Monday, October 30, 2006

Patience's verb: waiting (ie. Road Rage)

How is it that some people just do not understand waiting? Waiting is the verb behind the fundamentally important human trait of patience. We all do it, every day. I cannot possibly imagine how horrible life must be for people without patience. Today's world would literally drive you insane.

This morning while driving to work, there is a one lane section of road that gets backed up a half mile or so by a small stoplight. The line of cars ahead was slowing, so I came to a stop before crossing into an uncontrolled intersection. I left a few car lengths between me and the car in front of me so that other cars could still use the intersection, since I wasn't going to be able to move much further anyway.

The car behind me honked.

A few cars went through the intersection and when the line ahead of me started up, I started moving. Since we would all be stuck through 2 or 3 more iterations of the stoplight (still about a half mile away), I was still trailing the car ahead of me by a good 8 or so car lengths.

The car behind me honked again.

Apparently, I was not following close enough for the liking of the driver behind me. So, I did what any rational driver would do. I calmly rolled down my window, and showed her my longest finger.

100 yards later, someone was trying to come out of a driveway into our half mile line of cars. Normally there is roughly a 25% chance that I would let him in. Today, obviously, that chance rose to 100%.

Shortly thereafter, I approached the light and moved to the left a little (mind you this is still a one lane road) in anticipation of turning left at the light. The car behind me started to squeeze by on the right, then subtly attempted to move back in front of me, all while driving less than 2 feet off the bumper of the car in front of me. THE CAR WAS PASSING ME ON A ONE LANE ROAD OF BUMPER TO BUMPER TRAFFIC.

I leaned on the horn for a full 5 seconds.

The light turned green and I accelerated. My nemesis next to me accelerated. I slowed down to match the pace of the car in front of me trying to turn left. My nemesis slowed down to be even with me. At this point there were no cars in front of her...they had all gone straight through when the light turned green.

She rolled down her window as we both sped up. I turned left and never saw her again.

Now, it doesn't take a genius to figure out that it's no faster for me to be riding the ass of the car in front of me. We're all going to get there at the same moment. THIS WOMAN WAS WILLING TO GET INTO A FIGHT WITH ME, A TOTAL STRANGER, BECAUSE I WAS NOT DRIVING CLOSE ENOUGH TO ANOTHER CAR.

Impatience defined. Maybe it was that insanity I mentioned earlier.

I am usually able to stay calm, but this got me a little worked up. I can't even say why exactly, because a large part of me thought it was pretty funny how easily this woman was bent out of shape.

I understand being impatient. It sucks waiting in line for stuff. It sucks being put on hold. There will be hundreds and thousands of times in your life that you will have to wait. Most of the time, it is beyond your control. What is the point of getting impatient? This woman ruined her entire drive to work (and mine) just so she could try to get to work a few seconds faster.

If you can remove yourself from a situation that repeatedly makes you impatient, do so. If you can't? Well then, you'll just have to wait patiently with the rest of us.

Don't let "stuff" keep track of your memories

Why is it that we keep things? I have all sorts of things lying around that I only think I'll have some use for in the future. Odds are though, I won't. I've got books on my shelves, shirts in my closets, and old letters in my basement.

It's hard to get rid of things that have personal meaning to us. We look ahead to that day, years down the road when we pick it up again, and it brings back memories. However, for that moment to have true meaning, we need to have already ignored the item for years.

I move a lot, and because of this, I often find myself throwing away things that I realize I've been keeping for years. If I owned a house, I would have been able to keep most of that stuff, but would I be any better off? In the end, sadly, most of it just becomes stuff.

Certain things I would never throw away, like photographs. I'm not sure why these have a special exemption. They are small, easy to keep, and can tell a story at least as well as any other bunch of stuff could. Except perhaps, a journal.

The only time I've really kept a journal was when I spent a month in Thailand. It's one of those items that I just have lying around and can never seem to find the right place for. I pick it up occasionally and am so thankful to have written it. Together with just a few photos, it paints an almost perfect picture of my trip, and who I was at the time.

I've recently started to write more things down. Believe me, it's hard to stay current and disciplined. But years from now, I will be able to look back at all the wonderful things I've done, the people who've come and gone, and see how I've changed.

will be worth so much more than all that "stuff" I've been keeping.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Uninhibited for a Day

Last night, the streets were filled with costumed adults heading to and from parties and bars. At one point, a guy dressed like Robin jumped in front of the restaurant window I was sitting behind, and posed for the 4 or 5 tables within view. Then in a flash he was gone. We were all left smiling and amused.

It made me wish I saw things like that more often. Halloween gives you a license to be goofy and silly in public. People get away with things they wouldn't normally do, and everyone seems a bit happer.

A friend of mine was recently detailing her experience last Halloween. Over the course of her 30 minute walk across town, people of all shapes and sizes were coming up to her, introducing themselves, telling stories, asking about her costume, being goofy, and just about any other good natured interaction you could imagine. It was one of her most fun and memorable nights in years.

I had a similar experience a few years ago. I literally made friends with two different groups of total strangers that night, and had conversations with many other people. People who would have just walked right on by if it were any other night of the year.

Now I realize that it isn't practical to just talk to random people every day of your life, or you'd never be able to get where you were going. But why is it that a random conversation or kidding around with someone in line while buying a cup of coffee makes us so happy? It makes us feel safe and connected with the world around us.

If we enjoy it so much, why does it happen so infrequently? Why don't we just strike up conversations with strangers more often. Why not talk to the person next to you on the bus or subway? Neither of you have anything better to do (except perhaps withdraw into the comfort of an iPod or a book), and really, you could tell them anything because you'll probably never see them again.

I was reminded of the time about a year and a half ago, when I bought a giant stuffed dog at the Salvation Army. This dog was about 4 or 5 feet tall, so I had to carry it around on my back. I had other errands to run, so I was walking around my neighborhood like this for a good 20 minutes. I even went into a fast food joint and ordered some lunch.

If you've ever wanted to make people happy, I highly recommend doing this. Literally, I'd say about 90% of everyone who noticed me got this giant smile on their face. I instantly made friends with the people behind the counter. I felt like I was making people's day.

How can something so simple make people happy? And if it's so simple, why don't we do or see things like this more often?

There's no reason every day can't be a little bit more like Halloween.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Big Change vs. Little Change

Is it enough to just enjoy life? Have you ever talked to someone whose future plans include "saving the environment" or "working with refugees" or even "getting involved in local government"? I have to say, I'm always pretty impressed. Regardless of whether they accomplish those things or not, it's still pretty damn noble to even be considering something like that.

So where does that leave the rest of us?

I honestly don't know why I'm not more interested making a difference outside the scope of my immediate influence. Sometimes, it's downright bothersome. If I'm not out there, making the most of my talents for the greater good, aren't I just a waste of space? It's hard not to let those thoughts creep in every once in a while.

While thinking about this a year or two ago, I finally was able to convince myself that I am making a difference, just on a much smaller scale. Much of what I am proud of is the example I set for friends and family with the person I am, and the values I represent.

Granted, this is not something I do consciously. In truth, it's probably just how I convince myself that it's okay not to aspire to widespread do-goodery. I only make small changes.

It's surprisingly easy to make a small difference in someone's life. Over time, it all starts to add up to something big.

I guess it's just like everything else in life. Each step you take is no big deal. Then one day you look back at how far you've come.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

You are not your favorite TV show

After almost three grueling weeks, this "fun fact" was given to me by one of my co-workers:

"My favorite TV shows are CSI Miami, Grey's Anatomy, and Meduim."
She had outwardly agonized over it to me on several occasions. But with her, it was different. It wasn't a "pity me" or a "quit bugging me" kind of tone. No. It felt like a "help me". Like a: "this shouldn't possibly be this hard".

She had been talking about it the night before with her new husband. They couldn't, for the life of them, come up with anything interesting to say about her. "I guess I don't do much outside of work anymore," she lamented. With other people who couldn't give me an answer, it was I who was disheartened. This time, it was her.

I'm starting to get really curious. Like I've discovered some sort of ultimate personality test. Just ask someone to tell you something interesting about their life, past or present. Apparently, some people cannot do it. And I suspect the way they respond will tell you a lot about who they are.

Along those lines, I find that I'm often disappointed by my response when someone asks me "what's new?" My instinct is always to immediately say "not much." Some of that comes from the fact that, while I don't dislike talking about myself, I am never particularly eager to do it. It's not for any specific reason though, other than I don't need to do it the way some other people do.

The contradiction is that I hate how no one ever seems to give me a halfway interesting response when I ask them the same question. Is it because we all assume that those small things that have happened in the last few days are probably not interesting to the person who just asked? For working adults, are those big interesting things so far apart that we cannot quickly recall them to satisfy a friend's curiosity?

The irony of course, is that we all consistently give the most uninteresting response possible when we say, "oh, not much."

Maybe that's all it takes to make great conversation? When someone asks what you've been up to, instead of hemming and hawing (because you don't want to talk about yourself, or because you don't think your response will be interesting to them, or because...), tell them the truth, even if you don't think it sounds interesting.

Maybe the difference between boring and interesting is nothing more than a bit of conversational salesmanship?

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Future Pessimism


It's another one of those things we could all just do without. The truth is, worry really only falls into two categories:

  1. Something you don't have control over.
  2. Something you do have control over.

Let's start with the first. Perhaps it's too obvious to point out that there really isn't any point in worrying about something that you have no control over. But I'll say it anyway: worrying about something you have no control over is pointless.

Will a bomb drop out of the sky onto my head? Will I get sick from food poisoning? Will my local sports team win this week? Will I lose my job because my company went bankrupt? What if this plane crashes? These are all speculations about worst case scenarios that are nothing more than a waste of energy and sanity.

Worry is being pessimistic about the future.

If you have some sort of upcoming event or confrontation that is worrying you, the best you can do is to be prepared. Aside from that, all the thinking in the world isn't going to get you anywhere.

But most worry, you can do something about. Why? Because usually, worry is just unresolved conflict building up inside of you. Feeling bad about something you said to a friend recently? Worry is what happens when you don't talk to them about it. Unsure if you and your significant other are on the same page? Worry is what happens when you don't talk to them about it.

I recently had a problem with a friend who had agreed to split the cost of something with me, but then backed out when I tried to collect. It wasn't a ton of money, but it really upset me because the way everything unfolded made me feel like we weren't actually friends at all.

I knew I would have to talk to him about it, and thus I began to worry about the eventual confrontation. But I haven't had a lot of practice worrying, and I'm not very good at it. As a result, I was really anxious. The solution? Get it over with as soon as possible. Have the confrontation. I could either sit around worrying about it, or get things off my chest and out of my worry inbox.

You can probably guess what happened. As soon as we talked it out, and I felt much better. The issue wasn't resolved, but I make my case as strongly as I could, and after that, it was out of my hands. It was something I wasn't justified in worrying about anymore.

Next time you are worrying about something, ask yourself why. Why are you worried? What will worrying accomplish? Is there some way you can turn that worry into something productive? Prepare yourself for the upcoming task? Be honest with a friend?

Motivate yourself into action, if for no other reason than to clear out that stressful worry inbox of yours.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Are you living on dreams or expectations?

The only difference between dreams and expectations is that it's okay when your dreams don't come true.

Expectations are unnecessary goals that we (or others) set for ourselves. Why are they unnecessary? Because they are set with the assumption that they will be reached, putting us in a no-win situation. Why? Since we "expect" to reach the goal, succeeding gives us no feeling of accomplishment. Failing to reach expectations is, well -- a letdown.

Expectations are a strange thing. Take marriage for example. A lot of people I know "expect" to get married more than they "want" to get married. Why? Well, I believe part of the reason is that it is hard to truly "want" to get married if you haven't found that special person yet. The reason that people expect to get married is because that's the way it is in our society. We were raised in families that were (usually) the result of marriage. We see it everywhere in life, and from a very young age, we expect that is the way things will turn out.

It's easy to see how devastating it could be for someone to be (still) unmarried at 40. Do they "want" to get married? Maybe. But I will bet that much more of their disappointment comes from the fact that, all of their life, they have been expecting marriage. This expectation leads everyone to think that marriage and kids are "right" for them, when in many cases, it just isn't true. They are mistaking expectations for true feelings.

Expectations set upon us by other people are even worse. In some cases, they compound our own expectations (if your parents and friends are also expecting you to get married). When other people have expectations for us that we don't share, their expectations often become expectations for ourselves.

Family and friends are important, don't get me wrong. But whose life are you living? No one's but your own. We cannot let other people's ideas for what our lives are supposed to be start to dictate our actions and feelings. We can only feel truly accomplished by reaching dreams that we set for ourselves.

What do we get from expectations? Expectations are good for helping to confuse and blur the line between what we truly want, and what we only think we want.

Wouldn't life be a whole lot easier if we only had dreams? Nothing to lose, and everything to gain.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Music to my ears

Someone recently asked my why I listen to "angry" music.


I do? Hmmm. Well...maybe. Yes that I think about it...I suppose I do. (Honestly, this was news to me)

Why though? Don't bitter, unhappy people listen to dark, angry music? I have no idea. If I had to guess though, I would expect that people listen to music that most closely associates with their mood most of the time. For me though, it seems to be the opposite. I'm rarely angry or sad, but somehow, I listen to that stuff almost exclusively.

One reason is that I like music with meaning and sincerity. As someone who has written a few songs, I'll share something that I learned: it is really, really hard to write genuine, non-cheesy songs about being happy.

No one ever feels the need to express their happiness by sitting down and writing a song. They're outside, they're sharing that moment with someone else, and further building on that happiness.

Sad people sit alone in the candlelight, writing tortuous poetry, agonizing over the perfect way to describe their broken heart, unrequited love, pain and suffering.

When I'm full of energy, I crank up the mood music and scream along with the uptempo songs. My mood stands outgainst the lyrics I'm wailing and makes me unique - I am happy. When I'm sad, I listen to the slower stuff. Rather than using it as an excuse to wallow in misery, I think of it as validation - I am not alone.

No matter how sincere and focused the songwriter, if you take a step back, they only illuminate that we all have the same problems. Stress, self-image, money, and most of all: Love. There is something comforting about that shared moment of loneliness, even if it's just you and the sound in your headphones.

In that moment, it's not just sound. It's comfort. It's understanding. It's validation. Somehow, it's happiness.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Everyone is interesting, right?

At work, in an effort to personalize our service a bit more, I'm asking people to send me their "fun fact" that will go on our website next to their name. You'd think this would be easy...

I sent out the email to 14 people. 5 responded. Two weeks later, I sent it again, and 3 more people responded. You would not believe how much of a fight people put up about this. At first, I thought it was because they didn't want to be bothered, or because they didn't want to "brag" about themselves. Believe it or not though, 3 of them (so far) have actively complained to me that they have "nothing interesting" to say about their lives.

Of course, I refused to believe them. Two eventually caved (after giving them shit about it many, many times over the course of the two weeks) and gave me fairly interesting responses: one had been to 25 Aerosmith concerts in 7 states, and the other had skied 5 different states in a 10 day trip. After pressing the third holdout, I wished I hadn't.

I honestly believe that she thinks there is nothing interesting to say about her life past or present. I said to her, "So, when someone asks you about your life you tell them 'I go to work, go home and eat dinner, then go to bed' and she replied "Yes, and deal with my miserable children" (who are all highschool and older). I still don't believe her, but to me, the fact that this is how she views her life is very, very sad. Can you imagine someone being unable to tell you anything interesting about their life?

What must this person think of themself? What do they dream about? What fond memories do they look back upon? How could they possibly be happy?

Everyone should have at least a few interesting things to say about their life, right? Isn't that what makes life worth living?

What's your fun fact?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Why we are the way we are

Are you happy today? I don't mean at this exact instant in the course of your day. Take a step back, are you happy with your life? Do you like who you are? Do you like the people in your life? Are you thankful for what you have?

This is why I never understood regret. Everything that has happened in my life has led me to today. Everything that I have experienced, the places I've been, and the people that have come and gone, are all responsible for who I am today.

A wrong turn along the way means a right turn somewhere down the road. Bad experiences build character, and teach us how to handle similar problems and situations that will arise again.

If you have something you regret from your past, how would your life be different today? How would you be different? Would you be happier? If you could be happier, why not start taking steps in that direction?

Regret is living in the past. Happiness is living in the present.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Letting go without saying goodbye

More on change.

I haven't talked to them in years. We saw each other less often, some of which was circumstantial, and the visits were less enjoyable. I wasn't sure why. Then one day it became clear.

We were different now.

They were jaded and bitter. I was not. Although the change was probably gradual, I hadn't even noticed. Then all of the sudden, I was over it. I couldn't relate to their attitude, and it affected every conversation. We had nothing to talk about. We were no longer friends.

Maybe this happens all the time. People just stop being friends. No fight, no confrontation. It's just over.

I wonder if those two are still bitter and hopeless? I'm sure they've changed by now, but then again, so have I.

Change comes from within

They always say that you can't change a person. It's true.

You can nudge someone into making small changes (the first trivial example that comes to mind is: putting the toilet seat down), but no one can make big changes until they are ready. I have known for a long time that I am lazy about getting certain things done, and I love to procrastinate. Well, truthfully I don't love it, in fact, I probably hate it. But for years, it has been something that I just can't seem to stop doing. Part of the problem was that at first, I didn't see it as something that needed to be changed. Even finally admitting to myself that I needed to change wasn't enough. I had to want to change.

Finally, years later, I notice myself doing things that I never would have done before. Paying bills right when I get them, instead of waiting till the last moment. When someone asks me for a favor with no time constraint, I do it almost right away, because I know that otherwise I'll forget.

I'm realizing that it feels better to operate this way. The old me would have some sort of distant task to do, and it would pop into my head every few days. Remember me. Remember me. Remember me. Doing it right away clears out my mental inbox, and ultimately makes me happier.

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Why we need time apart

I still remember exactly what Mrs. Roller said to us in 7th grade sex ed...uh....wait, maybe I don't. But the paraphrased version sounds something like this:
It's Infatuation, not Love, when you can't stand being apart.
I appreciate time apart, being alone, because it helps to reaffirm that everything is still right in my life. The funny thing is that I never intend to sit down and have these mini-moments of clarity, but those thoughts always seem to sneak in anyway. It'd be easier to describe if I felt like I needed some time apart. But I don't.

Nonetheless, it's like sitting on the beach in the sunshine, watching the waves slowly roll in...and then just when you think the day can't get any better, this warm breeze starts blowing gently and you can't help but smile. That subtle change makes you realize, this isn't just a pretty view, it's something you are a part of.

When the breeze goes away, everything feels a little better somehow. It's a reminder to cherish each moment. A reminder not to take being together for granted.