I Think “Change” Has Gotten A Bad Rap

Heart Blasting

5.  You’re never too young or too old to change.

Why is that when someone approaches us and tells us they think we “need to make some changes” our first inclination is to get defensive, if not defiant and openly confrontational, even when that “someone” is a friend, a lover, a parent, a sibling or a medical professional who plainly has only our best interests at heart?  The answer is simple really:  “Change” has lots of negative connotations, particularly when associated with our person-hood.  No matter how well-intentioned it may be in the offering, the phrase “I think you need to change” is typically heard as conveying any one or all of the following “not-so-easy-to-embrace” messages:  “You’re just not good enough the way you are and unless and until you’re willing to become the person I think you should be (or would like you to be), I’m not inclined to continue to offer you my support and/or affection;”  “There’s a piece missing somewhere in ‘you’ that needs to be filled in order for me to love you or be your friend and I suggest you get busy figuring out what it is, where to find it and how to plug it in before it’s too late;”  or, worse yet, “I can’t quite put my finger on it, but you’re deficient or ‘defective’ in some way and we need to figure out a way to ‘correct’ that.”  Don’t get me wrong, there likely are times when any one or all of those messages are the ones the sender actually does intend to convey and when you determine that to be the case, I recommend that you run, not walk, away from that person as quickly as possible!

With respect to the rest, however, I’d like to offer a different perspective on “change” that I only recently stumbled upon, due to the insight of my friend, Alison Smela (http://alisonsmela.wordpress.com) – to whom I owe full credit for this key piece of advice and the phrase used to introduce it.  You see, I’ve come to believe that change is really less about becoming a “new” and “different” person and much more about the process of returning to a former, truer version of our “authentic self.”   Simply put, rather than the “putting on” of  something new, change actually is the stripping away of layers of “contaminants” that have been thrust upon us or that we have acquired and/or taken on over the years – pollutants, if you will, that have obscured from view or altered the person we were intended and came into this world to be.  Viewed in this light, the call to change is a far more adventurous and far less threatening/intimidating process than the one we typically associate with the word and the accompanying journey.  This is not to say that it is any less challenging!  To the contrary, anyone who has ever gotten lost on a hike will attest to the difficulties and anxiety associated with finding their way back home.  Still, knowing that it’s “home” (and everything that goes with it) that you’re striving to return to makes the process considerably more tolerable than continuing on a path into the unknown.

Regrettably, this potentially life-altering perspective was first presented to me back in 2000 in the following scene from one of the best “I-know-you-think-it’s-about-golf-but-it’s-really-about-much-more-than-that” movies of all time, The Legend of Bagger Vance, but I just didn’t “get it” the first time around.  Fortunately for me and all the rest of us – you’re never too young or too old to change!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_Mk2Tca88Xo

Re-Visiting A Letter Written In The Eye Of The Storm

faith tatoo

6.  Give Faith A Chance

Several months ago, I shared a letter that I wrote to my adult children during one of the darkest periods of my life.  The truth is: I wrote it as much for my benefit as theirs.  While, as the concluding paragraph suggests, I very much wanted them to know a little bit more about their dad and my personal faith journey, I mainly wrote it to “remind myself” of the things that I found much easier to accept and believe in a quieter and much healthier time in my life.  Obviously, where faith is concerned, I didn’t arrive at the place I am today overnight.  It has been a process, but one which, from my perspective, was well worth the effort:

March 5, 2009

Dear Greg and Ashley, I’ve been thinking a lot lately – about life and about faith – and, along the way, I’ve come to realize what may be obvious to many, but was never that clear to me:  We go through “phases” in our faith journeys. When we’re very young, faith is just a “tag along” ritual of sorts. We go to church because our parents take (or, more likely, “drag”) us there. We don’t really want to be there, nor do we understand or care much about what goes on there, but, heck, it’s only an hour a week, so we tolerate it – as if we had a choice in the matter . . . we don’t!

As we get older, our perspective on faith changes, but our view of it and of God is still pretty simple and, I dare say, immature. We decide we’re going to give the whole “God thing” a chance, which usually means we’ll put God “to the test” and if He passes (i.e., if He does what we think He should do or what we want Him to do) we’ll “believe.” And so we pray – for things, for outcomes, for desires, etc. More often than not, those “things” don’t turn out the way “they should” and we either “blame” God for it or come to believe that He must not exist or, worse yet, that he doesn’t care about us.

And we grow older still. We enter a period in our lives when the whole “God/religion thing” just isn’t what our friends are “doing.” Many never believed and aren’t about to start, some believed and, in part, for the reasons outlined above, got disillusioned, others, who believe or who are at least entertaining the idea of faith don’t “dare” openly share their faith, their beliefs, their values and/or the desires of their heart with others lest they be viewed as strange. None of this is new – it’s been going on for ages. I know I went through it – and, in many ways, I suppose I still am.

But as we grow up (and, hopefully, grow a little bit wiser), we begin to see things (and God) differently. We have experiences, meet people, encounter challenges and endure heartaches that cause us to wonder about God’s existence and his role in our lives. We hold the prism of our faith, our beliefs, and our “purpose” in this world up to the light and in its many beautiful, but complicated facets we search for meaning and understanding. I’ve been doing a lot of that lately – and I thought I would share some of the conclusions I’ve reached.

I believe God exists, that He created us and that He loves us unconditionally. I believe He is all merciful and forgiving. I do not believe He ever has or ever would abandon us. I believe He entrusted each of us with free will. I believe He welcomes and listens to our prayers. I believe He knows and wants what’s best for us, but would prefer that we take the leading oar in figuring that out for ourselves. I believe that “answered” prayers don’t come without “action” on our part.  Simply put, I don’t believe He is a master puppeteer.

I believe God expects us to love and care for ourselves and others. I believe He calls each of us to respect and serve one another. I believe He wants all of us to enjoy a full and fruitful life. I believe He equips each of us with the courage and strength we need to confront and overcome the challenges that we face in our lives. I believe He appreciates our humanity, the fact that we will make mistakes. I believe He is merciful, that He forgives our mistakes and that He longs for us, in turn, to forgive ourselves and others, when we and they make mistakes.

I believe God has blessed each of us with certain gifts. I believe He intended those gifts to be a blessing, rather than a burden. I believe He wants us to spend a lifetime opening those gifts each day. I believe He longs for us to know the joy and excitement that accompanies the exploration and development of those gifts. I believe that He is glorified in the expression of those gifts and our sharing of them with others. I believe that, over time, He brings special people into our lives, sometimes when we least expect them – and need them most.

I’m not sure how much of all these things I “believed” growing up, but I believe them now – at least I try to believe them, every day. Consequently, now when I pray, I don’t pray so much for “outcomes” as I do for gifts of the spirit that will enable me to be faithful to and live my beliefs.  I pray for peace of mind and heart, for courage, for strength, for patience, for perseverance, for wisdom, for love, for comfort, for others, for good health, to be a good example.

I try to pray with gratitude in my heart – for the gift of a new day, for the many blessings that have been bestowed on me, for my children, for their health and happiness.  My sense is that “a healthy portion” of prayer for those gifts – mixed with a commitment to action and a God who loves me unconditionally and wants me to live a full and happy life – is a sound “recipe” for a fulfilling, albeit at times unpredictable, life’s journey. Just thought I’d share, so that you would know a little bit more about “me” and where my heart is (or at least longs to be).

And, perhaps, so that you will be inspired to give faith a chance (or a second chance, as the case may be) in your own life.

Love, Dad

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A-xELYboGMc

The Importance Of Living In HQ (High Quality) “Surround Sound”

Surround Sound

7.  Take Great Care In Choosing The “Components” Of Your Real Life “Surround Sound System”

For the better part of the past 2 years, my friend has been engaged in a major home renovation project.  Actually, “embroiled” might be a more accurate term, given that, as often is the case in such undertakings, what could go wrong has gone wrong (and then some!), despite everyone’s best intentions and efforts.  It has been an especially difficult period for my friend, who has very strong perfectionistic and OCD tendencies.  To his credit, however, my friend learned important lessons along the way and when the time came for him to put what he deemed to be the most important piece of the puzzle in place (i.e., the surround sound system in his above-ground “Man Cave” a/k/a the family living room), he was ready!  You see, my friend is a bit of audiophile.  He not only has an intrinsic appreciation for the technical qualities of sound, he also understands the calming and restorative powers of music. In fact, most of my friend’s days end by his grabbing a glass of red wine and settling in on a sofa surrounded by one of his favorite tunes.  That being the case, it probably will come as no surprise that he obsessed about every detail of the surround sound system that he now relies on to “deliver the goods.” Each speaker, receiver, equalizer, sub-woofer, CD deck, etc. was carefully selected and positioned to deliver the highest quality of sound currently available on the market – and, for the most part, he has been a noticeably happier person since it was installed.

All of which led me to realize on this morning’s walk the many parallels between my friend’s home renovation project and the construction (or, as the case may be, “reconstruction”) projects that are ongoing in each of our daily lives. Because we are human, it is inevitable that, despite our best intentions and efforts, there will be times when we fall short of our goal to fully live the advice offered in Nos. 8 and 9.  Our commitment to “being our own best friend” will periodically be interrupted by our natural hyper-critical tendencies.  Our self-talk will cease to be kind and re-affirming and we will lose our ability to see ourselves clearly. Our efforts to “live out loud” will give way to our desire to withdraw, isolate and hold our emotions close.  When that happens, it is critical that we have an “HQ surround sound” system of our own in place – a support team comprised of people who love us, who understand us, who want only what is best for us; people who appreciate the importance of and, on a moment’s notice, are capable of instilling an “opposite voice” (http://tinyurl.com/chewrwy);  people we who we trust implicitly to draw us out of our silence and show us to ourselves, when our view of self has been obscured (http://tinyurl.com/a9tdsco).  Like my friend, it is imperative that we do our research and choose these people carefully, while weeding out those who, due to selfishness or a track record of unreliability or indifference, have forfeited their right to hold such a cherished place in our lives.

Come to think of it, if I’m to be critical of anything about my friend’s handling of his home re-build, it would be his decision to wait until it was nearly complete before installing the piece that ultimately would matter most to him (i.e., his state-of-the-art HQ surround sound system).  I can’t help but think that if he’d moved it to its rightful place (i.e., the top, rather than the bottom, of his “To Do” list), the ability to bathe in the soothing sounds of Carole King may have allowed the news that contractors had discovered a virtual army of Formosa termites slowly and silently consuming his house to go down just a little easier!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Zuzi-yH9VLo

Though You May Not Always Get It “Right,” The Important Thing Is That You Get It Out!

express-your-feelings

8.  Live Out Loud!

Depending on your perspective, I’m either the last or the first person on Earth who has any business offering this piece of advice.  The “last” because anyone who knows me will readily (and quite accurately) attest that, with the exception of some poetry and letters, I spent much of the first 50+ years of my life ignoring this advice with impunity.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have a fairly keen sense of who I was, what I believed in or how (often intensely) I felt about things (and others) from a very young age.  To the contrary, I think I did.  It’s just that, for whatever reason (e.g., mistrust, fear of rejection or, worse yet, abandonment, insecurity, immaturity, lack of (or poor) self-esteem, concern that my honesty might hurt others’ feelings, etc.)  I consciously or, more likely, subconsciously chose not to express those feelings or to fully share “me” with others, even those who were the precipitating force behind or the object of those feelings.  Instead, I swallowed them or kept them close and insisted that others “read my mind” or, as the case may be, my heart.  When, perhaps not surprisingly, they didn’t do that or refused to try, I became even more frustrated, hurt and deeply disillusioned – all of which leads me to believe that I also should be the “first” to explain just how critical seeking out, nurturing and finding healthy ways of expressing “your voice” is to living a happy, authentic and fulfilling life.  That and my having had the privilege, over the past several years, of listening to my daughter and countless other beautiful young women share their own heartbreaking stories – many of which it seemed to me were tied, at least in part, to the fact that, somewhere along the way, they had lost or swallowed their own voices or had them taken away, trampled upon or drowned out by others. It’s impossible to precisely articulate how that feels (i.e., to experience life with such sensitivity and intensity and not be able (or feel you are not “permitted” to) express it).  Certain “behaviors” (e.g., tears, laughter, anger, frustration, sadness, disappointment, etc.) are healthy and important ways of expressing that voice – and they are a good starting point.  But they still require some “interpretation.” For that reason, I believe there is no substitute for the spoken or written word.  Both are essential and well within all our reach.  Like a singer’s, “your voice” will require some training and practice.  You won’t always get it “right” – no one does.  At times you will misspeak, your emotions will be mis-directed, your feelings misunderstood.  You will speak too loudly or softly to be “heard.”  Eventually, you will find the sweet spot.  In the meantime, the important thing is not that you get it “right,” but that you get it out! As for those of us on the receiving end – patience, empathy and validation are the order of the day.  The bottom line: Life was meant to be lived out loud!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vk87bPmWK0A

Don’t You Think It’s Time To Start Treating “You” Like The Best Friend You Were Meant To Have?

loveyourself-beach

Remember, I said: “In no particular order!”

9.  Learn to be your own best friend.

There are at least two compelling reasons why this seemingly obvious proposition found its way into my “Top 10.”  First, becoming your own best friend is the single most critical (and achievable) line of defense against loneliness.  Second, no matter who you are or where you go, the reality is that you can’t escape “you.”  In fact, if you’re like the rest of us, chances are you will spend the majority of your day engaged in very singular pursuits (e.g., getting up, getting ready, traveling to and from work, sitting at an office desk or in a classroom, doing all different types of “homework,” walking the dog, reading, writing, hanging out around the house, sleeping, etc.), during which your closest (and only!) companion, the person you will have to rely on to entertain you, to motivate you, to provide you with emotional support, to build and reinforce a positive self-image is – wait for it – YOU!  Consequently, you have to learn to always be there for “you.”  You have to be willing to recognize the good in “you.”  You have to embrace the fact that “you” are imperfect and be O.K. with that – I dare say even learn to laugh about the inevitable manifestations of that imperfection at times!  I know it sounds simple, but, trust me, its one of Life’s greatest challenges.   For reasons I’ve never been able to fully understand, many of us (myself included) are inclined instead to be (and have a much easier time being) our own harshest critics.  Consciously or subconsciously, we seek out what we perceive to be our “deficiencies” and when we find them, we are relentless in our self-abuse. We bombard ourselves with negative and hurtful “self-talk.” We dwell on, even obsess about, our mis-steps and mistakes, while barely pausing over all the good that we do, all we have to be proud of, our many accomplishments, large and small, our talents – the things that make us unique.  Being kind to and respectful of ourselves, just doesn’t come naturally to most of us.  For that reason, becoming “your own best friend” will require a conscious effort.  Just like you do in forming friendships with others, you will need to seek out the good in yourself, the things that, if you’re to be honest, you like, if not love, about yourself, the things that, if you saw them in another, you would immediately be attracted to, want more of.  When you find them (and, believe me, they’re there to be found!), nurture them, constantly “remind” yourself of their existence, give yourself the credit you deserve for them and appreciate them, so that, in time, they will dwarf/suffocate what almost certainly are your disproportionately smaller/fewer “shortcomings.”

Just one more thing:  I’m reasonably certain that you wouldn’t hesitate to sing the following song to your best friend.  Why is it then, that there likely isn’t “a snow ball’s chance” that you would consider singing it to the person staring back at you in the mirror this morning? (And with all due respect to Joe, please don’t tell me after listening to it that it’s because “you can’t sing” or “you can’t remember the words”!?!):

You Don’t Always Have To Learn “The Hard Way”

mistakes

A few weeks ago, I went out for a walk after issuing myself the following challenge: “If you could only pass on 10 pieces of advice for your children (and theirs) what would they be?”  Two weeks later, I’ve come up with the following list, offered one piece at a time – in no particular order. 

10.       While it’s important to learn from your own mistakes, you can avoid many of them by seeking out and being attentive to those who already have made them and are willing to share what they learned. 

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t always have to learn life’s most important lessons “the hard way,” though many people insist on doing so.  In fact, having been one of those “many” more times than I care to think about, I would strongly discourage you from doing so.  Lessons learned the hard way are often painful (to you and others), can be highly disruptive and, on occasion, can have lifelong consequences. There is another way.  Before running blindly down a path that your instincts tell you may be fraught with danger (or heartache), take advantage of the information super-highway at your fingertips (or if you are really inspired, your neighborhood library or bookstore) and seek out someone who already has traveled that road and lived to tell about it.  Once you find them, listen attentively to their story with an open mind and heart.  They’re offering you a valuable gift – a “reward” for your efforts.  It’s a glimpse of the future a/k/a wisdom.  Don’t assume their story “could never happen to you.” Assume, instead, that it likely will and, with gratitude for your guide’s selfless vulnerability, chart your course accordingly. 

Don’t just take it from me – take it from a 28 year old trash collector: 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dYPTS_39I8g

I’m Not Suggesting You Donate A Body Part, But If That’s What You Feel Compelled To Do – Go For It!

Rescue Me

Yesterday, I and more than two dozen of the finest lawyers in South Florida (if not the Southeastern United States), spent more than two hours in a hearing at the Dade County Courthouse.  I wish I could say we were debating and came up with some creative suggestions for solving issues critical to world peace, but that was hardly the case.  Instead, the bulk of our time was spent arguing over the logistics associated with identifying and implementing a procedure for “efficiently” managing and resolving a back log of cases – some of which were filed nearly a decade ago!  Would that I could say I’m making this up; unfortunately, I’m not.  I don’t offer this story for the purpose of singling out, let alone “dumping on,” my profession.  God knows, lawyers get a bad enough (and seldom well-deserved) rap without my participating in the feeding frenzy.  Moreover, I’m quite certain there were tens of thousands of equally long-winded and similarly unproductive “non-legal” conference calls, board and other meetings, etc. occurring all around the country and the world at precisely the same time and throughout the day.  

No, I offer this reflection for other reasons: 1. Neither I, nor any other lawyer in that courtroom, will get those 2+ hours of our lives back – they are gone forever.  2.  The amount of money expended in having that many lawyers in that courtroom for that amount of time likely would have been enough to provide 2 months of care and treatment to a young woman, who otherwise may die as the result of medical complications associated with an eating disorder, due to her inability and the inability of her family to afford that care. 3.  Setting aside the financial piece for a moment, it occurred to me that, properly directed, the individual and collective “human capital” in that courtroom (i.e., the intellect, creativity, political and corporate connectivity, organizational and advocacy skills, etc.) has almost limitless potential to effect social change, bring hope to those who have none and facilitate healing in an ever-growing population of people in need.  This is not about politics.  It’s about LIFE.  It’s about caring for someone other than ourselves.  It’s about our moral obligation as human beings. 

Simply put, I fear we’re losing sight of why we exist.  Don’t misunderstand me. I value my job and am proud to be part of a profession whose members have contributed (and continue to contribute) so much to establishing, promoting and preserving social order, while, at the same time, working diligently to protect and enforce the civil and criminal rights of those they serve.  I also understand the importance of work generally (I’ve been doing it since I was 13 years old) and the fact that, from time to time, all of us are called upon to perform tasks in our jobs, which, viewed in a vacuum, seem to be menial in nature, if not a complete waste of time, but which often are no less essential to the accomplishment of the bigger task at hand.  More importantly, I appreciate (perhaps slightly more than most) the fact that: (1) there are only so many hours in the day; (2) the familial, work and social demands on those hours are great; (3) our physical and emotional resources are finite; and (4) each of us needs to find time for ourselves – to reflect, to rest and to replenish. 

But, the reality is: There are SO many hours in a day and there is SO much need.  That being the case, those of us who have been blessed with so much (e.g., a good education, a well-trained mind, wisdom borne of life experience and, in those of faith, Divine guidance, the mentoring of others, etc.) simply can’t afford to use our “busyness” as an excuse for not at least trying to make a difference, for continuing to stand on the sidelines and pretending that, unless the need is sitting in our living rooms, it’s someone else’s problem.  Don’t believe you have the power to effect meaningful and profound change in the world, to change or save a life – perhaps even a few thousand?  Then please take a few minutes (okay, so maybe it’s 19 minutes – I promise it will be well worth your while!) to disavow yourself of that misperception – and then consider spending a few more (after all, you have 1,440 of them today alone!) reflecting on where you see a need that you either are (or could easily become) passionate about and consider talking the next step.  It quite literally could make all the difference in the world. 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2PoxeCC0C3A