention.  When I was a child catching fireflies was one of the things children did.  As a young boy I actually played outside, especially on summer days and nights.  At that time of my life a summer day seemed eternal.  Admittedly, the lack of air conditioning in my parent’s home and the fact that my family only had one black and white television with two channels, motivated me to go outside and be creative with my time.  My wife and I once decided to have lunch at Huber’s Restaurant, a place often so crowded that you cannot get in.  We took some back roads to get there when I suddenly saw a field full of buffalo.  I am talking about real buffalo like you see in movies about the frontier days.  It wasn’t cold enough to see their breath but unusual enough to get lost in a moment of wonder.  Whether it is spring, summer, fall, or winter, I usually notice the differences in the light and shadows of the day.  I have lived most of my life in the same places but they never look the same.  As I travel up and down the same road to work each day I see the new growth and colors of spring, the green fullness of summer bounty, the multi-colored tapestry of fall colors, and the starkness of winter.  Each season has its own beauty.  Our lives are like the seasons.  Each stage of life corresponds with a season of nature.  Some of you are in the springtime of your lives.  Some are experiencing the fullness of summer by being at the peak of your powers.  Many, like me, are in the autumn of our lives when we know we have more summers behind us than in front of us.  Eventually, if you are lucky enough to have a long life, you will experience the winter of life when the cycle is complete.  I think Crowfoot is encouraging us to enjoy the moments and the seasons of our lives for life is made up of such moments.        

Thursday, October 15, 2015

My Personal To Do List

Here are a few things I need to work on in my life.  They are in no particular order.  What kind of list do you have?
  • Re-discover joy in my life.
  • Be more enthusiastic about daily life.
  • Quit saying “I’m over it”!
  • Renew my spiritual life by being more contemplative.
  • Spend more time in silence.
  • Move more, sit less.
  • Initiate more intellectual pursuits and spend less time staring into space.
  • Read more and think more so I can write some new and fresh daily thoughts.  
  • Allow myself to be happier.
This is a lot to accomplish.  It will require some significant change within myself.  At this stage of my life I often feel lost and out of gas.  I need to renew myself and acquire a new zest for living.  At times I need to get over myself and not focus so much of my time and attention on how I feel.  It wouldn’t hurt to spend less time alone and more time with people even though this is challenging for me.  I believe I am a grateful person but I need to believe it more deeply.  I am not all I can be and there is much room for improvement.    

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Each Morning We Are Born Again

Each morning we are born again.  What we do today is what matters most.
It is a new day.  If yesterday sucked or you totally screwed up, get over it, learn from it, and move on.  Today is a clean slate.  Start over and begin again.  The past is past and the future is unknown.  Don’t try to fix yesterday.  It’s done.  The concrete has set.  Build a new day today.  I talk a lot about mindfulness and being in the moment.  You can’t do yesterday over and you have no guarantee that you have a tomorrow.  Put your effort and focus into today.  It is all you have.  As you go through your day be grateful for what it gives you.  We all have moments of loneliness.  We all have times when we feel empty.  We are all a little broken.  No one is so blessed that they never have problems, challenges, or disappointments.  The struggles of life are part of being human.  As I was once told, “That which doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”.  I have survived every problem, challenge, disappointment,  and crisis in my life and I am still going strong after 64+ years.  Yes, I have a few scars but they are like medals of honor.  I’m old but I’m tough.  Today’s crisis will seem like no more than a bump in the road a year from now.  It’s all a matter of perspective.  Embrace today but don’t be overwhelmed by it.  If today ends up being another tough day, a good night’s sleep will cure many ills.  Many people also recommend glasses of wine.   

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Standing At The Crossroads

I must come clean and admit that I have been recycling a lot of my daily thoughts lately.  Some of you may have noticed but others were seeing them for the first time.  Whenever I recycle a thought I do try to pick one that I believe is worth repeating.  Most of the thoughts I have written up until now were based on whatever was happening in my life.  At this stage of my life not a lot is happening so there is not a lot to think about.  My children are raised, my granddaughter is doing well, my career is winding down, and, if I am honest, I am feeling a little lost.  However, I am not lost in the sense that I need to dial 911 and ask for help.  It is more like I am at a crossroads and I am not quite sure which path to walk.  Life is a journey and it tends to come in stages.  My life right now is near the end of one stage and the beginning of another.  When you are my age you discover that many things that worked for you in the past don’t work as well as you proceed into the future.  One tends to question their beliefs, their values, their relationships, and how they spend their time.  This doesn’t mean that everything from the past that has led you to the present moment was wrong.  It just means that maybe you need to change gears and think and act differently.  I am ready for whatever change awaits me.  I have been on my current path for many years and fulfilled most of my obligations.  How well I did this is a matter of opinion.  Whatever others think and however I am judged, I believe I have done the best I can.  One nice thing about getting older is that you care less and less what other people think.  I am no longer trying to impress or please anyone.  It is rather liberating to feel like this.        

Thursday, October 01, 2015

Influences And Experiences

All of us are like a bowl of gumbo or perhaps an unfinished sculpture.  Whoever we are today is the result of every influence and experience, good and bad, that we’ve had up to this point.  Like a sculpture, every new influence and experience will continue to reveal the person we are becoming.  If you talk to a sculptor, most will tell you that they don’t really create an image so much as they bring to the surface the image hidden within the block of wood or stone.  I think within each one of us is our essence.  How this essence is manifested in who we become is dependent on the ingredients of our personal gumbo or how our block or wood or stone is struck.  Think about your life experience so far.  What influences or experiences have shaped you?  I am the first born child in my family of origin.  That makes a difference.  I am also a child of the sixties.  That makes a difference.  I once lived in a monastery that changed the way I look at life.  That makes a difference.  I have lived much of my life with a wife, children, and a granddaughter.  That makes a difference.  I’ve had many good teachers and mentors.  That makes a difference.  Look at who you admire.  My primary influences have been Jesus, Buddha, Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Richard Rohr, and the Dalai Lama.  Notice that I didn’t include any rock stars or other entertainment types.  Although I may love their art, I am rarely influenced by their personal lives.  I have read thousands of books.  That makes a difference.  I have not chased after money or worldly possessions.  That makes a difference.  I have spent many hours deep in thought and meditation.  That makes a difference.  I have tried to be a good man who is kind and compassionate.  That makes a difference.  Who or what has seasoned your gumbo?  What influences or experiences, good or bad, has helped to reveal who and what you are?