Keeping Sidewalks Clean

SidewalkBlock2As I runner, I have a love-hate relationship with sidewalks. When they aren’t all broken up because they haven’t been properly maintained or cluttered with trash and yard debris (often looking just about like the picture I put at the beginning of this post), they are the safest place for me to run in my little suburb. Since I don’t want to be a danger to myself or others, I try to use the sidewalks.

However, there seem to be some people who live in houses on my regular route who are oblivious to the idea of pedestrians. They trim the yard and prune the trees — and leave the mess right in the middle of the sidewalk, making it impassable. I’m always looking ahead to see where I need to step back out into the road and trying to judge if it’s safer just to run on the street facing into oncoming traffic.

Even more fun is when I’ve made the decision that the street is actually safer, and I have drivers try to run me off the road to “prove” that I should be on the sidewalk.

I’ve been in a highly reflective mood lately, and so I saw an object lesson in all of this: In what ways in life am I like clueless residents who clutter their sidewalks, and in what ways am I like the drivers who will endanger my safety to prove a point?

Cluttering Sidewalks

I think this boils down to habits and patterns that may seem normal to me, but make life harder on others. As a parent, it could be trying to hard to “make” my child behave perfectly, achieve good grades, or reach some other standard that I have set for them. As a friend, it could be venting to a friend and letting it turn into gossip rather than an attempt to get my head on straight. Anything that I do that could encourage someone else to live down to the lower common denominators of society is blocking their sidewalks as they journey to become their best selves.

Driving Rashly

Rude drivers have judged me to be infringing on their rights and priveleges, to be acting out of bounds, and to be unaware of my “place” and my surroundings. How many times have I, secretly or openly, judged another person because their choices and actions look unintelligent to me? How many times should I have given the benefit of the doubt when I did not? How many times have I told people what they should do without understanding where they are coming from or what they are trying to accomplish? That makes me figuratively just like a rude driver.

Perfection

I’m not writing this to suggest that anyone can get through life without receiving and giving a few bumps and bruises. No matter how good our intentions, “pobody’s nerfect,” as a college professor used to regularly remind me.

I think, instead, that the best I (or anyone else) can do is to try to be aware of the effect that I am having on others and do my best to make those encounters as uplifting and positive as possible.

Why “Nice Guys” Finish Last

nice-guy.gifI wish I could take credit for this idea, but I first heard it from a guy at church, and I’m pretty sure that he was expanding on the idea because he had gotten it from somewhere else. Ideas are pretty viral like that.

I, too, want to take a deeper look at why nice guys finish last. In my case, the answer was that it’s because nice guys are helping everybody else out along the race course. There’s a lot of truth to that statement. Nice guys (and nice girls — I’m not leaving us out, just going with the traditional phrase) take an interest in the people around them and are concerned for their welfare. They don’t mind pitching in and helping out. They want to see other people succeed and do well, probably almost as much as they want to succeed themselves.

That’s why I question whether they are even running the same race as the cut throat egotist.

I think it’s an important question to answer, because it makes a difference in how the nice guy(gal) perceives his self-image and progress.

If we’re all running the same race that the person who dies with the most (expensive) toys wins, then yes, nice guys do tend to finish last, and it will always be that way. Nice guys won’t trample people on the way to that kind of success.

I think that nice guys simply hold different values in life and they are aiming for a different finish line. I think nice guys value relationships and the people behind them. I think they have the moral courage to take a stand for right and wrong. I think they envision a better world as being more important than a bigger car.

If so, then nice guys and nice gals need to recognize that the messages bombarding them (us) from day-to-day will sometimes distract us and make us think that we are losing a race that we’re not even running. That hurts.

If we can refocus, we can see the progress that we have made along the way, we can see how close we are to our true finish line, and we can drop the worry that we feel when we stare too long at the other guy’s finish line.

It’s all about our core values and our core self. Nice guys do just fine in their races!

You Build Endurance by Enduring

endurance runnerYes, I wish I looked a lot more like this runner. No, I probably never will. Too many divided interests.

Anyway, the photo to me is more than a runner. Not only has running changed my life (as well as my body), but it has given me an open space to think and ponder. This past week, I was working on the problem of rebuilding my endurance after tailspinning for about two months.

That’s when it hit me:

You build endurance by enduring.

It’s that simple and that hard all at the same time.

In running, I have two choices for getting back in “marathon shape”:

  1. Set my speed and increase my ability to maintain that speed for longer and longer periods of time.
  2. Set my limit (I chose time, but I could have chosen distance), and then work to increase my speed.

My body and my mind work better with choice number two.

That’s when this amazing little thought hit me, and I realized that it has applied throughout my life!

As a codependent, I repeatedly found myself in situations where I was scared, and I chose to run. It was only after my divorce that I was in a situation where I might have been scared, but there was no way I could run — I had kids to take care of. I had no choice but to endure and to see it through.

Running was another opportunity to learn about endurance. I haven’t run any marathons, although I have now completed two. I have a long way to go as an athlete. Even so, I learned something about myself out there on those race courses. It was hard. I hurt. My body rebelled and twice I got physically sick enough (not with a virus — just the stress of the race) that I had ample excuse to quit. That’s when I learned I really am a fighter. I lost two toenails on my first marathon, and knew they were gone by mile 18. I kept going. Last year, there was so much stress leading up to the race that I thought my gut was going to take me out.

Endurance isn’t about what I have or who I am. It’s about who I choose to be and who I see myself becoming. It hasn’t been easy to quit a job that I loved with only a sketch of a back up plan and no real idea of what I’m doing. I have chosen to see myself as a budding entrepreneur and up-and-coming elite athlete. For me, those ideas make it easier for me to make the choices that will take me to my goals.

Endurance is a mindset. Endurance is going all in, failing, falling flat on your face, shaking the pain and the dust off, and trying again. Endurance is recognizing that failure lets you know what your limits are now — not what they will be later. Endurance is passion burning inside you to be more, to be better, to be an achiever.

You learn to endure by enduring.

endurance-is-the-price-tag-of-achievement

Life is Ironic

irony-2

So, at the end of my teaching career, the boss that had given me so much grief was selected for the top award our district can give. To put it mildly, Ouch! Talk about feeling invalidated for all that I went through this year!

True to my nature, I stopped to ponder.

Realization #1: There are no absolutes in life.

This means that no matter how much I would like to believe that this boss is evil, she’s not. She’s a person who is trying to make the best decisions she knows how to make. She will make good ones. She is very astute about marketing her school. (To be honest, I’ve been studying her methods because I recognize how astute she is in this area.) She seems to have a weakness in the area of understanding and working with a diverse set of people. That’s not evil.

Realization #2: My perception is not the only correct one.

In this case, I found myself imagining walking around a sculpture or a crystal on exhibit. Every time I shift position, it looks a little different. Different people have different perspectives of my boss. There are those who thinks she’s awesome. That’s life.

Realization #3: This was not an attack on me.

The district did not decide to give her this award to salve her feelings, and they didn’t give the award to her to make a point to me. In truth, I doubt anyone has time to really think that way, and most wouldn’t push the boundaries of policy that hard! The award had criteria, and they felt that she met them the best. If my actions have given her pause to think and to possible make positive changes, then I can actually support the selection. If it hasn’t, then her house of cards will eventually fall.

So, I accept the irony, and I accept that the turn of events doesn’t fully sit well with me. I wish I could support the choice without reservation. From what I can tell, my boss enjoys awards and accolades, and she is enjoying her moment. I find awards and accolades to be a unfulfilling way to measure my worth, and prefer to know that, when I look in the mirror, I’m seeing a woman who is trying her best to be a person of quality. I have my reward.

Things may be ironic, but they are not always as unfair as I want to believe.

legacy quote

If You’re Still Angry

still angry

I’m not so certain that I would call this a “cute relationship,” but the rest of the idea suits my thoughts just fine. It illustrates a point of human nature that really should be pondered by each person.

You see, it really is true that, if you are still angry, you’re not over it. 

For me, that’s a harsh reality. It means I still haven’t fully made peace with the wreckage that I called my first marriage. I still have hurts that need to be healed from the choices that someone made three or four years ago that ended up tearing up a large portion of my heart and mind as “collateral damage.” It also means that I still have to come to grips with how a boss handled a “situation” with me.

It’s not so much that I spend a lot of time thinking about any of these people and events, nor am I really all that mad anymore. I just feel irritation and disappointment when memories pop up out of nowhere or I am in close range of the person in question.

As I’ve stopped to wonder why and to see if I can do anything more to leave the past buried in the past, here’s what I’ve personally found:

I still feel like justice hasn’t fully been served. — In those times when I feel the hurt trying well up inside of me again, I can tell it’s because I feel that things were so unfair (and they were, to a large degree), and that I never fully was repaid by justice. If I were to allow myself to continue the thought patterns, I would begin to thirst for revenge.

Thankfully, I have learned that justice is served more often that I think. Because I have tried to find healthy ways to deal with hurts and set backs in my life and because I have tried to spend my time in positive pursuits, I have gained a lot of understanding of humanity. I have become bolder, more confident, and yet a bit kinder and more empathetic than I used to be. I have been repaid with the currency of personal growth. Would I really then give that priceless benefit away for revenge?

The thirst for “justice” stems from a sense that I am not considered valuable by others. — There are two sides to this. The first is that this is an easy attitude to project onto others. We notice what we want to notice. If I have doubts about my value, then I’m going to see the evidence that others doubt my value as well — simply because I’m human and I’m hardwired to collect evidence that I’m right in how I see the world. Most people do see me as someone with value.

On the other hand, there probably are people who think that I am less than they are. When I am rational about it, I know that their opinion has no real effect on my personal value. Living by a decent code of ethics, increasing my knowledge, and reaching out to improve people and places that I can makes me valuable regardless of public (or private) opinion.

 

Maybe, as I reprogram my bran, I’ll be able to finally let this old baggage go and embrace the promise of each new day!

What Did They Learn?

legacy

This coming week marks the last week of my teaching career. It is doubtful that I will ever go back. I might work as a substitute teacher for a while, but it really seems to be a matter of completely moving on to a new career.

I am both scared and excited. I’m also feeling very nostalgic. I have given my best as a music educator for sixteen years, and I have to wonder why I have been so passionate. What did I really hope to do for my kids? It’s unrealistic to believe that I have created thousands of future professional musicians. In fact, most of the children that have come through my classes in elementary school won’t even continue music in to middle school. Few will be able to read music as adults. Have a really accomplished anything?

  1. I have respected and loved children, and most of them know it. Even in the best of schools, children can have hard lives. Sometimes, a bad day leaves a lasting impression on the best of kids. I have learned, as I have matured as a teacher, that children are doing the best that they know how to do. In elementary school, if kids are messing up, it’s because their brain made a poor decision — not that they wanted to be bad. That means that kindness and teaching are going to go farther than harsh punishment ever would. Kids need to know, from the earliest ages, that they have worth, that they deserve respect, and that they are amazing. I have filled countless buckets in 16 years, and that’s a powerful legacy.
  2. I have modeled that people can have lots of hobbies and interests. Sometimes, people (even adults) think that the only things that I know and love revolve around the world of music. I’ve shared with them my love of running, learning, and enjoying life. I’ve also had the opporunity to teach and model that choosing one thing and not choosing another is ok. Many of my kids had never considered this.
  3. I’ve made mistakes ok. Learning is a process. We tell ourselves and we tell kids that mistakes are ok and part of the learning process, but then we never act like it. What do the kids really learn? Even with bad choices in behavior, I’ve made sure that mistakes are not scary moments, but chances to learn. I’ve tried to make taking risks and trying new things a regular part of what we do.
  4. I’ve tried to lead by example that life is an adventure. I hope, that in the end, my lasting legacy to the children I’ve taught is a sense that there is a lot to see, do, and learn in life — and that life, overall, is fun. I hope they’ve learned to be a little bit like Mrs. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus. I hope that they will take chances, make mistakes, and get messy!

It’s interesting that, as I close out my teaching career, these are the things I want most for my students. Sure, I’d love to think that a handful of my former students eventually go on to become professional musicians. I hope that they all carry some love of music with them throughout their lives. Even so, those aren’t the most important lessons to give to my students.

No, I hope I gave them a chance to start a little further ahead of the game than I was able to start. I want them to feel the freedom that comes when one is not chained by logical fallacies and emotional hang-ups. I want them to be the best unique individual that they can become.

Whose Business?

14362cc1b424c7e88690bbbed6d1a1afBoundaries: the Achilles heel of the recovering codependent.

Since I qualify as one of those recovering, it is a topic I revisit from time to time.  A friend’s dilemma when her little sister’s feelings were hurt caused me to think about it again. I think it’s important that we realize that boundaries work both ways.

 

The Gift of Boundaries

I think we often have a tendency to think that boundaries only protect the person trying to enforce them. Boundaries are meant to give us mental and emotional space to work out life on our own terms. Protecting our own boundaries provides us that space.

What I don’t think we realize is how much enforcing our personal boundaries can help the person who seems to have trouble respecting them. Sure, they won’t appreciate it in the moment, and some people will never appreciate being kept out of our personal business. Even so, without the ability to respect the boundaries of others, individuals have crippled relationships. They find themselves being abused, being the abuser, involved in other codependent-style relationships, or similar things. The ability to respect boundaries is the ability to create trust with others.

But what if I know someone who is doing something really wrong or hurtful?

I don’t think we have to turn a blind eye, look away, or shrug our shoulders because it’s not “our circus.” The trick is to identify our own motives and to make sure that our approach is one of offering and not coercing.

Traditional parenting often takes the coercive approach: “I have decided this is bad, I am now telling you why this is bad, and I expect you to toe the line.” I suppose that this approach is occasionally necessary with children, but just typing it out makes me shudder when I think about it being used between friends, spouses, colleagues, etc.!

Depending on the nature of the relationship, we may have the ability to go to someone and seek understanding. In this case, we start with questions that encourage the other person to share their thoughts, and keep asking reflective questions that keep the lines of communication open. We do this with the knowledge that we are not trying to “trick” the other person into changing, but because we care and we want to understand — and let the other person know that we are there for them.

Of course, sometimes, we really have no relationship at all. In that case, we probably have no right to do anything.

What about people who are always telling me what to do?

For me, I have, over time, learned to simply say “thank you” and not encourage any more conversation on the topic, politely explain that this is something I’m not willing to discuss, or deflect the conversation by asking a question that appears related to what is being said but can steer the conversation in another direction.

The problem is that a codependent has been taught to believe that the opinions of others are more valuable than his or her own opinions. Once the “constructive criticism” has been voiced, the damage has been done.

I have found these steps to be helpful:

  1. Recognize that there may be some truth in what the other person was saying, but also remind myself that they do not have all of the information that I have.
  2. Try to think clearly about what was actually said to take away the pieces that are true and use those things to help myself.
  3. Remind myself that I am a capable adult, and that I can make good, solid decisions for myself.

Sometimes, people are so critical that we have to limit their time with us. I posted about that a few weeks ago.

 

If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ve probably figured out that I pretty much reject the idea of finding “cut and dried” answers to life. Even so, I believe that we can trust our judgment, and we can even trust most people to accept that we have good intentions. We can also trust that a sincere apology can heal emotional wounds. We don’t have to be perfect at keeping and respecting boundaries, we just need to try.