I Already Know What You’re Going To Say: “It’s Just An Ice Cube!”

Cannon and the Tower of Terror

Anyone who’s known me for any length of time (and by “any length” I mean more than 36 hours!?!) knows that I’m very much a creature of habit. In fact, while my professional life can change on a moment’s notice due to the emergent needs of a client, the dictates of an impatient judge, or an unexpected e-mail from a fellow partner pleading with me to help them douse a suddenly raging out of control “brush fire,” my personal life is as predictable as the sunrise.  Almost without exception, I’m up at the crack of dawn, in the shower by 6, dressed, done with all things daily hygiene-ish and out the door by 6:30, at my desk by 6:45, standing in front of the Keurig coffee/tea machine (for the first of a dozen cups of iced green teas) by 6:50, headed to lunch by 11:45, en route home by 6, fed and out for my evening walk by 7, home by 8:15 and in bed by 10:30 (Note: I may have left out consuming a box or bag or two of Oreos along the way!).  It sounds incredibly boring, I know – and, trust me, it is!  But there’s a method to my madness.  You see, somewhere along the way I instinctively realized that the sameness that comes with structure maximizes the chance of saneness, especially for those of us who, like me, came into this world pre-wired for perfectionism.

Of course, it wasn’t always that way.  To the contrary, I spent much of my child and young adult hoods (okay, even a substantial part of my “real” adulthood) not only believing that perfection was attainable, but “insisting” that I achieve it in everything I did – and, believe me when I tell you, I was NEVER satisfied with anything less.  I quickly grew intolerant of my own and others’ mistakes and shortcomings and developed a really bad temper and attitude whenever I competed at anything and lost. Ultimately, I grew to hate that part of me and the sadness and anxiety that are its constant companions.  It was about that time that I also began to realize how unhealthy pursuing perfection was, especially given how many variables played into achieving it in the many arenas in which I found myself “performing” (e.g., the classroom, the golf course, the bowling alley, the dating scene, the courtroom, etc.) and how little control I had over most (all?) of them.  I had to reign it in and learn to be more tolerant and self-forgiving.  In time, I managed to do that, albeit imperfectly (LOL!), mostly through the force of my will, a heaping tablespoon of Divine intervention and good old-fashioned maturity.  But, try as I might, I’ve also come to realize that there’s no way I’ll ever completely override my born-in pre-disposition to want things to be perfect.

In fact, I’m reminded of it, without exception, every morning at 6:50 a.m.!  You see, no matter how hard I try, not a day goes by that I don’t put my tea cup (okay, it’s more like a small bathtub) under the ice dispenser to fill it up only to have ONE of the ice cubes ricochet off the others or the side of the cup/vat onto the floor!  It’s become a bit of a joke among my office mates and, truth be told, I even find myself laughing about it from time to time.  What most of them don’t realize, however, is that, as that cube is falling to the ground, my perfectionistic urges are screaming inside me, wanting to be set free.  They not only want, but expect me to extract some measure of retribution vs. the ice maker, punish myself for my ineptitude in performing what in my unforgiving mind’s eye is the most ministerial of tasks or at least don the look and shed the tears of my nephew in the photo above.  Now, I already know what you’re going to say: “It’s only an ice cube for God sake” – and you’re right, of course.  But, what you need to understand in order to better appreciate how difficult it is to do battle with one’s pre-wiring, especially where addictions are concerned, is that it’s far more complicated and much more challenging than it appears.

But, in the end, at least from this recovering perfectionist’s perspective, it’s well worth the effort.  Because the fact is: the gift of imperfection is far more liberating than the belief that we are, can or need to be perfect ever will be!  Indeed, for those of faith, it’s the recognition that we’re human and fallible that often creates the need and desire for a relationship with God in the first place.  On a more secular level, the realization and acceptance of our imperfectness is what enables us to take chances in life cognizant of, but not paralyzed by the reality that things might not work out the way we’d hoped they would or (God forbid) might not work out at all.  Being and recognizing that we are imperfect also makes us more willing to reach out to others who are more skilled in areas where we are, dare I say it, deficient, while simultaneously promoting an increased willingness in us to humbly share with others, who, because of our own gifts, reach out to us for assistance – both life-giving and affirming events.  Finally and perhaps most importantly, embracing our own imperfections also prompts us to seek  forgiveness from those we’ve hurt, while at the same time rendering us more willing to forgive those, who in their own imperfection and, likely without any ill intent, have fallen short of our expectations and/or hurt us. 

No one has to sell me on the fact that it’s not easy to realize you’re imperfect, let alone to embrace your imperfections, but it sure feels good when you do, which is why, except for my daily encounter with the Ice Maker, I’m feeling better by the minute!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ON45TeyyCnQ

“Be Honest With Me.” Really?!?

Megaphone mother yelling at daughter

“Your history of silence won’t do you any good – did you think it would?
Let your words be anything but empty. Why don’t you tell them the truth?
Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out – honestly.”

“Brave” by Sara Bareilles

“Be honest with me.” 

At one time or another those 4 words have been directed to all of us by a parent, a sibling, a friend, a lover, a spouse – maybe even a teacher or boss.  And, if you’re like me, you’ve probably said them a time or two (thousand) yourself.  But, the older I get, the more convinced I become that while all of us profess to want others to be truthful and to speak the truth ourselves, very few of us are actually willing or properly equipped to handle the sending or receiving of it – at least not the whole truth.  Don’t get me wrong, all of us would be at the front of the line if we knew the “truth” that was about to be dispensed was of the flattering, self-affirming, joy-producing variety – not to mention truth that mirrors our vision of what it “should” look like. But I’m just as guilty as the next person of literally wanting to run and hide from truth that is a little too honest, too real, too thought-provoking – truth that is soul-bearingly raw, that makes me uncomfortable, challenges my beliefs,  threatens to expose things about me that I’d rather not spend too much (any) time dwelling on.  And, I suspect, I’m no different from most in that respect.  In fact, I know I’m not.

Why is that?  Why are we so afraid to be honest with one another?  Why can’t we accept the fact that others’ truths are just as real as our own – and validate them? Why, instead, are we so quick to take another’s truth about us or, more specifically, the way our behaviors or words have affected them, so personally?  Why, in the face of the truth, do so many adults react like teenagers, if not children who’ve been caught doing something they shouldn’t be (e.g., grow angry, disavow any responsibility, slam things, storm out of the room, etc.)?  Why, rather than listen intently when afforded a glimpse into another’s soul, particularly one belonging to a loved one, is our first instinct upon hearing the truth to strike back, to become defensive – to seek to “prove” that the truth-teller is anything but? Why when confronted with another’s truth in the moment do we so often try to shift the focus, if not the blame, by reaching into the past for another day’s truth of our own that we can use as a sword and a shield?  Why do we repeatedly play the shame or the guilt or the “you’re breaking my heart” card, as a means of discouraging others from telling us the truth we claim to want so desperately?

I confess that I don’t fully understand the “whys” of it, but I do know that much of the way we deal with the truth (or don’t deal with it as the case may be) is terribly unhealthy.  One example should suffice to make the point.  Several years ago, I was sitting in a group counseling session when a beautiful young woman, who quite obviously had swallowed her truths for much of her 19 years on the planet, finally mustered the courage with the support of her friends to give “voice” to it in a room full of strangers that included her mom and dad.  And speak it, she did.  Listening to her words was like having a front row seat at a movie about the breaking of a little girl’s heart.  It was excruciatingly painful to watch (and listen to), but no one could question the honesty with which she spoke.  Much to my amazement, however, no sooner had the final syllable crossed the threshold of her quivering lips, than the girl’s mother leapt in to “set the record straight” – first by “correcting” what she deemed to be several “factual inaccuracies” in her daughter’s account of her childhood experiences and later by going to great lengths to “prove” to all of us that she wasn’t the mother her daughter “suggested” she was.

By the time mom was done, her daughter’s countenance had fallen in lock step with the tears that were silently streaming down her face and her body language reverted to what I imagined it looking like the last time she tried to share her truth with someone.  I and everyone else in the room could see “the sequel” to the movie we’d watched only moments earlier taking shape before their eyes. You see, mom had completely missed the point, as had I and countless others before (and after her):  When it comes to human interaction, perception is reality.  Put more simply, two people can hear the same words in a conversation or experience the same events and walk away from them with very different truths – neither one of which is truer or more real than the other.  Each is its holder’s reality about what just occurred.  In our illustration, for example, mom and dad could have had the best of intentions for saying what they said or doing what they did to their daughter, but it was her perception of those words or actions that became her truth and framed the feelings and, in some instances, behaviors that flowed from them.  That truth and those feelings are deserving of validation – however “misaligned” they may with our own truth.  If they are judged instead, especially if they are judged harshly, they will be “swallowed” with ever increasing regularity and replaced with silence.

How should mom have handled this situation – for that matter how should any of us respond to a solicited or unsolicited truth that doesn’t jive with our own whether it’s in a therapy room, the family room, the marital bedroom, the lunch room or the corner coffee store?  In my fantasy, mom would have paused long enough to allow her daughter’s words to find their way to her soul and then greeted them with compassion and a few of her own:  “Thank you for sharing your heart with me.  It’s obvious you’re in a great deal of pain – and it hurts me to know that something I did or said may have contributed to your sadness.  I can assure you, I never intended my words or actions to cause you harm and I’m sorry you interpreted/experienced them the way you did.  I only wish you had felt comfortable enough to tell me the truth about how they made you feel at that moment, so that I could’ve tried to correct any misunderstanding.  I want to work on our relationship, so that both of us can learn to share our truths in a more open, loving and constructive way.  In the meantime, I want to encourage you to continue to use your voice to speak your truth – always.”

In a perfect world, maybe she even seals it with a hug – okay, let’s not get too crazy!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SuFScoO4tb0

Learning From “The Puzzlers”

Sunrise

I don’t know about you, but I always thought those who had a particular affinity for and were highly-skilled at putting together complex jigsaw puzzles were a little strange.  You know the folks I’m talking about – the ones who can dump out a pile of 10,000 tiny misshapen pieces of cardboard that all look basically the same on a table one day and two weeks later be proudly hanging a beautifully-shellacked finished version of the puzzle on their living room wall like it’s a piece of art!  In retrospect, however, I should have been envious of “The Puzzlers,” because, perhaps even unbeknownst to them, while I and the rest of my friends were spending Friday nights in bars and beautiful Saturday afternoons at the beach and on the golf course, they were hunched over a puzzle at home, busy honing a skill set that, once mastered, would significantly increase the likelihood that they would live  a healthy, happy and fulfilling life:

a.  Puzzlers keep a “picture” of what they want the finished product to look like in the forefront of their mind at all times.  One of the first things any Puzzler worth their salt does, before even starting to put a puzzle together, is carefully study the image on the outside of the box.  In fact, many choose the puzzle because the image appeals to them either aesthetically, thematically or in its seeming complexity.  Ask them and they will tell you that it is imperative that they have a clear picture of their goal in mind before they start the often tedious process of putting the puzzle together and that they keep that image in front of them at all times.

b.  Puzzlers are not intimidated by the number of pieces that need to be put in place or the apparent complexity of the task. Too often in life we become overwhelmed by the sheer number of tasks on our plate at a particular moment in time.  Viewed collectively, the tasks are intimidating to the point of paralyzing us. The Puzzler understands that the completion of the puzzle begins by putting the first piece in place and proceeding one piece at a time until the ultimate goal is achieved. At times, the process is slow, frustrating and painstaking.  Sometimes, for no apparent reason, several pieces fall into place in quick succession.  Eventually, however, each piece finds its home.

c.  Puzzlers understand how critical it is to first establish a strong foundation and well-defined boundaries.  Watch most Puzzlers ply their craft and, almost without exception, you will notice that they begin ensuring that the pieces that ultimately will form the borders of the puzzle are put in place first.  Even though the task is among the hardest aspects of completing the puzzle (mainly because the pieces used to form the boundaries all look the same), Puzzlers recognize that a strong foundation and well-defined boundaries are an essential first step to the eventual completion of the puzzle.

d.  Puzzlers know that all of the pieces of the puzzle are equally essential to the whole. Puzzlers understand a simple truth that we too often lose sight of as human beings:  Each piece of the puzzle has its place and each is an indispensable part of what ultimately will be the finished product.  Stated otherwise, no one piece of a puzzle is more or less important than the one that preceded it or the one that will follow it.  Too often, in life, we tend to give great weight to discreet events – usually negative ones – and, in doing so, vest them with more power over us than they deserve.  The next time you’re inclined to do that remember: Whatever it is, it’s just one piece among the millions of pieces that make you who you are!

e.  Puzzlers make wise choices, but remain flexible and ready to make others, if necessary.  As a rule, Puzzlers don’t like to dally. They identify a need, double check the goal, scour the landscape of available pieces in search of one that their instincts suggest will be a perfect fit and give every side of the piece they select an opportunity to fill that need.  If it does, they relish the moment and move on.  If it doesn’t, they simply make another choice, knowing that, eventually, they’ll get it right.  And so it should be with the puzzles of our lives: We should strive to make wise decisions, based on the best information available (and our instincts); give those choices every reasonable chance to succeed, but remain flexible and ready to repeat the process if necessary.

f.  Puzzlers appreciate the power of patience.  Enough said!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4vs2kAnh5KY

I Saw A Neon Sign That Read “I’m Hope”!

Little Girl

There was a time (not so long ago) when I almost certainly would’ve been oblivious to the “flashing neon sign” that read “I’m Hope” that I encountered on my Christmas Eve walk.  And you hardly could’ve blamed me for that back then, any more than I can fairly sit in judgment on you (and millions of others) who likely walk right past similar “signs” in their own lives without giving them a passing, let alone a second thought.  Truth is, the scene was fairly ordinary in appearance at first glance:  A young couple, dressed in their Sunday best (he in a sharp blue blazer and tie and she in a beautiful red dress) standing in the perfectly-manicured front lawn of their home with their approximately 18 month-old daughter (like mom, in a pretty red dress, albeit accessorized with an adorable red head band and bow) intent on capturing a magical moment on film.  And they likely would have done just that had I not been walking down the sidewalk and quite unintentionally caught the “I’d-really-rather-be-doing-just-about-anything-else” eye of that precious little girl.

I wish I had the skill to adequately paint the picture that unfolded before me in words: the image of her leaning as far as she could to the right, so that she was hanging over the edge of the sidewalk, making doubly sure that I saw her; the spontaneous smile that almost literally exploded across her face, as if I were a cherished friend or a favorite grandpa she’d eagerly been anticipating seeing all day long; the sparkle in her beautiful blue eyes; and the fully outstretched right arm and hand that seemingly couldn’t wave its “grippy hello” anymore enthusiastically!  You know the wave I’m talking about – the one where the 4 tiny fingers quickly and repeatedly clench into a fist, while the thumb, in a fully upright position, stays put.  I’m not sure whether it was the smile, the sparkle, the “thumbs-up” or a combination of the three, but the message that nearly froze me in my tracks couldn’t have been any clearer:

“Look at me,” she was saying (to her parents, to me, to anyone, in fact, who cared to listen) – “I’m Hope! My mind is an empty chalkboard eager to be filled with the fruits of my creativity.  Please don’t limit it by insisting that I always ‘color in the lines’ and criticizing me for every stray mark.  My voice is fresh and unique.  Properly validated, encouraged and strengthened, it may inspire a generation.  Please don’t force me to swallow it by your indifference, intolerance or insistence that yours is the only one that matters.  My spirit is still unblemished, gentle, compassionate and trusting.  One day a soul in need of healing or replenishment may depend on it for a moment’s respite from the storms of life.  Please don’t allow reckless insensitivity and bullying to trample upon or break it.  My dreams are big and boundless, so big that their realization may one day enable others to realize their own.  Please don’t ground them before they take flight.  Above all else, like you, I thirst mostly for love and acceptance. Please don’t demean or judge me. Offer me your heart instead – vulnerably and unconditionally – especially you dad, no matter what happens between you and mom.”

As I continued on my way, it occurred to me that, given that it was Christmas Eve, I shouldn’t have been surprised that I found hope in the most ordinary of places – a child – even though this one was wearing a red dress and matching headband!  I also shouldn’t have been surprised, having been there a time or two myself, that, in their eagerness to take the picture they wanted to take, the little girl’s parents completely missed the priceless moment they were meant to capture.  What is surprising to me, however, and what I’m eternally grateful for is that we keep getting “second chances” to “get it right” – not only in our own lives (and those of our children), but in the lives of the estimated 120 more little girls just like my new friend who were born in the United States alone in just the time it took to write this post!  I think it’s about time we fully commit ourselves to making the most of those chances – don’t you?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=al2DFQEZl4M