Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Finding Your Passion – at Fifty!

I recently lead a small group discussion with the goal of discovering how to reinvent yourself after the age of 50. One of the members of the group was just turning the magic number and I was hired as a sort of “dog and pony show” birthday present as part of a weekend celebration. I loved the idea and jumped at the opportunity. Having never been engaged professionally before to explore this topic, and with no prepared notes in the “can”, I decided to let my instincts lead me through this exercise.

I felt very comfortable with my decision, as experience has shown me that I access much better information when I speak extemporaneously. After all, this is a subject I have been exploring and writing about for years. Lucky for me I had a fourteen-year advantage of life experience on my side. Turning 50 had me changing life gears, so sharing the steps I took myself seemed like a safe avenue to explore in this venue. Thankfully this proved to be just the ticket.

The sun had all but set, and a blizzard was blowing wildly outside. There was little chance of distraction from the topic at hand. As this very informal and comfortable group settled into their overstuffed chairs, I began with a little background about me, and the journey I had taken. I had never met any one of these folks before, and the energy in the room was warm and intense. I knew I would need to stay focused in order to navigate a path for them to follow with clarity.

Once I finished my introductory remarks, I tossed the ball out to the group, asking them to let me know what each of them wanted from the brief time we would spend together. Two main themes quickly emerged. One was how to find one’s passion. The other was to discover what we are truly committed to – a surprisingly elusive treasure. As with most discussions I lead, I incorporate the Six Pillars of Civility framework into the process. In this particular journey the pillars that seemed most significant were those of compassion, awareness, gratitude, and encouragement.

Compassion for ourselves gives us permission to explore both new and hidden territory. So much happens to most of us at this time in our lives, that we may experience feelings of selfishness – how can we justify focusing on ourselves? We are so used to raising a family and establishing a career, that little time has been available to us for ourselves. The feeling can be very unsettling, so we must have compassion, and allow ourselves to follow our inner voice. That is how we will ultimately discover our true passion.

We must expand awareness. We need to emphasize the importance of paying attention. This is the next step in the process of discovery. When we open our eyes to infinite possibilities, the “yes buts” will fall away, allowing us to consider alternatives we had been putting off, and putting off, and putting off. We can begin to imagine how following our passion will satisfy us and influence those around us in a positive way.

Gratitude for the opportunity to take the next step along our path balances our joy of discovery and acceptance. And encouragement allows us to give ourselves a pat on the back. After all we’ve been putting others first for many years. The passage into our sixth decade provides us with a chance to put ourselves first for a change. We need to develop the confidence to enter these uncharted waters safely and gracefully.

Understanding what we are truly committed to is one of the toughest challenges we will ever encounter. On the surface it may seem simple, but if it were so simple why is the result so elusive; and why has it been so elusive for so many years? The answer lies in a quote I recently ran across by Brigitte Nicole: "All of life's lessons you have been through are only a preparation for what is about to happen in your life. If the experience brings you joy, much wisdom has prepared you for this journey. If it brings you sorrow, remember lessons will keep striking you at your weakest point because that's what needs most strengthening."

Simply put, we must look below the surface at the feelings the situations in our lives elicit to discover where our true commitment lies. Do we empower feelings of joy or put more of our energy into avoiding the feelings of sorrow? Whichever one we choose – and it is a matter of choice – we will find ourselves in circumstances that require us to support that choice.

Whatever changes we decide to make in our lives, we must learn to understand that these alterations require scheduling “me” time. We need to explore how to best find our revised paths, and discover fulfillment in our different roles. I hope we can all take the time we need for ourselves. In the end, this is the ticket to civility in our lives and in our communities.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Treating Mother Nature With Respect

As a young boy, I had the privilege of attending summer camp for eight weeks every year for five years. As for many of us who had similar opportunities, this was my first time away from home. I remember so much from that time as though it was only yesterday.  The camp was Pemigewassett, located on Lower Baker Lake in Wentworth, New Hampshire. As an eight year old, being thrust into an environment with total strangers, no hot water, and no en suite facilities was a surprisingly enjoyable experience. I loved every minute of it, and am happy to report the camp is alive and well, being managed by the same families that have owned and managed it for over 100 years!

I gravitated towards the Nature Lodge, where activities centered on collecting, identifying, and even breeding everything from Luna moths to Fern fronds to rocks and minerals.  I also enjoyed canoe trips down the Connecticut River, climbing the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, and many overnight camping trips. Although these activities were far from a boot camp like experience, they were opportunities to learn about respecting the natural environment – both its awesomeness as well as its fragility. We learned to leave a campsite in better ‘nick’ than when we arrived. Gaining a working knowledge of pitching a tent, building a campfire, and digging one’s own ‘toilet’ were all a part of these formative years.

There is no question in my mind that learning to respect our natural surroundings as well as our fellow human beings enhances our enjoyment of life. Climbing steep mountains carrying a seemingly heavy backpack to enjoy the view from the top was a foreign concept to me as a small boy. I doubt seriously if I would have enjoyed the experience as much were it not for the patches of wild mountain blueberries we stopped and munched along the way. We were careful not to take them all, not to trample any of them, and most importantly to savor where we were at that moment. Learning to appreciate all of what was immediately around me was very rewarding and has stayed with me my whole life.

Eventually we had to stop for the day and pitch tents or lay hemlock boughs on the dirt floor of an open lean to where we would sleep in our sleeping bags. We hiked in small groups of about a dozen, a counselor leading the way, and each of us carrying our fair share of the load, which consisted of enough food for the whole trip, assorted paper products, cooking pots, pans and utensils, a first aid kit, and a lot of candy bars. The more we matured through the summer months and enjoyed weekly outings; we couldn’t help but be in awe of the natural world.

Granted we learned best with the reward system of cleanest campsite gets the candy bar. But the main thing is that we learned to understand what stewardship means, why it is important to follow the rules, and how to do both of these things well. Perhaps having an appreciation from a young age of just what a responsible outdoorsman is sparked my keen interest in conservation.

Cleanliness is next to godliness in the woods, too. Today’s guidelines are far more stringent than they were 50 years ago. The principle remains the same. Leave your footprints with care; plan ahead, leaving no stone unturned in your planning; and take away every scrap of trash and pick up any that comes across your path.

From a pure etiquette point of view, follow the “when in Rome” rule. Before heading into a park or down a marked trail area, be sure to stop and read the signage explaining what hikers and campers may and may not do. This is important for our own safety and for the protection of the wilderness inhabitants. And, don’t forget to stop and smell the roses. The quiet that the deep woods afford can become alive with an orchestra of night sounds. This mingling of voices is magical. We are responsible to ensure these wonders of the natural world are here forever.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Your Home is Your Castle

A friend regularly posts a thought-provoking ‘Question of the Day’ on Facebook, challenging many of us to focus on a certain perspective we might have on some aspect of life. Recently, his question was “What makes a house a home?”

Like so many of us, I grew up in a house, not a home. I have been developing a clearer understanding about the differences between the two, and just how important it is to be aware of and understand those differences. Houses can be very lonely places, whereas homes are usually vibrant.

My answer to the question was life, love and few house rules. These three ideas underlie principles of respect, trust and encouragement. With these as the foundation, a house will transform into a loving nurturing home, where children can grow up with healthy physical, psychological and spiritual strengths. They will also grow up to be tomorrow’s leaders.

I am often asked questions about children returning to the nest, visitors overstaying their welcome, and family who have decided your vacation pad will suit them just fine for an extended holiday. The question is usually something like, “How do I tell them I don’t want them to come back home, without hurting their feelings?”  “How do I tell the brother I have not seen in several years that he can come for two days, but not a week, without hurting his feelings?” Or, “We don’t want unattended guests, or their pets in our vacation home because they make things so uncomfortable for us and are ill behaved, without hurting their feelings?” This tendency of being a doormat to the world is not required to live a fulfilled, good and happy life.

I answer these questions by stating that honesty is the best policy. If you cannot be clear in communicating with your friends and with your family, something is very wrong. Unfortunately, this is the case for many of us. We have busy lives – all of us. We have limitations on our time, and we deserve our privacy. We have friends who act disrespectfully when they come to visit, and we don’t appreciate that. But something blocks us from saying no. What is it?

We are afraid we will lose their friendship; they will think we are rude; they will think we don’t care; and on the list goes. The fact of the matter is that if everyone used some common sense and followed The Golden Rule, we wouldn’t anticipate and feel these fears nearly as deeply. From an early age, it is important to teach children that there should be no secrets, and that expressing how you feel is important and essential. There is no other way for people to know how we feel, and how their actions affect us unless we speak up.

There will be plenty of times when we may not be in the mood to entertain or to share our vacation home. But, there are also times when we need to reconsider our position. After all, we raise our children to do as we do, for better or for worse. This is the way societies are formed and maintained. We follow the leader, more or less. Sadly, in this politically correct fast-paced world, slowing down to reconsider our position is easier said than done. Therefore, a conscious effort must be made. It’s a reasonable practice to consider putting ourselves in the other person’s shoes. But don't presume to wear those shoes before you have clearly stated your position as a host and friend.

Sharing our home is part of what makes a house a home. However, our home is our castle, and as such, deserves respect first and foremost. If we do not have guidelines for how we run our household, chaos can easily ensue. Having an open door policy might be a generous gesture, until you suddenly want your privacy. Parameters for privacy are the basis for creating and maintaining a home that is comfortable for its occupants, and will be welcoming for those visiting.

Once you have invited guests, remember that people appreciate house rules more than we realize. With guidelines in place, we don’t need to wonder or second-guess how a host likes things done. If, for example, you don’t want shedding dogs on your furniture, and your son’s new girlfriend owns a hairy dog, you need to be firm and explain that the dog is not to be on the furniture. If you don’t want to make your two daughters share a room in order to accommodate a visiting relative, be very clear and tell the prospective visitor(s) that you cannot accommodate them. You should feel no shame or guilt for adhering to your rules. You must learn to say NO. The anxiety of unwanted visitors and houseguests is just not worth being sick over or put out.

Mutual respect, caring for one another, and encouraging everyone to do their best is what makes a home welcoming, safe and nurturing. Like any community, no matter how large or small, households run more smoothly with house rules. When everyone lives by the rules of the house, there is very little room for misunderstandings, fears or resentments. The home becomes and remains a place for compassion, good times and love.

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Email Etiquette

Settling into 21st Century technology is not without its challenges. It’s not as though developing the computer is akin to discovering a new variety of apple (no pun intended); life on planet Earth has changed forever. With big changes come long periods of adjustment. We are currently in the throes of just such a period now. Just when we think we’ve got everything figured out about one aspect of technology, another new issue springs up.

Such is the case today with email etiquette. Because emails travel almost at the speed of light – who knows, maybe even faster – many of us have come to believe that responses to our emails should be equally lightening fast. This is, however, simply not the case. And this annoys some people almost to the point of distraction.

I received an email recently from a close friend who was pointing out that I hadn’t responded to the emails he had sent recently. Although this was at face value a simple statement of fact, I could feel the irritation this friend was harboring because the anticipated response was not forthcoming in a manner that he felt was timely. Whether his intention was to lay a guilt trip on me or not, that was the effect it had. As I have suggested many times before, we must take responsibility for our feelings, so laying blame on my friend for my feelings of guilt is not appropriate. This exchange does however point out a dynamic that may recalculate our approach to email.

Here are a few thoughts.

If you are going to have an email address and you are going to share it with friends and colleagues, you need to be prepared to monitor it. Allowing emails to build up unanswered is annoying in some cases. Not all emails need a response. I get a lot of emails forwarded to me by friends thinking I will be entertained. I receive numerous announcements and news flashes, none of which need any action at all. I do receive emails however, which do require a timely response, sometimes an immediate one. Those are the ones I focus on, especially if my day is full. Although such emails often require more attention than I can immediately give them, a quick response letting the sender know that their email has been received, and will be answered as quickly as possible, will usually relieve any anxiety.

Don’t give people ‘stuff to do’. Unless you are giving a directive because that is your role as boss, mother, coach, etc., we cannot be expected to just drop everything we are doing to answer an email. By lowering our expectations on when or how an email we send out will be answered, we relieve pressure from both sides. Remember that we have very little idea of what is occupying someone else’s time. Chalk up tardy responses to more pressing demands.

Important emails should still be handled as quickly as possible; even if it means writing to tell the sender that a complete response will be coming shortly. Emails are here to stay. Adjusting to a life with emails is the reality for many of us, but not for all of us. Those of us who skate through life without the ‘benefit’ of technology are not to be scorned. Frankly, I find it refreshing. But for those of us who are entrenched in technology, following established protocols is best. For example, we should try to respond to emails within 24 hours of their receipt. Any communication initiated by email should be answered by email, including business correspondence, invitations, and solicitations we wish to acknowledge.

Those of us who delight in sharing emails about matters of personal interest, political views, or breathtaking photography should not expect a response, nor is one required. If we no longer want to be subjected to such emails, we need to speak up and ask that we be removed from future email lists. Although we may be reticent to request such removal for fear of offending the sender, keep in mind that you are the one being offended in the first place. Alternatively, deleting such emails or tossing them into your junk folder may curb the deluge of such emails. There is always email spam or blocker, too.

We are all still adjusting to this new form of communication. As with most things in life, intentions are rarely meant to be inconsiderate, annoying, or inconvenient. Knowing that a mailbox full of unanswered emails can produce anxiety and irritation in us, let’s do our best not to add to the problem. Think before pressing the send button!