Reaching End Goals

goal

“If you can see the end goal, you can find the path to get there.”

That’s the way I first heard the quote. I think I’d change it, though:

“If you can see the end goal, you can blaze the trail to get there.”

Finding a path sounds too much like luck. It sounds like copying what other people have done. It sounds like waiting for everything to be laid out in front of you with little work on your part.

I’ve never really see life work like that.

 

No, each person who has a goal has to look at the distance from now to achieving the goal. You have to study the terrain, you have to plot the course. You have to gather the tools, find the right traveling companions, and possibly even train to be ready for the journey. It takes purpose, it takes dedication, and it takes planning. It’s hard work.

There’s a possibility that you will start blazing your trail only to realize that you’ve hit an insurmountable block — a valley that didn’t show up on the maps, or a mountain that can’t be crossed — and you have to go back, retrace your steps and try again to plot a new path to the end goal.

Smart adventurers will also stop from time to time to evaluate if the cost of achieving the goal is still within acceptable limits for the benefits of reaching the goal. There is little glory in losing what’s most important in life just to reach a tiny achievement!

So yes! Set those goals! Plot your path! And be wise!

Blaze your trails to get there!

Easter Thoughts

easterheadWhen I was as kid, I would have never believed that I would have felt any sense of worry or nervousness when writing about Easter. I grew up in a time when sacred and secular practices blended together to make a fun, chocolate-filled holiday for kids.

But, as I grew up, the world changed. Everywhere I turn, it seems like we have tension, distrust, and even hatred. Something as simple as saying “Happy Easter” is now preceded by thoughts of — will this person be offended because they aren’t Christian?

The actual celebration of Easter can be even more charged — should it just be a spiritual holiday, do you mix in secular traditions, do you try to separate ancient pagan influences and have a “pure” holiday, or do you put religion aside and just celebrate it in the spirit of welcoming spring?

I don’t have all the answers. If I could write a magic sentence that would bring world peace, it would be written in a heartbeat.

What I do know is that we somehow have to learn to accept and love people in spite of (or maybe even because of) our differences. We have to learn to disagree agreeably. We have to stop being so ready to assume that someone’s words or actions are calculated attacks against us and our values. We have to change inside before we can influence any change around us.

So, without any ill-intent, but speaking from the goodness and well-wishes of the culture in which I was raised,

“Happy Easter.”

Solving Personal Blight

Couch-Potato

I was listening to a podcast that was studying how a blighted neighborhood had begun to turn itself around and thrive in the face of economic hardship and the lowering of opportunities that almost always follows descent into poverty. In this case, the secret resided in one woman who simply decided that gangs and crime were not going to win. She began fighting back — with one of her first lines of defense being eradicating early signs of blight. She found ways to fix the little things before they became big things. She worked to find sponsors, she taught people how to DIY, she actually would stop and talk to people who were in the process of vandalizing and stealing — often convincing them to stop what they were doing because they were actually hurting their own community. The poverty still exists, but the community is thriving and strong — largely because of the effort to stop blight in its tracks.

I guess because I tend to see metaphors in life, I began to think about how this could apply to me. Of course, I struggle with time and projects, and keeping up with my home has become a struggle lately. So, on a personal level, working to tidy, declutter, and improve my home — inside and out — would be the most obvious application. Pitching in to help neighbors or volunteering with community groups would be another.

The problem is that I place more priority on what’s going on inside a person than on what’s happening on the outside. Can people have internal blight?

I am convinced we all can.

I would call it rationalization and denial. To me, it could look like any of these things:

  • Taking office supplies from work because you’re not getting compensated for all the extra time you spend at the office.
  • Telling yourself that you work hard for your family, and they should appreciate that effort and give you a break when you come home.
  • Driving yourself crazy from fatigue and stress because you are trying to present yourself as the perfect spouse, employee, boss, etc.
  • Convincing yourself that it’s ok that you kind of treated someone badly — they would have done the same to you in similar circumstances.

You get the idea — the list is kind of endless.

 

There are virtues that have held fast throughout history: honesty, integrity, loyalty, courage, etc. I am totally suggesting that these are the foundations of strong character and a happy life — a thriving inner community, if you will.

When we rationalize decisions, turn a blind eye to things that we do which are contrary to standards of virtue, or disregard our own values for even a moment, we may be showing early signs of inner blight. Sure, we have bad days, we get exhausted, we make mistakes — that’s not the end of a good person!

The problem is that we have to be aware that any time we cave, we become more inclined to cave repeatedly. If we are watching for early signs of blight, we recognize that we need to monitor the part of ourselves that has shown some moral weakness and take corrective action if we see a pattern.

Sounds like hard work, doesn’t it? It is — I can say so from experience. I can also say from experience that following this kind of process with a good attitude and the vision of who I want to be makes the journey much more pleasant! It’s also very fulfilling to be able to look in the mirror every morning and know, no matter what is going on or what opinion anyone else holds, I am satisfied with who I am.

My Codependency Breaker

Broken

I wish I could promise that I am going to unveil some quick and easy formula for removing codependency from your life forever. That would be nice, but overcoming codependency is a long, hard process. Even though I believe that I have been in recovery from it for years, there are still times when I feel myself leaning toward those habits and patterns.

Sadly, that’s actually what this post is about — what I do when I feel like I am falling back into the habits and patterns that plagued me for most of my life. I certainly don’t want to go back there again!

I like to keep things simple, so I’ve managed to narrow the process down to these two sentences:

I am ONLY responsible for what I think and what I do. I AM NOT responsible for what anyone else thinks or what anyone else does.

Sounds easy enough, right? It can be, but there are days when it’s the hardest thing in the world to do.

  • Recently, I was in a position where I felt it was necessary that I write and submit to human resources some pretty harsh accusations about my boss. It was definitely a struggle, because I not only feared what my boss might do in the event that she found out, but I feared what others at work would think of me. I felt dirty and tainted, even though I made very sure to only write what I believe to be the truth.
  • I have seen many collected evidence that there is someone at church who is spreading nasty rumors about me behind my back, and that there are some people who have believed those rumors almost without question. (Talk about a test of faith — that’s a topic for my other blog.) Not only do I have to accept that it’s not my fault, but I have to accept that there really is nothing I can do unless the opportunity arises to address it directly, one-on-one. It hurts to know that there may be people who never gave me a chance at a place that is supposed to be filled with the love of Christ, but again, I am not responsible that they chose to believe gossip.
  • My children have adopted some beliefs and made some lifestyle choices that are directly opposed to what I had hoped and what I am pretty sure that I taught in my home. Does it feel like their choices reflect badly on me? Sure — but it’s not true. I am responsible only for my negligence and willful ignorance as a parent and not for the influence of others on my children. It hurts, sure. I’d love to see them make choices that I feel will lead them to a more lasting happiness than some of the ones they are making now, but I happily cheer them on as they make their best efforts in life.

 

So, even understanding the extent of my personal responsibilities in life doesn’t stop me from feeling disappointment, from being misunderstood, or from having to make painful choices.

What it does do for me is give me guidance that helps to prevent me from making things worse because I am bent on forcing things to match my definition of better.

I am ONLY responsible for my thoughts and actions.

If it’s Broken

Fast+Fix

“If it’s broken, it’s our job to fix it.”

 

When I first heard this quote, I really, really liked it. If I haven’t already blogged about it, I feel very strongly that a lack of a sense of personal responsibility is causing huge problems in modern society. (Since it so easily embeds in human nature, it probably also existed in earlier times — I just wasn’t there to know!) I generally believe that turning a blind eye to a situation that needs improvement because “it’s not my responsibility” or “someone else will do it” is a poor reflection on personal character.

But then I started to type up this blog post, and memories from my codependent past began to surface. I remembered my ex-husband berating me for not living up to his expectations or embarrassing him. I remember my attempts to “fix” my children and “make” them into respectable people. I remember other codependents who were drawn to my codependency who made me feel subhuman with their efforts to “fix” me. What a mess!

These thoughts now lead me to wonder how do we know if something is broken, and when exactly should someone step in to help?

Seems like an easy answer, until I peel back the layers! Let’s look at some examples:

  • When someone asks for help: This seems like a no-brainer, but there are people who ask for help and lose the opportunity to grow and gain experience by solving their own issues. They run for help too fast. On the other hand, there are people who simply won’t ask for help because they either have mental blocks to seeing that they could appropriately ask for help, or they are just too proud. So, a request for help isn’t always a good indicator when it comes to fixing what is broken — or even as an identifier that something is broken.
  • When someone is causing themselves extra pain or hardship: Again, this isn’t as simple as it appears. Some people are caught in self-defeating thought cycles or patterns of behavior because it’s a cover for a deeper fear or problem. Even if they can admit the problem and even ask for help, they may still not be ready. This kind of pattern shows up regularly in recovery group meetings — the self-defeating pattern is still “working” well enough that it is valuable to the individual.
  • When something is obviously wrong and needs to be righted: While there are some things that seem to almost be universally agreed upon as right and wrong, there is a cultural element to these categories, as well. Even if we were to point to Christianity as the ultimate measure of right and wrong, we find that the sects disagree among themselves and that adherents don’t always believe what their faction teaches. While I am a fairly devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and stand by those teachings and doctrines, I find that I am taught to offer my beliefs to others, not to force my “fixes” on them. (Politics is a different subject, so I am avoiding that issue right now.)

 

 

 

I could probably come up with more examples, but I think three is enough to make my point: I am personally convinced that there is no standard measure of when something is broken, nor do I believe that there is only one right way to fix it.

That being said, I believe (as I wrote at the beginning) in the power of the individual to step up, stand for something good, make changes, and invest time and effort in improving things within our own circle of influence. I raise money to help support research to end childhood cancer. I donate hair to locks of love. I support my church’s humanitarian efforts. I smile, hug, encourage, ask reflexive questions, listen, give some extra effort, and do what I can. I try to keep my own corner of the world as neat and tidy as I possibly can, and I’m generally challenging myself to find ways to do more.

Even if I can’t fix everything that’s broken and have to step back and accept when it’s not even my right to try, I can still fix a lot!

Telling My Story

true-friend-picture

I recently found myself being reprimanded at work. I had issues with the cause of the reprimand and the way it was handled. Whether is was a misunderstanding on my part or deliberate deception on the part of my boss, I walked out of that office believing that I had been treated like I had shown up to work drunk and was now halfway through the process of being fired.

I then went to another boss to find out what could be done, and followed what I believed to be the correct path: I wrote a response and filed it with HR. The short ending to the story is that things weren’t as bad as I thought, but because of wording I had used in my response, I now had to consider options — pursuing a policy investigation on my boss, having the response shred, or having the response filed.

It was amazing to me what a burden that choice became! On one hand, I knew that having the file shredded meant that, officially, I had no problem with the way things were handled. Since I believe wholeheartedly in being honest, that answer didn’t sit well with me. The most aggressive response, an investigation into the incident, seemed a little over the top, no matter the intent of my boss toward me. So, I took what originally seemed to be the most dangerous option, and had it filed. My boss now has full knowledge of what I wrote. I suffer anxiety when I head to work. Fair trade, right?

What interested me most in this whole series of events was a comment made when I was meeting with the head of the HR department. The question posed to me was, “What do you want? Do you want to be heard, or do you want something more?” Something about that question really stuck with me.

Why is it so important to feel heard? Why does it hurt so badly when we feel we have been misunderstood?

Then, I started digging a little deeper. If we know that it hurts when it happens to us, why is it so easy to gossip about someone else? Why do we assume the worst in someone else’s behavior, especially when we have felt the sting of being underestimated?

I don’t have the answers, and I’m not perfect at the solutions I’ve found. Even so, there are some of the things that I now try to do when I find myself on one side or the other:

  • Apologize where appropriate. I no longer believe in taking blame for someone else’s bad behavior, but I can certainly express that I feel bad that there has been a misunderstand and apologize for any hurt feelings that I caused.
  • I can choose to see the good in and assume the best about others. Very few people are intrinsically bad. That means everyone else is doing the best they can and that they know how to do.
  • I can choose to speak about the good I see in others, and to keep my mouth shut about anything negative that I might know. (My only exception to that is when there is a legal or religious reason to take the information to the correct authority.)
  • I can refrain from taking any sense of being ignored or misjudged as a personal attack.
  • I can take the time to really listen and try to understand when other people take the time to share their thoughts and feelings with me.

So, I have (minus many, many details), told you a little more of my story. Thank you, dear reader, for listening.

Disposable?

Betraying boy and his girlfriend

The idea for this post actually started churning in my head when a friend made some cryptic comments and I thought that his marriage was in trouble. Thankfully (kind of), he later explained more and the issue turned out to be a medical issue with a pretty good prognosis rather than a marriage careening for divorce.

Even so, I’m still disturbed by the effect that our long-term expectations that things be disposable seems to created in our culture.

Of course, there is the idea of real, tangible trash and garbage. Life for many families has become a dash to fast food restaurants with food being served in single-use packaging. We eat the fare and toss the packaging. Hopefully, it goes into the trash, but all too often it just goes flying out the car window. We forget about the trash, because our “relationship” with it is over. The trash, however lives on — in a landfill, on the side of the road, washed into a lake or stream, etc. Throwing something away doesn’t mean it ceases existing. It just goes somewhere, usually making a mess in the process.

When we treat people like they are disposable, the same thing happens. We have a fight, we get bored, the “shininess” of the “wow” wears off. We start thinking that the other person (that we have made significant promises to) is more like baggage than a steady companion. Our gut instinct is to kick them to the curb. Once that person is out of our lives (although, if we’ve had children together, it’s impossible to completely rid your life of the unwanted “other”), he or she still exists. Hopefully, they will pull through and realize that they have worth and can contribute to the world at large. The process that it takes to get there can be messy and hurtful for a lot of people, though. And, like the family needing dinner, you will get “hungry” again, and probably repeat the process.

Even though a home-cooked meal takes more time and effort, it can be a step in reducing pollution. And, even though fixing a relationship that has started to unravel can take a lot of time and effort, it’s often better than trying to start over without the character that is built from tough love and commitment.

** NOTE: None of this applies if you are in an abusive relationship. If you think you might be the victim of abuse, seek professional help ASAP!