Thursday, March 31, 2011

Purpose I: Disciple

Welcome to our continuing series of "Let's Make a New Life", based on Craft the Life You Want: Creating a Blueprint for Your Future at artofmanliness.com. Today's exercise, based on yesterday's prioritization of roles, is to define a purpose for each role.

How do we do this, you may ask? Simple. Taking a page for Stephen Covey's The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, essentially one needs to write an obituary for each role. Imagine it is your funeral and you're attending. Various family members, co-workers, social connections, and other parts or members of your life are there. What is it that you would like them to say about you?

Fine then. Going from the top of the list (let me unroll it here), I see the first role identified as the most important role is that of Disciple. For myself, that means being a follower of Jesus. So, what do I want people to say about the witness of my life after I die:

"I want my family and friends to say that I had lived my life as an authentic Christian - not just someone who had the label and went to church on Sunday, but someone who actually practiced (to the best of his ability) the teachings and commandments of Christ, who had a real relationship with God, who made the concept of a loving and holy God credible, who could be a Christian and at the same time be a real person."

Okay. Sort of a tall order as I look at it there. However, for this one role, there is one other person that needs to be consulted: God. He's actually the One majorly involved, not me. What do I want God to say about the witness of my life after I die:

"Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter thou into the joy of thy Master."

As I write this words, I find myself a bit overcome by what I'm proposing. Do I mean this? Do I really mean this? Or is it just something I am writing because that's what I'm "supposed" to write?

I don't think it's the latter - but it sure overwhelms me if it's the former.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Roles II

Okay. So today as Step Two of deciding on my roles (to prepare for goals, of course!), I have to prioritize what I do (again, this exercise based on the incredibly helpful Craft the Life You Want: Creating a Blueprint for Your Future at artofmanliness.com).

As a reminder, here are my roles listed yesterday:

- Husband
- Father
- Son
- Brother
- Friend
- Manager
- Employee
- Counselor
- Author
- Gardener
- Swordsman
- Renter
- Musician
- Dreamer
- Entrepreneurial Agriculturalist
- Disciple
- Scholar

That should be 17 (Hang on, let me count - yup, 17). Great. So all I have to do is prioritize them.

But how do I prioritize them? That's kind of the rub. Do I prioritize them as they way they are now or the way I would like them to be? Those are two very different lists. Here's what it would look like now:

1. Employee
2. Manager
3. Husband
4. Father
5. Counselor
6. Disciple
7. Author
8. Friend
9. Swordsman
10. Son
11. Brother
12. Renter
13. Gardener
14. Dreamer
15. Scholar
16. Musician
17. Entrepreneurial Agriculturalist

That's hardly the way I want my life to work - but if I'm honest, that's how it's stacked right now. You'll notice how prominent work related things are - that can't possibly be right (but it is really true)! And disciple (in my case, a disciple of Christ) is way, way down on the list. The things that give me joy (Dreamer, Scholar, Musician, Entrepreneurial Agriculturalist) are also at the bottom.
Perhaps this explains the great disconnect in my life.

Is there anything I could get rid of? Don't know. Maybe "Renter" - but that would just transfer to "Homeowner" at some point, unless I included it where I'm an "Entrepreneurial Agriculturalist". "Son" and "Brother" are, at this moment, a little less of a day to day thing because of our location in New Home - but critical none the less.

Okay, so there is nothing I feel I could remove from this list. So then what would I like the list to look like?

1. Disciple
2. Husband
3. Father
4. Author
5. Son
6. Brother
7. Friend
8. Entrepreneurial Agriculturalist
9. Counselor
10. Swordsman
11. Musician
12. Scholar
13. Dreamer
14. Gardener
15. Renter
16. Employee
17. Manager

That's quite a shift, isn't it: frankly, I don't really like..let's say value being a renter, employee or manager. Hmm, that's sort of interesting.

If you pull those last three, I suddenly see where others could be combined as well. "Counselor" could role into "Friend" (I do a lot of counseling at work right now), and "Gardener" could be rolled into "Entrepreneurial Agriculturalist". That would leave me with 12 roles instead of 17 - quite a doable thing.

Now for the next task: Defining a purpose for each role.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Roles

Okay. It's a New Year (Okay, technically, we're three months in). Time to pick up where we left off in December about New Year's Resolutions and getting moving on the path of living (yes, I know I'm late to the party. Cut me a bit of slack here. It's been a confused quarter).

The motivator? Twofold: 1) Lus a' Chrom Chinn and here suggestion of articles at http://www.artofmanliness.com/.
2) The realization that I am at the whim of events rather than controlling them.

The basis for today's study will be the article Craft the Life You Want: Creating a Blueprint for Your Future at the http://www.artofmanliness.com/ by Brett McKay (proprietor of the site). To start: decide on your roles.

Well, that was quite a thing. Make a list of each and every role that you fill, and then number them based on importance. A fairly simple task to start out with, but as I completed the list I realized that there was a lot more going on in my life that I thought.

My list (in no particular order):
- Husband
- Father
- Son - Brother
- Friend
- Manager
- Employee
- Counselor
- Author
- Gardener
- Swordsman
- Renter
- Musician
- Dreamer
- Entrepreneurial Agriculturalist
- Disciple
- Scholar

That's 17 for those of you without a program. 17 different roles? Ye saints and martyrs! No wonder I feel pulled in 52 (well, really 17) different directions. That's a heck of a lot of roles to fill in one individual.

Some of them are less difficult, of course (Renter: Pay rent on time, make sure yard looks good, take care of house). Some of them (Father of three girls) are so freakishly complex they make my head spin. Some of them (Swordsman) are possibly impractical (except for what I learn from them). And some of them (Entrepreneurial Agriculturalist) are remarkably in the future.

But if I look at that list, that's probably right. I'm a sum total of 17 different parts of my life. Great. Now that I've made the list, what do I do with it? Prioritize, of course. List which are more important and which are less so - and then I'll look to see if some can be combined/cut.

But that's for tomorrow. For today, what are the roles that you play?

Monday, March 28, 2011

Wants and Needs

Last night the Toirdhealbheach Beucail clan sat down around our traditional Sunday night homemade pizza for dinner and movie. The movie was The Princess and the Frog by Disney.

It's a good movie (one we'll probably end up owning someday) for the story and the animation and the music (dixieland/zydeco). It's also good for the messages woven into the movie: the importance of family, of dreams and hard work (and how without hard work there are no dreams), of bravery, of the simple love of food. But one line stuck with me over the night and into this morning: We may not get what we want, but we get what we need.

It's a subtle thought, something that is not what most people like to hear. We live in an age - especially those of us living in the First World - where it often feels like our birthright to have whatever we want, in the quantity and amount that we want it. But wants can be terrible things. They can become demanding masters, desiring to filled more and more, sending us to greater and greater lengths to fulfill them. They can simply be something that is good in a small amount but terrible in larger quantities. Or they can simply destroy us.

We don't like needs. We don't like the word "needs". It's so...needy. Sounds so much like poverty, like begging for something. So bland and pathetic. But a need is simply that. A need. Something critical which we must have - perhaps not as exciting or flashy as want, but far more necessary.

To be clear, I'm not specifically addressing material things. Those are easy to determine between wants and needs, and usually done in such a way that it becomes a finger pointing exercise in charity and greed. What I am thinking of are the intangibles: relationships with friends and family, emotional needs, feelings of self validation or self worth.

So the question I have to ask myself - with everything, not just material items - is "Is this a want or a need?" The two can become confused in my mind sometimes. I just have to think things through for clarity.

Which, I might add, really is a need.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Circular Forward?

Why do I write?

The question occurred to me this morning as I reviewed articles from the website Art of Manliness. This is a website about thoughtful men's issues and means of thinking new thoughts (some fascinating multi-part series, with very cool old pictures and graphics).

But reading it this morning has made me question why I write, here. Why? Because that website is the sort of thing I think I wanted to do when I originally started this.

To be fair, when I started I had no idea what I was doing. I just decided to start a blog. If you look at the postings year by year, you'll note that nothing really took off until almost 2 years after it was started. And even then, things have sort of migrated over a vast range of topics, sort of an electronic journal of my life's journey over the past 4 years (especially the last 3).

But is this what I really want? Is this what is the most useful and effective?

I wonder (in my heart of hearts) if I spend too much time essentially navel gazing in a guise of "deep philosophical considerations". Yes, I know I don't do it all the time, but I have been reliably informed by readers that they can easily tell what mood I'm in, or when I'm depressed (for the twentieth time).

But (argues the other side of my brain) what if this is the point of the blog? Surely not many do this sort of occasional introspection, and certainly there are enough other kinds of blogs that this may fill the bill for someone.

Which all may be true. But nagging at the back of my mind is this question: am I just writing in circles, or is this really a spiral motion that is leading me up the coiled spring even as I feel I'm revisiting the same areas multiple times?

Editorial Note

I just discovered yesterday morning that (apparently) I have a spam filter which will collect comments, legitimate and spam, into a folder. To those who have commented in the past and not seen their comments, my apologies for my Luddite behavior. I'll endeavor to do better.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Spinning Wheels

Lus a' Chrom Chinn made me think last night - hard.

She pointed out (rightly) that, at least by using my posts as measuring device, I have been spinning my wheels (figuratively, of course) in my life since we reconnected our friendship online. That's something like 3 years at this point.

However, the more revealing part is that if I go through my journals (which I have this year), I've been spinning my wheels since 1992.

This is somewhat alarming.

I have to be honest - most of what my wheel spin about are my choice of careers. Interestingly, I've pretty much had complaints about my current field since I entered in 1996. Yes, it is a well-paying career and yes, I have been able to do a lot for mo theaglach through it - but based on yesterday's thought I may have reached the outer limits of what I am capable of doing.

Why? Because my heart is always pulling me in another direction.

That's it, she wrote. What other direction is your heart pulling you in? What are the things that bring you the most joy? Why aren't you doing those?

Good questions all. Here's my first step in the healing process. A short list (perhaps Top Ten?) of things I like to do:

- Writing (like this blog, of course)
- Working in a garden (or even in the yard now).
- Reading (Mostly history, philosophy, agricultural/gardening works, theology with a sprinkling of fantasy).
- Music.
- Iaido.
- Working with bees (heck, just watching bees!).
- Making food myself (not preparation for meals but the actual preparing of the food: brewing, canning/pickling, grinding the wheat or cornmeal I've grown. I'm sure cheese making will fall in here once I start it).
- Working with animals (the rabbits now, but any smaller animals or livestock. I miss chickens!).
- Walking and pondering (don't get to do enough of this now!).
- Combining one or more of these activities (such as using the rabbit droppings and old hay to place on my garden, which assists the plants in producing food which we consume or save for later; using honey from our bees to make mead).

For those that know me, you'll notice that not one of the things I do in my career is included in the above list.

I don't know how to end this post other than to say if these are the things I love and not one of them is in my current career field, how do I get from here to there? I mean, without falling off a cliff like I did with The Firm?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Sucess and Loving What You Do

"If anything is worth doing, it's worth doing to excess." - Edwin Land, Inventor of the Polaroid Land Camera

Became aware today of the dividing line between success and failure last night.

As I was working out in what will become garden patch #3 last night, I found myself getting drawn into the smell of woodwork so much like that of a bee hive. I'm not sure what it was from - new wood on the neighbor's property or perhaps the stump which is slowly decomposing at the edge of this new plot. Tonight I ripped up up the soil with a pick, add steer manure, then worked it in with a shovel and raked it smooth. I'll water for two more night, then start planting this weekend.

After that I went to the garage and found my remaining garden wire to fence it in from Syrah the Mighty. Got out there, realized I didn't have enough, then started casting around for alternate methods in yard.

As I stood looking in the growing evening darkness and pre-summer heat, I suddenly realized how much I enjoyed doing this: working not just in the garden, but now expanded to the yard, making something beautiful out of chaos. It then struck me that I was thinking outside of the box to do this, looking for other options which would allow me to keep going when what I had at hand was not enough.

I compared this to the attitude I seem to have so often at work. It's not nearly as outward focused, driven to succeed, enjoying what I am doing and willing to work extra hard to make it happen. Too often, when things go less the right, my tendency is to almost gloat about them rather than look for ways to make things work, to glory in the fact that what I have been feeling and saying has come to pass.

It was at this point, in the wood smell and gathering darkness, that I realized why in order to succeed, one must love what they do to the point that work is play and play is work. It's that level of commitment that is necessary to gather that success.

I'm not saying that level of commitment guarantees success; a bad idea is still a bad idea not matter how long and hard it is worked. However, ideas are like gardens: only in soil that is cleared, worked, watered and weeded will they grow. That takes commitment, a lot of commitment. And the only place that commitment will come is if something is loved to the point that the work is willing to be done, the ideas constantly rolled around in one's mind, the actions taken to succeed when one is already tired from a day of doing the things one doesn't love.

So maybe all my thinking and pondering has been in the wrong direction. What do I love? Even if it's not something viable at this point, I need to start doing that too. If I can dedicate that level of commitment and action to it, maybe what I love and what I do will intersect on the road to the future.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Calling

I find the land and nature's creatures calling to me.

They called out to me this weekend as I moved leaves with my rake, through the singing birds and the blowing trees and the scudding clouds above my head, later followed by the shining sun.

They hold me enthralled every time I feed the rabbits, who give freely of their affection (on their own terms, of course!) all in exchange for some hay, food and carrots, water, and love. You have not fully experienced animal affection until you been kissed by a rabbit, felt the soft quick touch of their tongue (like and yet unlike that of a cat).

They sing to me in their absence; I miss the bees. I miss their buzzing, their industry, watching them work throughout their hive.

If I become excited about things in my life, it all comes to have to do with creatures and the land: planting a seasonal garden, taking joy in the mundane practice of cleaning after animals, looking at the brown-green of a yard in disrepair but raked and picturing what it could look like, picturing what could be done even with this small plot of New Home ("Quail? Yeah, I could probably make that work too!").

This gap becomes more visible to me year by year, sometimes even day by day as I confront the sterile office environment in which I work with abstract concepts versus the concrete world that is around me.

How does one bridge this gap?

Monday, March 21, 2011

Raking and Blowing

This weekend I tackled a task two years in the making: The Raking of The Backyard.

Two years of oak leaves, acorns, and some other kind of leaves I can't readily identify rendered the backyard a sea of dead leaves with green shoots of something occassionally peeking out. Accepting the fact that this year we may spend a lot more time around New Home than I anticipated, it was time to make the backyard a usable locale instead of a leaf ridden wasteland.

5 hours in on Saturday, I made something of a dent. It was me and a rake: rake the leaves and accompanying detrius (acorns, bark, branches, nameless bits of dog goo) into a pile, shovel the pile with the rake into a bag. Crimp the bag, shoulder lift it out to the side of the house. Rake another pile. Repeat until yard is clean.

This method will work, although there are two major problems:

1) It takes a long time.

2) Even with gloves, you develop blisters (and then calluses) at the base of your thumb and index finger.

All of a sudden, Neighbor B pops his head over the fence. "Hey neighbor!"

"Hey!" I replied, stopping to rest on the rake.

"I've got the leaf blower. Cleaned my yard right up. Want to borrow it?"

"Sure" I said, never having actually used a leaf blower before.

He showed the basics of doing it, then set me on my path. Armed with my upgraded technological rake, I returned to the backyard to slay leaf piles with new weapon.

The leaf blower worked fine. However, I noticed a few issues as I worked the second half of the yard:

1) It only worked well on truly clear surfaces. In grasses, leaves didn't really blow out.

2) It blew hard - and it blew everything. Even the dirt that I managed to scrape over with the rake and leave behind got moved, leaving a sterile ground with grass roots hanging on for dear life.

3) It was loud. Raking you can hear the sounds of neighboorhood living and birds all around you as you work. With a leaf blower, you hear...the leaf blower.

I finished the other half of the yard, then brought it back. "Are you sure you're done?" he pressed.

"I am" I said. "Thanks for letting me borrow it."

"You're sure?" he pressed.

"I'm good. Thanks."

I finished off in the rapidly darkening evening with my rake. Sure, I wasn't moving leaves quite as fast, but the evening birds sang beautifully and I got to see the night sky lit by the moon as I finished up.

Weekend total: 31 Thirty Gallon Bags (930 gallons) of leaves, acorns, and unmentionables with 1/3 of the yard to go.

Will it take me longer this way? Sure it will. But will I be in the experience of raking rather than rushing through it to get to something else? Absolutely.

Blisters heal. You cannot, however, hear the song of the cardinal above a motor's drone.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Friday Thinking

Quietly reflective inside this morning.

Am I following the right plan? For that matter, am I following any plan at all?

I am dogged by this sense that I have made a series of less than excellent decisions that have brought me to the point of my life that they are now. Not all of them were bad of course, but on the whole there seems to be no sense of unified direction or a whole to them.

The result? I am where I am now, with no real sense of where to go next or even where I am going.

Part of me says this is simply the nature of life, that life is a series of incidents we certainly cannot forsee and we react to. And on some level I continue to believe that - we exist in the midst of a universe of cause and effect, and we often do not cause the effects we have to deal with.

At the same time, I see those that achieve their goals around me all the time, those who have chosen their direction in life and have clung to it through thick and thin until they have achieved what they set out to do. Surely they have had such random effects occur in their lives as well, yet somehow they managed to move through those to achieve their goals or objectives.

Do I have goals and objectives? Sure. Does it look like they have the least chance of being met now given the current state of where I am? Not at all.

And that's where the confusion comes in. I guess I could meet them - if I abandoned everything I had and every responsibility in my life and pursued "me" only. Unfortunately the toll, in lives affected and financial chaos, would make any such "victory" a hollow and pointless one.

On the other hand, it often seems like if I hold up my commitments and my responsibilities, my life will simply continue to be what it has become. There is a sense, at least in myself, that I am so much less in so many ways that I used to be. Things I wanted to do or enjoyed are constantly getting swept off the map to meet commitments and responsibilities, until my life feels like it has become one long commute between two places. My fear is that I will wake up and find that at some point I cannot go back, that I am cast in place precisely where I am and that there is only the long slow road to oblivion.

And every time I plan, I lay something out on paper or in my mind, I am overwhelmed by events of the here and now, things that need to be dealt with - and that piece of paper gets filed somewhere, becoming part of an ever-growing fossil record of good intentions and dreams of the life that I didn't have.

The question is, what do I do about it? And what do I do about it that is meaningful?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Demotivated

I feel so demotivated this morning.

I don't know if it is being tired or a long day at work yesterday (or the one facing me today) or the realization that based on the talk of the revised banking rules the chances of my ever owning a house again are pretty non-extant (even though I'll work for the rest of my life), but I just have nothing.

I'll go through the motions of course: shower next, followed by trekking off to work for a day of productivity (this is how I now measure a day of work: was I productive?) followed by the commute home, dinner, Iaido and then bed. I'll talk, laugh, do work, try to concentrate, do my duty.

But underneath it all is this nagging lack of energy to do anything, to try. It's as if all the purpose and meaning had been pulled from my life, leaving me with...nothing. Well, nothing except a series of duties that I have to perform because that's my job and role in life.

Jobs and roles, accountability and responsibility. The stuff of duty - and, it seems, a way to speed through life without trying.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Mediocrity

"The signature of mediocrity is not an unwillingness to change. The signature of mediocrity is chronic inconsistency." - Jim Collins

Mediocrity: The state or quality of being mediocre.

Mediocre: Of moderate or low quality, value, ability or performance; ordinary, so-so.

I am struggling with concept of mediocrity in my life -mostly in general I suppose, but brought to light specifically by the quote listed above.

I am in so many ways the epitomy of inconsistancy, zigging this way and zagging that, picking up things with a high degree of intensity only to veer to the other side as something else catches my eye. I'm certainly not unwilling to change, as the quote suggests; I am, unfortunately, chronically inconsistent.

Chronically inconsistent I can live with as a label - what it suggests, a mediocre life, not so much.

But I have to be willing to ask (and answer) the hard question: is my life of moderate or low quality, value, abilty or performance? Have I come to accept this as the norm?

Certainly large portions of my life would seem to celebrate it. In theory society and the workplace reward excellence and ability; in point of fact this often does not seem so, or in fact the very people that supposedly call forth this level of activity either don't lead by example or swallow the efforts for themselves. And it is certainly true that excellence and superiority go where they are welcomed, not where they are scoffed and ignored.

But as convenient as that is, it does not excuse me personally. All the reasons to do something wrong in the world does not make it right to do that wrong.

So then the question becomes a simple one: if I have let my life slip into mediocrity, how do I start to move it back towards excellence? How do I reverse the trend I feel and see in myself? How do I fight my way clear, rededicate myself to being an excellent me instead of a mediocre me? How, when I so often feel defeated by circumstances, do I find the will and stamina to push myself over the top?

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Images

As I continue to watch, listen to, and digest the ongoing coverage of the Japanese earthquake/tsunami (does it have an official name yet?) I am struck by the seeming unreality of it all.

This is one of the difficulties of the modern world: we have become so visually dependent (and visually stimulated) that we can become unmoved to visuals of what we see occurring. It seems unreal: like a movie or video game we watch for entertainment.

A simple example: yesterday I watched a six minute video of the tsunami as it hit a town. The water continues to rush in, rising, then it starts to bring other things in: boxes, cars and trucks, a fishing boat, and finally the houses themselves are lifted off their foundations and carried away. An entire town, ruined. The lives of individuals, individuals like me, either destroyed or changed forever.

I hit stop on the video. I go outside to rake leaves in the yard. The sun is shining, it's 70 F, I open a cold beer before I start raking in the evening light with the birds singing. The whole thing seems unreal to me. I can sense the enormity of what I have seen but it doesn't seem to affect me the way I think it should.

I look around this morning as I type: my lights continue to run, the clock-ticking silence is unbroken by the sounds of sleeping family members, my coffee is hot in my hand. Meanwhile, survivors have entered Day 4 of freezing temperatures and uncertain food/water supplies - and in some cases, fears of radiation.

I don't know what to make of this entry fully, even as I don't know how to fully resolve this dichotomy in my spirit. Have we become so used to images being used to entertain that they no longer have the ability to evoke?

Monday, March 14, 2011

Raking Leaves

Back out to the leaves yesterday evening.

It's something I had been putting off pending -oh, I don't know, the end of the world - but still needing to be done. The initial large rake-off was done a month ago; however, leaves here in New Home continue to pour down from the oaks well into March. At some point it starts to damage a lawn, so it needed to be done. And, due to the fact of the time change, it was certainly light enough at 1830 to be out doing it.

As I started the routine of rake, rake, rake, get a bag and pour in, I looked up to see that Nighean Dhonn had come outside as well. Without saying anything to me, she had gone to get her plastic yellow shovel and started shoveling leaves into her bag.

We filled that bag and then another before I started to move down the lawn. She found another pile; unrequested, she went and got another paper lawn bag, figured out how to open it, and started shoveling leaves into that as well. She was raking with her shovel until I reminded her of the blue plastic rake; with that, she diligently sought to get the leaves corralled into a pile.

The two of us worked under the cloud-light evening sky, the air slightly warm with moisture: myself moving up and down the yard getting a long line of leaves, acorns and leaf mold into a line, her shoveling the leaves, re-raking the pile, then starting again.

When we surrendered to the oncoming darkness after an hour and a half, we had 6 thirty gallon bags full, including one that she had filled herself. The inside of my thumb/index finger areas of my hands tingling from the rake handles (even under gloves) promising the chance of blisters to come, we took one last look around, drank our water, and headed inside.

In the midst of such unsettled times - earthquakes, tsunamis, political unrest, economic uncertainty - it is often difficult to remind myself that there is much to life that remains pleasant and rewarding, even if I choose to not see it. Who am I to enjoy the privilege of spending time with my daughter doing something as mundane as raking leaves or playing Nintendo with her because that's what she wants to do?

One wonders if I chose to focus on these things in opposition to what I usually focus on, what my daily attitude would be like instead.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Pray for Japan

Today no post - instead, a request. Pray for Japan and her people, especially after the 8.9 Magnitude earthquake and 32 dead and destruction all up and down the 1300 mile coastline. Also remember the Pacific Islands, Hawai'i, and the North and South American Coast for potential Tsunamis.

32 (now 40) killed in major tsunami after 8.9 Japanese Quake

Tsunami Slams Northern Japan After Massive 8.9 Magnitude Earthquake Strikes Off Coast

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Depression Again?

This would be - should be - the part of the morning where I sit down and write a smart, well thought entry about some aspect of life.

Unfortunately, there are no smart, well though out entries this morning.

There is only the dull roar of another day.

This is not how it was supposed to be. I was supposed to have a life that was fulfilling, exciting, perhaps even a touch adventurous at times. Now, the adventure in my life constitutes if I will wake up at 0345 or 0430.

Looking at it honestly, I think I might be depressed - which is odd, because it does not seem like the depression that I am typically used to. Usually depression is a black cloud, a series of dark feelings that I simply cannot get out from under, a long sense of dull sadness.

This, if it is depression, is different. It's not a black cloud, it's the sense that life is constantly running away from me. It's a general sense of always being tired and never seeming to get enough sleep - but tortured by the fact that every hour of sleep is one less hour I get to spend awake doing something not job related. It's the rolling over and looking at the clock every morning to realize that it's another day, seemingly like the last one - with your mind already filling with everything you have to accomplish.

It's the leeching away of any sense of joy or anticipation of life, leaving behind the structure of living with nothing to replace it.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

Root Cause

"When a decision is made to cope with the symptoms of a problem, it is generally assumed that the corrective measures will solve the problem itself. They seldom do." - Masanobu Fukuoka, The One Straw Revolution

How good is the root cause analysis in our own lives?

Root cause analysis is simply the process of investigation a situation, be it a failure or not, to determine the fundamental reason why the problem or situation exists in the the first place. It is asking "Why?" until one gets to the true cause of the issue; it is the examination of inputs into a situation to determine all that are possible and which among them has the highest probability of being the originating (or major originating) cause.

It's more difficult that it sounds, because part of root cause analysis is continuing to ask questions to get to the true cause of a situation, not just the cause that you think is creating the situation. This can often be difficult and abrasive, because we often cherish our own illusions about what causes things instead of the actual cause of things.

But are we willing to practice the same root cause analysis on ourselves?

The reality is that the situation is no different. Each of us in our lives has failures, bad behaviors, even entire life situations which we would like to change but have no idea where to begin. Quick fixes often provide no solution, only a bridging of our guilt until the next round of occurance. For example, a simple situation would be to examine why do I feel depressed right now:

"Why do I feel depressed right now? Because I feel trapped in my life and situation."

"Why do I feel trapped in my life and situation? Because I feel there are no options or ability for significant change."

"Why do I feel there are no options or ability for significant change? Because to change means significant changes to the structure of my life."

"Why do I feel that change means significant changes to the structure of my life? Because any change would mean a change in income and lifestyle, which I don't know I am able to handle."

"So, a change which would mean an insiginficant change in income and lifestyle would be okay? Yes."

"Then what is that change?"

And so it goes. This is a pretty brief one and fairly generalized, but the Logic Tree approach works well. Notice that we've already seemingly ascertained that the reason for feeling trapped is I feel no options due to lifestyle and income. My choices then would be to change lifestyle, change to a similar income status, or perform the exercise again to see if I can narrow things down further.

The question in all of this is if I have the mental tenacity to do it. Am I willing to discover the true root cause, even if it implicates my most cherished beliefs, or will I hide behind lesser causes that may make me feel better but will change nothing?

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Tuesday Blues

Struggling this morning with a subject to write about.

It stems from this horrible wave of sameness in my life - or, to quote my mind talking to myself this morning, "The sudden realization that the best years of your life are behind you."

The sameness of living permeates my life now. I awake predicatably at the same time at night, and wake up at the same time in the morning. My day, from the moment I get up to virtually the time I go to bed, has essentially become one long pre-programmed event of responsiblities and intereactions with occassional activities.

I keep trying to find little ways to spark up my life, to make small changes - but they seem to be inevitably overrun by the irresistable tide of entropy that constitutes most of my daily life.

I keep reminding myself that responsibility and accountability are good, mature traits to have, even as it feels that these very traits are the ones which are slowly plunging me beneath the surface of life by sheer weight.

Future? Dreams? Hopes? These things take less and less shape as the days go by, dissolved in the harsh light of a seeming reality that mandates that which must be done. Dreams and hopes almost become mockeries of themselves, vain imaginings reeking of the fantasies of youth.

"The sudden realization that the best years of your life are behind you." I'd say I state that with tongue in cheek, but I don't know that I really do. When life becomes measured in shorter and shorter increments of time, responsibilities, denials of desires and dreams, the long haul of "doing the right thing", the future seems to become not a bright sunrise of possibilities but the dull gray leaden sky of a clouded over sunset, promising rain.

Monday, March 07, 2011

Encourager

Driving across West New Home yesterday, I suddenly realized something. I am a encourager.

Encourage? I find great value and worth in helping others to reach their potential, of seeing in themselves what they are capable of (what I already see in them). It brings me joy - great joy - see someone whom I have encouraged succeed as I knew they would.

I don't precisely know what to do with this discovery at the moment - all I can tell you is that I get some of the greatest pleasure I know in interacting with others - mostly close friends (and who would have thought that I would enjoy speaking with people!) - helping them to succeed at their dreams and goals.

Even in my daily job, I find myself spending 20-30% of my job effectively counseling and encouraging my fellow employees, working to keep spirits up and give them a place to vent their frustrations and worries (I've argued for years now that this is at least part of my daily job function).

How do I go from here? Well, the one thing it suggests is that if I am fulfilled by it and if I am making an impact with it (hopefully I am), then I should find a way to do more of that and less of the stuff that I don't enjoy doing so much. Life Coach? (Silverline's thought on the matter) Not sure - marketing and building a network are not my greatest skills aCheck Spellingnd I always have the concern of working for myself (even though ironically that is what I really want to do).

At the same time, if you find something you're good at, how long do wait before you do something about? Or in other words, if I can encourage others, why can't I encourage myself?

Friday, March 04, 2011

Tokai

Off to Iaido class this weekend.

The soke (head of our school) will be at the head school in the state where New Home is located. He comes maybe once a year, so this is a great opportunity to train with a man who, as our sensei said, has forgotten more iajutsu that he has ever learned.

It's also interesting (to me, at least) in that this is the first time since last year (absent traveling to Old Home) that I have been on some kind of vacation/retreat - at all, let alone with myself.

How does this intersection occur, the activity that I have come to treasure above all others and a short break from the reality of my life? How is it that I can find the time (and energy and money) to make this happen when so often I can't make other things happen?

One reason I suppose is simply that there is a simple input/reward ratio: I have been to Tokai before and know how much I enjoy it and how much I learn from it. It is easily worth the effort to attend.

It's short term as well: it's only preparing for 2-3 months and then it is here. I can do the things I need to do to get ready for it.

But why can't I apply this sort of thinking to the other aspects of my life? Why do I feel like I have essentially hit a wall for anything else other than the status quo of my life? Why, essentially, do I feel powerless?

Interestingly, one of the things I like about Iaido is the sense of myself, perhaps of power, that I get by doing it. Not by the fact I can suddenly attack with the sword; that's not the point. It's the sense of that I am learning and getting better at something, that the daily effort I put in results in an output that I can see, that by my stature and by my stand and by my sense of myself I can see that I am getting better, stronger. That makes me feel a bit more powerful about my life, if for no other reason than I am taking action to improve one element of my life which can impact others.

The question for me is how do I leverage that into the rest of my life?

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Motivational Speeches: Some Pointers

In the spirit of helping bosses give motivational speeches in these times of economic trial, I thought I might give a few pointers.

1) When giving a motivational speech, do not start by making offhanded comments about problems you are having with the individual, their coworkers, or their department.

2) If you ask for justifications of situations, do not shut down the response with "That's not really the point" or "That's too much detail".

3) If you ask for input or responses, listen to them. Don't roll over them with your own opinion.

4) Motivating people by saying "If you don't do this, I'll report it to my head and they'll make you do it" is probably not a successful strategy.

5) You say "accountability". People hear "reason to blame me".

6) If you don't talk about rewards in conjunction with accountability and responsibility, don't be surprised if they don't listen.

7) "Motivation" and "Motivational speeches" are not fire escapes for your own issues or inabilities.

8) If there is not some kind of link between you and the audience, your ability to motivate will be slender. Be sure to take the time to build that link.

9) If people have learned to distrust you, don't expect them to sudden "light up" when you try to motivate them.

10) True motivation speaks to what the individual wants and needs as well as what the organization wants and needs. Don't confuse your or the organization's needs for the individual's.

And the bonus line item:

11) Before trying to motivate others, take an honest look about why they may be demotivated. The answer may surprise you.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Contentment

I'm struggling today Lord, with contentment.
Life is not really bad, it just feels really busy.
I keep finding things that are falling off my list
of things I want to do,
replaced by that which must be done.
I wake up each morning thinking not
"What can I do today to move forward?" but
"What bits of myself do I get to keep?"

You say that Godliness with contentment is great gain;
sometimes if feels very hard to be content in the midst
of a growing workload and homeload and shrinking time.
How is it that I try to meet all my obligations
and the only person that seems to lose out is me?

Maybe there's something I'm supposed to learn here,
some lesson of diligence or patience;
the thing that bugs me is that maybe there's not
and the thing I am supposed to be learning I'm completely missing,
buried in the trivia of every day.

If I am meeting my obligations and the expectations of others,
why don't I feel better?
Is contentment being happy with what you have
or merely the acceptance of what is?

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Stuck

I'm feeling stuck.

Stuck in life. The sense that there is no real forward motion on any front in my life, nor that there is any retrograde motion as well. The sense that goals lead nowhere, hope is just another word for fantasy, and that trying anything outside of the narrow circumscribed limit that is my life simply doesn't matter.

I've no real idea where this has come from, although it seems to have surfaced about 2-3 weeks ago. I wish I could point to some signal event, something which would say "Hey, this is what started it" - but I can't.

What I do know is that every week, my life feels like it is getting pulled in tighter and tighter circles, like being sucked into a Maelstrom from which there is no escape. Time, once abundant, suddenly seems constrained beyond belief (see yesterday's post here). I suddenly seem to be at a dearth of projects - not that I don't have enough to do that I am interested in, but rather that new projects seem beyond my reach and old projects suddenly seem as if they lead nowhere.

There's a concept. Leading nowhere. That feels right enough as a description for my life right now, sort of stuck in traffic on the highway of life moving about 2 miles per hour in the far left lane, never able to move to the right and get to an off ramp.

I hate this feeling. I really do. It's as if I could close my eyes, go about my daily routine and suddenly wake up realizing it's 20 years later.

So here's the question: if I'm in a rut, and a rut is really a grave with both ends kicked out, how do I get out of it? Or (using a different metaphor) I'm mired in mud, how do I remove myself from the mire?

I wish I knew. All I do know is that this almost feels like a living death: inhabiting a body, moving around daily, yet scarcely living life.