Thursday, February 14, 2013

Are You Living a Life of Creative Tension?

This morning while reading I came across this quote by E.B. White:

“If the world were merely seductive, that would be easy. If it were merely challenging, that would be no problem. But I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

That space between seeking to improve the world and seeking to enjoy it is something I grapple with every day. People challenge me that by focusing so much on personal greatness and changing the world I must not be able to relax and be content. The opposite is true; well, at least about the contentment, I'm working on relaxing.

Between improving and enjoying the world is the creative tension which allows for a powerful, fulfilled life.

As I write this there is a crystal clear azure sky as the sun rises over the ocean in Asbury Park. The street below my window is awash in contrasts of color and white from the light snowfall last night. How can you not be enamoured by a world like this? How can you not enjoy these moments, breathe them in deeply into the fabric of your being and hope against hope that you carry them through a modicum of your day?

And then there is the clarion call of positive change. The day rolls out in front of you with endless possibilities to offer a smile or a laugh, to cheer up someone who is dejected and bring out the best in everyone, especially yourself. That challenge is what gets the blood flowing and the heart racing.

To see your hand on the world around you as it moves toward the good is an amazing thing.

So, I don't intend to shirk from the seductive yet challenging world around us and I hope you won't either. It is what gives my life meaning and vigor. To embrace the wonder of this world, yet to desire to improve it for all people is the ultimate greatness project, and it awaits us each day as we rise to meet it.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Can Ash Wednesday Lead to Personal Greatness?

“Excellence is not an act, it is a habit.” (concept attributed to Aristotle)

Today is Ash Wednesday. For many Christians this means the beginning of Lent and a time to give up some bad habits or to create some good ones. For non-christians it is the day they often see Christians walking around with what looks like dirt on their foreheads. But Christian or not, it behooves any of us to reflect on the habits we have and decide if they are benefiting us. If not, we have the chance to change them.

I’m currently reading

The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg

and I’m intrigued already. Early in the book it is estimated that 40% of our day is driven by our habits. We don’t think about what we are doing, we are on auto-pilot. These habits develop over time to make it easier for the brain to function. For example, once you master driving a car you don’t really think about all of the various actions involved anymore. (that definitely explains some of the drivers on the NJ Turnpike). But think about it. Arethe habits we have helping to unleashing our personal greatness?

The quote ”Excellence is not an act, it is a habit” is attributed to Aristotle because he believed that the culmination of life should be achieving excellence in all we do. Excellence would bring us a true happiness that no one could take away. Aristotle also believed that it was not one act that achieved excellence, but a lifetime of habits.

I’m not going to write how to change bad habits, or create good ones. At least not yet. But just for today take a moment and think. Are my behaviors, choices, and decisions leading me to unleashing my best? Or are their some bad habits that get in the way of my best? I know I have habits of checking Facebook or emails right in the middle of writing, or eating something so I have the excuse not to go to the gym, or allowing comments to affect my passion and dedication.

The first step in any change is awareness. Identify the habits that get in the way, notice what triggers them and what reward you get out of them. This might be the perfect day to start.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Be Yourself, It's a Great Idea

“Just cut it all off” I said as I walked into the salon. Ray just looked at me and said “you’reImagekidding, right?” Affirming that I was serious, I got my first buzz cut since I was about six. It felt great and is so easy. Friends and family were a little shocked at first, but eventually got use to it. I’ve always been a bit vain about my hair, so I think it took people by surprise, but it was the “real” me coming out. I just love the ease of no hair. 
Psychology Today published an article (I lost the article, so forgive the lack of reference) on regret noting that when people who had terminal illnesses were interviewed they regretted two things. The first was that they had not been authentic to themselves. The second was that they wish they had not spent so much time working. I’ve heard the second regret so often I’m almost tired of it. But the first regret got my attention. 
We live in a society that demands certain behaviors in order to “fit in.” Standards of common courtesy are fine, we need them to function in large groups. However, when the standards and expectations begin to pressure us to act or dress in ways just to please others, we are being pulled away from our own personal greatness. The challenge is trying to understand who we really are and what we really believe. 
I’ve discovered there is only one way to fully understand your uniqueness and live it out. Slow down! Not great advice coming from someone who likes to live at 90 miles an hour. But I’ve found that especially when that little voice of warning, judgement, or fear goes off in my head, it’s time to slow down, not make any quick decisions and think about what is pressuring me to act in a certain way. 
Sometimes I’m acting a certain way to please others, or fit in. Other times it might be that I don’t want to “rock the boat.” Whatever the reason I’ve found that being fully aware of the moment, mindfulness, helps me choose my next step and be happier with it. 
All of us were placed here with unique gifts and talents. We have a powerful, personal impact to make on the world. How great it is when people allow that unique gift to come through. It is something you won’t live to regret. 

Friday, February 8, 2013

Are You Ready For "Life Storms?"

"There is no such thing as bad weather, only inappropriate clothes."  Scandinavian Proverb

As the East Coast of the US braces for a massive snowstorm and all of the weather forecasters become apoplectic in their frenzy, I was reminded last night of some of the important lessons we can learn from dealing with weather. At dinner a friend told us that in his experience "most people came in to the store to buy the essentials only after the snow started falling." By then it was usually too late. 

Let's face it, we all have rough times in our lives; we might call them "life storms". So how do we prepare? Well, just think about a snowstorm. Here is my short list of things to have ready. 

1. Do you have enough food? Food is critical to survive, especially in difficult times. What feeds you during life storms? Do you need creative time, time alone, or time with others? Do you find that books give you support, or do you need time for prayer? Your "food" is whatever sustains you through difficult times, gives you the courage to continue and the desire to see things through. The most important lesson is to have all of this prepared BEFORE the storm hits. 

2. Do you have a safe place? In a storm, most of us can stay in our homes, but we have to prepare them for continued warmth if the power goes off. Where is a "safe" place for you when life storms hit? Do you have a quiet place in your home, office, church or park where you can sit and feel safe? Have a place prepared where you can think through all that is happening. 

3. Do you have the appropriate clothes? I now have a water-proof winter coat that is really warm and I don't worry about the outside temperature. For life storms having the appropriate clothes means knowing the positive attitudes, strengths and skills that you can use in any situation. Taking time to build up your "wardrobe" of positivity allows you to deal with most challenging situations. 

4. Do you have a good shovel? Let's face it, after any storm, it's important to recreate connection with the outside world. In life storms the same rule applies. Who can you call when things are difficult? Who is in your network of family and friends that is your touchstone to the outside world? Keep them close for when you need them. 

Life storms, unlike major nor'easters, often come without warning. There is no better time to stock up and prepare for the next one. And in the meantime, if you are waiting for this coming storm, get ready. 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Risk Being "Un-liked"

You may have noticed that I took a little time off from my blogging. Or, you may not have noticed at all. Actually I took time off from all of it; the writing, speaking, and pushing people to move toward unleashing their personal greatness. I was done. Or so I told myself. I'm really good at talking myself in and out of things. This time it worked. I talked myself out of doing what I love to do. And to be honest it wasn't that hard because I convinced myself that no one cared.

Now before you go thinking this is a pity party, it isn't. I'm quite capable of throwing my own party complete with streamers and balloons. And I'm content to enjoy the party by myself; it makes the pity that much easier. No, this is about an important realization for me and I hope for some of you.

What is it that you believe in enough to keep doing when no one is there? What are you so passionate about that when others walk away, you will keep doing it? That is possibly where you will find your personal greatness.

Over the past couple of months, after I stopped writing, I found I couldn't stop thinking about personal greatness. Even though I'd convinced myself that no one cared and it was ridiculous to waste my time on this. I thought I'd move on to other things only to find myself thinking about, reading about and talking about unleashing greatness.

Examining individuals who succeed in almost any field, they willingly pursue what is important to them even when no one else cares, no one is looking and no one is cheering them on. They can't stop. There is almost an irrational drive to pursue something. And this is what sets them apart.

We live in a world of "likes," "followers," and "friends" where we easily judge our work and our lives on how people respond to them. It is tempting to follow the voices. Yet, when you willingly toil on your own; when you believe it something so much that you risk the "un-like" of your friends and acquaintances  you just may have found what you are meant to bring to this world.