Overwhelmed

I think a lot. I observe myself a lot. For an introvert, this is normal behavior. For extroverts, this is foreign territory. That’s one of the reasons I write — to help those who aren’t used to looking inside begin to understand what they don’t usually perceive.

Today I’m going to talk about something that is almost constant in my life: a sense of being overwhelmed.

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To Whom Much Is Given

I grew up believing that I was gifted. As I have matured, I am less likely to accept that label. As I child, I was fed on the dreams of others — and developed the belief that I would do great things in the world. My name would be in the history books for doing something amazing for the good of everyone. I would, through my efforts, gain all the other signs of success: a large bank account, opportunities to travel the world, etc.

Instead, I am a middle-aged woman who is building her second marriage, digging out of the poverty that so often accompanies divorce, and feeling the pressure to make up for “lost time.”

I have also discovered that I need about 10 hours of sleep each day. I used to try to get by on five or six hours (which led to the stress-related illness that ended my teaching career). In my head, that means that I am now at home being lazy for most of the day because I’m sleeping instead of being productive.

A New Mindset

Changing thought patterns that have been mine since childhood is a slow process. My husband is awesome and is supportive as I try to figure out how to balance my physical and mental needs with my dreams.

Meanwhile, I have to fight back the sense of being completely overwhelmed, of living far below my potential, and of wasting all of the opportunities that I have been handed in life.

It’s a delicate process, and most days end with me reminding myself to focus on everything I did that supported my top priorities in life. I can feel all of the harsh words and criticism that I used to unleash on myself crouched and waiting for the opportunity to pounce. I still have to remind myself to flush the self-berating thoughts out of my mind.

I still have to force myself to step back from trying to do it all.

There isn’t any magical formula, diet, or pill. We all have to be patient with the process.

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What strategies do you use as you move toward a better you? Comment!

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What about Mediocrity?

I had a short but interesting Facebook discussion this week. A friend posted a link to a blog post about the desire to be mediocre. It wasn’t so much a “lay on the sofa and eat chips all day” kind of article, it was more of an expressed desire to drop out of the frantic pace of the “rat race.” I responded to someone who responded negatively. This person’s attitude was similar to this:

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There was this sense that the world was being cheated if each person doesn’t wake up each morning determined to be the best.

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In fact, it seems to be a generally held theory in our culture that only loser and quitters want an average life:

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Surprisingly, I lean a little toward desiring mediocrity as it was described in the blog. Trying to be “the best” is brutal. “The best” automatically implies competition with everyone around me. There’s only room for one at the top, and should I ever get there, I have to spend the rest of my life defending my position. Trying to be the best means always comparing myself — trying to prove to myself that I really am better than everyone else, and trying to push myself harder if I come up short.

Striving to be “the best” means that I cause divisions and sever ties.

I personally feel it’s more important to give a good effort every day.

I can’t even guarantee that I will be a better me today than yesterday because today I might be sick, I might be extremely tired, or I might be facing a challenge that I didn’t have yesterday. Each one of those things (as well as others), may siphon off energy that prevents me from making the progress I had hoped to make.

Perhaps it’s best to be able to look back at the end of each day and to be able to say “To the best of my ability, I did what was right today. I reached out to help someone, I sent an encouraging text message, I connected with someone, I knocked out one more project that has been waiting for my effort.”

Perhaps it’s ok if my name never ends up in a history book, as long as my corner of the world is a little better because I was there.

The One or the Many?

Today I’m reflecting on a conversation I’ve had because I think that it’s a conversation most of us have had in the past month or two.

Why does society seem to be dissolving into violence and chaos so quickly? What’s going on?

I’ve touched on some ideas before, and I still believe that a one-size-fits-all solution exists. We need better solutions for mental illness. We need to more completely understand best practices for building relationships. We need to honor the sanctity and pricelessness of life. We need to be willing to look around and reach out to others — and that means more than just the small group of people that are like us. We need to see building diverse friendships as an adventure and not a threat.

But, I think there’s more that we’re missing.

While I cannot point to any period in the history of Planet Earth in which true Utopia existed, some principles and mindsets found in society made things easier and gave people a firmer framework on which to stand.

For instance, in the pioneering days of America, we had violence. We had clashing cultures, and we had outlaws. We saw people working with all of their might to scratch out a meager existence for a dream — the dream of the freedom afforded by a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

That dream created a mindset of community. It indoctrinated people think beyond themselves and to consider the greater effects of their actions. It wasn’t foolproof, but it helped.

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The Problem of Me, Myself and I

When we look at our life through the lens of “what’s in it for me,” or “what am I gaining from this,” we actually put ourselves in a state of constant conflict with everyone else. That’s because we assume that everyone else in the world is looking at life the same way we do. Instead of seeing potential allies, we see rivals. In a dog-eat-dog world, the dog with the most moxie gets the biggest piece of the pie. Dogs may hunt in packs, but they eat as individuals.

Fortunately, we have higher order thinking abilities than dogs have. We can see the benefits of working together, collaborating, and trying to be fair in distributing the benefits. We may not ever completely agree on the definition of fair distribution, but we can at least sit down and discuss it. We can even compromise when needed!

 

How are you working to help solve problems? Share in the comments!

Improving our Solutions

When I wrote about the violence plaguing our schools (and our society), I didn’t intend to revisit the subject. Unfortunately, I tend to notice trends and I speak out when I’m uncomfortable with them.

In this case, it’s our response to all of the violence.

  • I have no power, YOU fix it. I forget the name of the group behind it, but the call was for students to walk out of class as a massive call to end the violence, generally through tougher gun laws. Personally, I love the idea of getting students personally involved in the process of improving our society. However, there is a problem with the idea of a walkout. By walking out, students are making a statement that they want things to be better. They want to feel safe where they learn. But, walking out is demanding that someone else fix the problem.
  • Let me tell YOU how to fix it. As word of the walkouts spread, I noticed that advice to any students who would be participating in the walkouts. The idea given is for students to “walk over” instead of walking out. Students are being encouraged to “Walk Over” to other students that they don’t know. Walk over to someone who is often alone. Walk over and sit with someone new at lunch. Walk over and help someone out. To me, this is a much better way to ensure safe schools than simply walking out of class, but I still have a problem with it.

 

 

i-will-find-you-and-i-will-fix-youSo far, all of the solutions involve encouraging someone else to do something: “YOU do it.” In general, I think we’re still missing the point. Here’s the most powerful question that anyone can ask:

“What am I going to do to be part of the solution?”

Those are the answers that matter. This is the way we will take our own advice to heart and make some small portion of the world a better place.

 

Are you with me?

Balancing Dreams with Reality

In some ways, my life has been chaos since late January. It seems that every time I feel like I’ve got a plan for making progress and managing my time, something gets in the way. In January and early February, those “distractions” were mostly related to my duties at my church. In late February, my husband and I miscommunicated and it took about two weeks for me to be able to turn the “oops” into “ok” — even with his help. Then, as March was beginning, my mom went into the hospital with pneumonia. (Thankfully, she’s fine now and finishing her recovery at home.)

My dreams include learning Spanish, writing music, and starting my own business. I’d love to become one of the “big wigs,” at least in my own little suburb of the U.S. I have these visions of what my home and my life will look like when I’ve “arrived,” and I’m eager to get there.

Instead, the reality is that I live in a small home filled with unfinished projects, and my living room is in such chaos right now that I’m embarrassed to have anyone visit.

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Experts would say that I need balance and boundaries. I need to carve out “sacred time” that is for me and my dreams and not let anyone or anything interfere. That sounds awesome, but I’ve never had life work that way.

So, I have decided to work on my mindset. I have decided to layer my priorities.

Top Tier Priorities

I have learned that making a difference for good in life requires integrity to high moral standards and it also requires making connections. I tend to think of Mother (now Saint) Teresa as my example. She made a huge difference for good. She did it without fanfare. She did it by getting personally involved when there was a need. She knew and loved the people she was trying to help.

Of course, since making a difference for good is my top tier priority, it fits that I will have to put other things aside when something at my top level “pops up” in my life.

Second Tier Priorities

Honestly, this is largely what I would call personal advancement. This is where my efforts to increase my physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, and financial health fit in. This is the clean house, daily exercise program, gardening, starting a business, and most of the rest of my life fit in.

Third Tier Priorities

This is pretty much everything else. The truth and the reality are that I won’t be spending any real time at this level.

 

Conclusion

I find that understanding my real priorities is freeing. It doesn’t take away the frustration when the plans I thought I had for the day or the week are suddenly rearranged by an unforeseen need from higher priorities, but it does help to lessen the amount of frustration I feel. In fact, I was able to relax while I spent time with Mom in the hospital and feel gratitude that I still have this time with her and that life has worked out that I have the time to give.

 

So, do you try to balance your life or understand your priorities? Have you found a way to do both? Share in the comments!

Checking Out the Trends

I was looking for a topic for my weekly post, but I’m not in my usual environment. I decided to try Google. The results made me very sad. Out of the top 20 trending searches in the past 24 hours, at least 15 were related to sports. So, I switched over to news outlets. In the US, the trends seems to be gun debates, child abuse, lawsuits, and political polarization/posturing/scandal. The world news headlines didn’t look any better.

FB_trend-2-sI quit my daily feast of news stories a long time ago. I thought it was because they were all so repetative. After I quit, I realized it was because they clouded my mental world with pessimism and even a touch of paranoia.

Over time I have replaced those newscasts with goal-oriented podcasts and scripture study, and my mindset has changed. I have become more positive, more likely to give people the benefit of the doubt, and more patient.

I believe my mental change is a direct result of the ideas I feed it. The body works on that principle! Shinichi Suzuki had the same idea back at the beginning of the 1900’s.

What is man’s ultimate direction in life? It is to look for love, truth, virtue, and beauty.

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Teaching music is not my main purpose. I want to make good citizens. If children hear fine music from the day of their birth and learn to play it, they develop sensitivity, discipline and endurance. They get a beautiful heart.

Maybe we need to be more careful about the things we watch, read, and listen to. Maybe we see the things we focus on.

 

Tragic Political Platforms

I hesitate to weigh in on a lot of “current issues” in my blog posts. There are already many voices stating their opinions, and the sound of those opinions is often forceful and even harsh.

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For instance, we just had another mass school shooting. Personally, I’m not sure which part of that sentence is the most horrific: “another,” “mass,” “school,” or “shooting.” American society seems to be crumbling rapidly.

Of course, everyone, from the POTUS to “great-aunt Betty” has voiced their opinion via social media. We are awash in a swirl of people vehemently arguing for more access to weapons and those who want to seriously restrict weapons. Somehow, we justify this behavior as part of grieving with the victims.

I think that’s our first mistake. If we want to grieve with the victims, we need to find healthy ways to support the students and families who have survived this tragedy. Maybe we should flood the school with letters and cards of sympathy and hope. We should listen as survivors become ready to open up and share the pain and trauma they are experiencing.

Instead, we are drowning out their story with our own flood of opinions.

The next thing that bothers me is that no matter what opinion is being offered, it is being offered as the “magic pill” that will solve all problems. Are we really that naive? Human beings aren’t that simple, so how could solving a societal problem be?

A whole school and community has had life turned upside down, inside out, and shredded. Life will go on, but it will never be the same again. How do we help this community heal so that anger doesn’t fester and create more acts of violence? How do we help children overcome the anxiety they must feel as they walk the halls and remember the events of that day? How do we support fellow Americans as they try to make sense of the senseless?

And, there is the shooter. What twists a young man up inside so much that he can cross a line like that and devastate an entire community? What went wrong in his life? How do we identify children who are at risk, and how do we support them and their families? How do we help them heal and make choices that will help alleviate family and personal stress in positive ways? How can we do this throughout our nation?

Should we look at entertainment? Is it possible that the life-imitates-art-imitates life cycle needs to be examined? Is there something to the philosophy that has been held by Suzuki and others that if you surround children (and adults) with beauty and character, you create people of beauty and character?

 

In my mind, there is not going to be a one-size-fits-all solution to the hate and the violence that seems to be overtaking American culture.

I do, however, think that we each have a responsibility to think clearly and calmly about what we can do in our own sphere of influence to create safety and acceptance for anyone who is struggling.

It’s your turn: what have I missed in trying to create a better America? Comment below.