Youthful ideals

IMG_6233A thought struck me early this morning, and I haven’t been able to let it go. As a rule (there are always exceptions), people’s aspirations tend to diminish with age, and I don’t think it’s because they’ve accomplished everything on their list. Seriously, if you’re over 40, I’ll bet you’ve at least once rolled your eyes or chuckled to yourself when you heard some college student talk about some grandiose idea that would change the world.

I remember when I used to be like that, you think to yourself. Ah, to be young and idealistic again.

But WHY? Why, why, why do we let ourselves get so jaded and “realistic” that we give up reaching for the impossible? I guarantee you that nothing has been invented, written, changed, or accomplished by someone who thought oh, that’ll never happen.

Before I go on, let me make one thing clear. I am the guiltiest of the guilty. At 40-something, I often think my life is practically over. I catch myself thinking that my latest, greatest hope now is to prepare my kids to do great things. That’s just BS.

So anyway, here’s how I see our aspirations progressing over time:

First, we think of our lives in terms of “I want to be a/an…” [astronaut, teacher, scientist, basketball star]

Then we progress to “I want to be…” [happy, successful, rich, fulfilled, content]

Eventually we change it to “I want to…” [travel, retire, lose weight, have kids]

Finally, we finish with “I want…” [a new car, a lake house, more time]

Straight up, we settle. We give up our dreams in favor of comfort. If our old dream doesn’t work out, our new dream becomes just a little bit less. We make it something we think we can accomplish instead of aiming for what lies beyond our reach. I have a secret to tell you, chickadees.

Nothing really important ever got done that way.

And if you think this post is for you, great. I hope it inspires and recharges you. But truth be told, it’s for the girl who used to shelve books in the junior high library during her study hall. The girl who once upon a time put away an armload of biographies and thought to herself, I want to do something important someday. I want to be the kind of person who is in a biography. It’s for the girl who grew up and forgot that. It’s for me.


Going buggy

state insectI am officially a curmudgeon.

A week or so ago, I heard a story on the radio about a second grade class that was working to make the firefly Indiana’s state insect. The kids conducted a postcard campaign to their state senator and representatives to introduce a bill and put it up for vote.

Great, you say. How better for the kids to learn about government, you say.

While I can’t disagree with that logic, I can disagree with the entire premise. While those (incredibly resourceful, passionate, precocious) children are learning how our legislature operates, our legislators get bogged down with one more unnecessary measure. Aren’t we paying them to take care of things like schools and roads and safety and general welfare and oh, you know, important stuff?

Look, I love kids and I’m all about making learning fun and meaningful. Really and truly. I want teachers to find as many ways as possible to engage their students. But not this one.

I mean, look. Indiana legislators have enough to do as they try to fix the mess (they made) with standardized testing, the integrity of the office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and religious freedom. Bills routinely die on the vine because there’s not enough time in a legislative session to move them all through the process anyway. Basically, they’ve got a lot to do, so I’d like them to focus on the things that matter.

Apparently, this isn’t the first time this issue has come up. A similar bill was introduced in the 1990s, but it failed to advance because one senator refused to hear it. One. In my book, he’s the only one who stood up and said, Hey! This isn’t what you’re paying me to do! Forty-nine senators other forgot that.

How about this: the second grade teacher could organize a mock legislature and the kids could prepare, introduce, and debate the bill themselves. They could follow it through the process to understand what it takes not only for a bill to become law, but also how an issue even gets to the bill stage. Heck, they could even have their legislators come in and be part of the fun–once the General Assembly has adjourned, of course. Lawmaking not a quick or even a simple process (check out the rules HERE), but I’m pretty sure they’d learn a lot more about making things happen if they did it themselves–and they’d appreciate it a whole lot more, too.

I don’t want to be mean. I just want to keep our government on track. Unless our lawmakers are trying to figure out how to pay for mosquito spraying to ward off West Nile virus or malaria or something, insects shouldn’t even be on their radar.

Like I said, I’m a curmudgeon.

Translation error

translation errorOh boy. I spend all this time talking (writing) about finding a common language, minimizing communications mishaps, and interacting with clarity and what do I do? I tumble into that very pit myself.

I was sitting at lunch when an acquaintance asked me how I would approach a particular situation. After casting about (in my head) for a plan, I chose the germ of an idea and held on for dear life. I ran with it, talking and talking around the thing until I had exhausted its possibilities.

When I finally shut up, I noticed my companion’s eyes had shuttered. I had missed the mark.

I hid my embarrassment as we moved the conversation to other things, but I didn’t stop turning over that misfire in my head. Where had I gone wrong? What should I have done differently?

As usual, clarity came almost instantaneously once we had parted–when it was much more difficult to “fix” it. Even so, here’s my epiphany:

We were speaking different languages. Instead of stopping and trying to make sure I understood what he was after, I plappered along based on my translation–not his. Duh.

He had used a term that can have broad interpretation, and not wanting to look dumb, I picked one narrow facet of it and worked from there. Unfortunately, that took me down the long and winding road to nowhere. I ended up looking like the inexperienced country cousin.

Instead, I should have stopped my blind dive and sought more information. I should have asked questions to clarify what he was after. I should have taken the time to ensure I understood his language. I should have looked before I leaped.

Who knows if I still would have come up with an answer that helped him, but at that point at least he could have evaluated its potential effectiveness rather than trying to figure out how it connected.

That’s a broad term. What does it mean to you? Do you mean X or Y? What do you hope to accomplish? Would have been some great starting points.

The moral of the story? Ask questions. Assumptions that haven’t been validated lead to conversations rife with translation error.

Stop the madness (again)

Sometimes I can’t seem to stop escalating an argument–or a non-argument. When I stumbled across this post in the archives, it felt right to dig it back out. I wish I would have remembered this a few times over the last couple of months. Oh well, it’s not unusual that I have to re-learn the most important lessons!

Every now and then, someone sends me a message that really ticks me off. These messages are generally short, snarky, and pointless, designed simply to throw a barb my way for a perceived slight. I don’t get mad when I’ve really done something wrong–humble and embarrassed, maybe, but not mad. Strangely, it’s the undeserved barbs that hit their mark.

I got one of those messages this morning. I can thrust and parry with almost anyone when it comes to words, and I quickly typed my equally snarky response. And then I retyped it. And retyped it. I continued honing it to get it just right. With my cursor hovering over the send button, I hit delete instead. On purpose.

I’ve never done that before.

I’ve always risen to the challenge right along with my hackles. I respond in kind (that’s a funny expression when the response is usually not kind at all), and I end up sputtering and seething. And the cycle continues. No one needs that.

Inexplicably, this time I realized some key points. First, I didn’t act inappropriately to this person. Second, I didn’t owe him an explanation for anything. Third, he knows how to push my buttons, and I was poised to let him do it. By the time he had sent the message, he was already on to the next thing. Why should I spend the rest of my day stewing in this one?

It was up to me to continue the madness, and for once, I didn’t. I deleted my response, deleted, his email, and–writing this post notwithstanding–moved on. For whatever reason, I realized that it only takes one person to stop the madness. Anyone can be that person; today it was me.

Kick in the pants

muffin-topOver the past year, I’ve gotten away from my running routine and let my eating habits erode. You can guess what that’s done to my shape; the wardrobe additions I’ve made in the past months look as if they belong in someone else’s closet if you compare the new size tags to the old.

I know all this academically, of course, but I’ve gotten pretty darned comfortable in my new jeans. It’s easy to ignore the obvious when you accommodate by updating your accoutrements.

I muddled along happily in self-imposed oblivion until late last week I pulled on an old pair of jeans. Oomph. They were so tight I could barely breathe. I thought I had been doing better–time for a reality check.

Guess I’d better get back to work on the old self.

Of course, those jeans got me thinking. It’s so easy to measure ourselves by our current circumstances rather than the actual standard. We compare our work to what others around us are doing  and think it’s good enough when the result is better than theirs–but we forget to look at our job goals or performance measures. We look at our kids and think they’re great because they’re not flunking out, pregnant, or high–but we forget that we are also responsible for their character. And yes, we look at our physical being and consider ourselves ahead of the game because we have clothes that fit and feel fine–but we ignore the long-term health consequences our actions (or inaction) may be inviting.

Simply put, we get comfortable where we are.

We need to check our status against our goals, not our surroundings.I don’t know about you, but sometimes I need a kick in the pants to get out of my comfort zone.

Baby shoes

Classic_baby_shoesSome years ago, I stumbled across a concept that still holds my fascination. It’s called six-word stories, and the idea is to tell a story in–you guessed it–exactly six words.

The idea supposedly originated with a bunch of writing cronies who got together and placed a bet about who could produce a short story that was only six words long. Or who could write the shortest story that could make someone cry. Or who could write the shortest story. The details are nebulous, if they’re true at all, but supposedly Ernest Hemingway won hands down with this:

For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.

Pretty powerful stuff, those sentences.

Its origin notwithstanding, the idea fascinates me. It offers a clear illustration of the power of words, thoughtfully and carefully chosen–one of my favorite topics.

Six-word stories are tough to master; if you thought staying within Twitter’s 144-character limit was hard, it’s nothing compared to this. Succeed in six words, and you’ll feel like a genius. It’s a great brain exercise, and your “regular” writing will be better for it.

Here are a few of my favorites from*:

Painfully, he changed “is” to “was.”

Smoking my very last cigarette. Again.

Born a twin; graduated only child.

Sorry, soldier. Shoes sold in pairs.

Amazing how six words can tell you all you need to know. Try it; I dare you. You’ll be better for it.

Every word matters; choose each thoughtfully.

*The website and its corresponding Facebook page haven’t shown any activity for more than a year. They’re still fun to poke around, though.

Special note to JHS, TJT, RDH, and CC: you wordsmith/writer types are on notice. I want to see what you can produce in six words. I promise, this will be better than the ice bucket challenge!

Curb service

curb serviceLast month my brother and I went out to eat with our dad and stepmom. We couldn’t find a parking spot on the cramped city street, so my dad decided he would go back to the parking garage we had ignored earlier. He thoughtfully offered to drop off my stepmom and me in front of the restaurant to spare us a few steps.

Unbeknownst to him, I hate to be dropped off.

know he was trying to be nice. I know my stepmom appreciated it. I know this quirk of mine doesn’t make a lot of sense.

That didn’t stop me from grumbling like a four-year-old.

Of course, in the noble interest of “know thyself” (my thinly veiled excuse for putting the ‘anal’ in analyze), I’ve been trying to figure out why. I think there are two reasons.

The first didn’t really apply this time around, and it’s probably less important anyway. Usually being dropped off at the door means I have to stand around looking dopey as I wait for my companion to arrive. I need to get over that; I see other people do it all the time, and they don’t look dopey.

It’s the second reason that helps me understand myself better. I’m capable, dang it–just as capable as any person who has to walk a few extra blocks to the chosen venue from a parking space. In fact, I can even do it in the rain. Or in the snow. Or in the heat. Or in the dark of night. (That was a little homage to the unofficial postal workers’ creed, in case you missed it.) Not only that, but I can also do it in heels.

Where the driver sees the offer as a kindness, I see it as a poke at my ability, an implied softness. Remember that old chant, “Anything boys can do, girls can do better?”

Call me a dork, but at least I’m learning.

Now that I know what’s going on in my psyche, I can figure out what to do about it. This isn’t the dropper-offer’s problem–it’s mine–and I promise you, grumbling is not an acceptable response.

The way I look at it, I have two choices. I can give myself a mental smackdown, suck it up, and graciously accept. Or I can–equally graciously–tell my thoughtful driver, “No thanks. I’d rather enjoy your company and walk with you.”

What I won’t do is make someone feel bad for trying to do a good deed.

Sorry, Dad.