Choosing Lessons

Reflected cranes at Hiwasee Refuge

Reflected cranes at Hiwasee Refuge

What does it look like to be a whole-hearted person (to borrow Brene Brown’s term)?  Do whole-hearted people rage against the unfairness of life from time to time?  Do they experience inexplicable irritation or anger?

Brene talks a lot about practice.  Not about being perfect, but about embracing imperfection and learning to correct mistakes where you can and trying again.  I kind of feel that’s what my life has been like.  Trying to take a lesson from a situation and then going out there and trying again.

This circling pair just kept going around and around

This circling pair just kept going around and around

The part I struggle with is repeating the same lesson over and over without seeming to grasp it.

I recently told a good friend a story about choosing the lesson we take.

I was keeping emails.  Neatly filed in organized folders with the thought I might need to produce one someday.  On the rare occasions I needed an old email, I had it.  No matter if it was from 3 years ago.  I had it.  Never mind it might take me an hour to find it–I had it!  And that felt like a triumph somehow.

I wonder what compels a Sandhill Crane to fly in endless circles?

I wonder what compels a Sandhill Crane to fly in endless circles?

Then, my mail file got too big and started having problems.  I had to clean out a bunch of old emails.  As soon as I did, someone needed something from 2 years earlier.  I no longer had the email.

I turned to my office mate (who was and is also one of my best friends) and said, “It just figures.  A day after I finally get rid of an old email, someone needs it.  No wonder I never want to get rid of email!”

She either didn’t hear exactly what I said or chose to ignore it.  Her response was, “Yeah, all this time keeping track of all that junk and when you don’t have it, it turns out not to be a big deal.”

Perhaps they're practicing getting their wing flaps in sync?

Perhaps they’re practicing getting their wing flaps in sync?

She was right.  It really wasn’t a big deal, I just thought it was.  This is a great example of choosing the lesson.  Without thinking about it, the lesson I was going to take was “I can never, ever, ever get rid of another email because I never know when I’ll need it.”

My friend reframed the experience to the exact opposite.  Had she not said that, I never would have realized I could choose which lesson I took from the experience.

I can’t say I’ve gotten over email hoarding, but when I do purge, I do it without guilt or fear now.  Although, I still probably keep more than I should.

Reflections melting away in the ripples

Reflections melting away in the ripples

Perhaps what I need is to have a committee of friends help me figure out what the possible lessons are I can take from the more challenging events in life that shake me to my core.  Perhaps where I fall short is not in failing to learn “the” lesson but on thinking there’s only one possible lesson to learn and missing the one that works for me.

Life Lesson Selection.  How’s that for a committee name?

Lost in the reflections from the trees

Lost in the reflections from the trees

Balancing Act

"Keep going, come on!  Pick up the pace!  We're going to catch them!"

“Keep going, come on! Pick up the pace! We’re going to catch them!”

I’ve been thinking about the feeling that there are things I have to do.  I find myself wondering if there is a way to bring the joy I feel when I do the things I want to do to the things I think I have to do.

After all, do I really have to do anything?

"Let's go!  Let's go!  Let's go!  We're getting there!"

“Let’s go! Let’s go! Let’s go! We’re getting there!”

Yes, I have to eat.  Yes, I have to drink (at least water).  And, yes, I have to sleep.  I enjoy all of those things none-the-less.  For example, I can eat just to fill my belly, grabbing whatever happens to be convenient and edible (which I still enjoy, truth be told) or I can make a really delicious and nutritious meal that makes me feel cared for and grateful.

Similarly, I can drag myself off to bed far too late and flop myself between the sheets feeling like I wasted another day.  Or, I can be aware of when I’m getting sleeping, decide I need to rest and enjoy sliding into bed, allowing myself to sink into the mattress with a feeling of bliss.

"We're going the wrong way!  We're never going to catch them now!"

“We’re going the wrong way! We’re never going to catch them now!”

Is it what we do that counts or how we do it?

Having a job means getting things done whether we want to do them or not.  Is it possible to learn to really enjoy what we do day-to-day?  I enjoy feeling like I can take complex problems and break them down to tasks that can be achieved.  I enjoy feeling like I came up with an idea that will work.  I enjoy feeling like I can bring my own unique contribution to the table.  Is that enough?

Realistically, it’s hard to enjoy every single thing that we do from the moment we get out of bed to the moment we retire.  I mean, can I really learn to take joy in taking out the trash?  How does the concept of “I am enough” apply when it comes to the mundane aspects of life?

"They're too far away.  Let's head back to the lake."

“They’re too far away. Let’s head back to the lake.”

I don’t think the implication is that we should set limits that say “I’m not going to take out the trash because it’s not a task I enjoy.”  After all, I do not enjoy having trash laying around my home.  I do enjoy having a house clean and orderly enough to look like it’s inhabited by humans.

Perhaps this is really another balance point.  Spending enough time on housework to feel comfortable in the space without doing things for the sake of what I think other people would think if they stopped by.  Is that enough?


“This looks familiar. How many times have we flown over this lake?

And how do I take the concept of enough to work?  It is impossible for me to ever do enough to feel like I’ve done everything I could do–there aren’t enough hours in the day.    I guess enough means finding the balance between feeling like I’ve made progress and allowing myself the time I need to do other things that are important to me.

Is “enough” just a new word for “balance”?

Off in the distance

Off in the distance

For the Joy of It

"Should we land?"  "Maybe."  "I need to know--I've got my landing gear down!"  "Well, I don't know . . ."

“Should we land?” “Maybe.” “I need to know–I’ve got my landing gear down!” “Well, I don’t know . . .”

I recently read “Daring Greatly,” which has led to the concept of “enough” reappearing in my life for yet another lesson since I haven’t internalized it.

It’s a hard concept.  It means acknowledging that we are flawed, incomplete, wrong, and sometimes downright ornery, and it’s enough.  It’s about knowing our limits, ending perfectionism, and focusing on the completeness of “enough” rather than on what we aren’t, what we haven’t gotten done, and what we don’t have.

"Naw--not yet.  Let's fly another circle."

“Naw–not yet. Let’s fly another circle.”

I’m not so good at enough.  People who know me well say things about me like, “she doesn’t do anything at less than 110%.”  I get obsessed.  I go all-in.  Then I get frustrated by my imperfection and usually move on.

I’m pretty good at balancing enough when it comes to time management skills.  It can be measured and monitored and limited in ways I understand well.

"Are you serious?  Now you decide!"

“Are you serious? Now you decide!”

Where I have more trouble with the concept of “enough” is figuring out when I’m doing something for the joy of it vs the desire to please.  I find that when I do things out of the desire to please, it ends up pleasing no one, least of all me.  Who wants to be around someone who is feeling resentful and put upon because they’re fulfilling an obligation they don’t feel up to fulfilling?

On the flip side, when I do something for the joy of doing it, the only pain I experience is cramping in my smile muscles.  There are certain things that just make me feel joyful.  Sharing something I love with someone else who’s interested is a biggie.  It’s the same experience as giving someone a really great gift–it just feels like I have the ability to make a difference when I can give someone else something they want–especially if they never knew they wanted it.

"Let's join that group!"

“Let’s join that group!”

This begs the question:  what is the difference between joyfully sharing something I love and getting joy from people enjoying it vs trying to please others?

Perhaps the difference is how vested I am in the others enjoying it?  Maybe there is only a hair-breadth’s difference between sharing my joy in something without needing someone else to approve vs feeling more or less lovable based on whether others approve or not?

After all, when someone is just sharing what they love without the expectation of reciprocation, it’s hard not to catch their joy.

If I do something purely out of joy, I can allow the space for someone not to be as excited as I am.  In allowing that space, it almost guarantees they will at least appreciate my joy if not experience their own.

If I do something because I think it will please someone, I need them to be pleased.  That need creates a sense of expectation that can cause push back or resistance–why should they be obligated?  It reduces the chances of pleasure all the way around.

I’m not sure I really understand this, but I think I’m making progress.

Soaring over the lake

“We’re never going to catch them now–More altitude!”