Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Hamster Wheel

Often, in life, we make comparisons. It helps us to visualize an outcome or a process. Life goes by pretty fast as it is and often we can feel overwhelmed. Think of a hamster on a wheel. He gets a lot of exercise and generally has a clear view of where he is going without any obstructions; yet most likely he will get tired trying to get there.

Ironically, I see a lot of similarities between the hamster and myself. I have goals. I have dreams. I think I know what it will take for me to get there. I try to get things accomplished at a frantic pace, but often feel like I am going and going and going and never quite reaching my destination.

Like the hamster, I know where I want to be, yet will find myself getting tired and never quite get there.

So what is the answer? Great question. Continue to get the daily exercise of running on the wheel that never ends? Perhaps good for my calf muscles, but not so much for my brain. There are days when I swear my mind works faster than the hamster's little feet. The hamster, though, does have one characteristic I lack. He is forever focused and driven. If I weren't afraid of falling off of the wheel I would probably wander off after one distraction or another.

Okay, so this blog post probably contains too many metaphors, but that's the irony of it. Our lives can be just like the hamster's. We have self-proclaimed routines. We know there's always a chance we'll be rewarded for our efforts, so we keep trying. The hamster never hits a brick wall; the shiny silver wire wheel always provides a clear view and an open road. It always has the hope of possibilities. Maybe some day the wheel will stop. Maybe we will wear it down. Maybe we will see something beyond the wheel. Maybe we will discover why we aren't reaching our goal and we'll get off the wheel and choose a different path, one with a more direct route. It is possible. 

With hope, all things are possible.

Do you see yourself as the hamster? Where are you trying to go and, more importantly, what is stopping you from getting there?

Monday, April 10, 2017

Embrace Your Gifts

Have you ever noticed how different you are from other people? Have you ever wished you were more like them? Perhaps you wish you could sing like they do, or speak in public as easily as they do, or had relationships as relaxed as theirs? It is absolutely okay to observe other people and notice what you like about them, as long as you don't expect everything to be exactly the same in your own life.
 
You are a unique individual. Believe it or not, God made you exactly the way you are ... for a reason. We all have different skills and characteristics: some good, some maybe not. I am known for be organized and detail-oriented (sometimes to a fault). I see others who are able to 'go with the flow' and I often envy that. At times I wish I could be more easy going and learn to just accept things and let other things go, but that isn't always me. It's easy to feel a little judged when people tell you, 'Don't stress. Don't worry so much. Just let it go and hand it over to God.' Gosh, how I wish I could do that more. But guess what? God made me just the way I am. Maybe he wants me to over-think sometimes so that I don't miss the little details. Maybe he has a reason for giving me the skill set that he did. I may not always understand it, but I can hope that all my worrying and reasoning isn't all for nothing; that positive results will come in the end.
 
Rather than focusing on what we are not, we should focus more on what we are. We should acknowledge our gifts more; they have purpose and we shouldn't try to sweep them under the rug just because others don't agree or understand us. We should feel confident enough to be genuine, be true to ourselves, be proud of our gifts and talents, and OWN them.
 
The next time I see someone who is able to 'go with the flow' more than me, I should applaud them for being able to do that, but at the same time applaud myself for noticing the details in my own life. That's what makes it easier for people to work together. If everyone was all about the details, we would probably drive each other crazy. At the same time, if everyone just went with the flow some things might get missed. BUT if we all work together more and appreciate our differences and support each other, we will undoubtedly accomplish more.
 
Some people have the ability to dream the dream, but don't see all that it will take to get it done. Other people might not be equipped to imagine the vision, but are more than willing to help make it happen.
 
Which way do you see yourself? Do you embrace your gifts for what they are and run with them or do you stand by waiting for someone to give you permission? If we are being totally honest, I can admit that I've been on both sides of this scenario. If I am confident enough in a situation I will move forward with a vengeance. If I allow myself to be unsure then I am going to wait for someone to push me in a direction (often, their direction - not mine).
 
Just something to think about.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Technological Chain Letter

When I was a young girl, maybe age 11 or 12, my friends and I would get chain letters. Ours were handwritten and sent through the mail with a postage stamp. We generally only got mail on our birthdays from out of town relatives, so getting something in the mail was a big deal. I did write to a pen pal during the 5th grade, a student from another school in another state (a class project of sorts), but that was the only mail I would get. It's exciting when you're 11 to walk out to the mailbox and come back with something with your name on it.
 
My, how things have changed. We didn't have cell phones or computers when I was younger, so we communicated by writing letters, talking on the phone (the kind with a cord attached to the wall in the kitchen with absolutely NO privacy), or we knocked on someone's door and then sat on the front porch.
 
Today is very different. On any given day I can get a 'forwarded' email with an inspirational story that I am invited (or gently coerced) into sharing with my friends. There's usually the promise of good fortune or prayers sent my way, but ONLY if I share. Then there is the subtle hints toward guilt if I don't; 'I know which of my friends will share this and which ones won't' or 'If you're not ashamed to share this ...'.  Really? I lead a very busy life, like most everyone. I may have time, at some point, to read through your email, but it may take a week and then what? I've missed my deadline, so now I am doomed to live the next 10 years with bad luck?
 
On most days I love my Facebook account; I get to read what my family and friends are up to, celebrate their happy moments and accomplishments, and feel connected. What I don't like is the political rants, the way technology has made it too easy for people to be bullies and say whatever mean things they want to people they know and people they don't know and hide behind cartoon photos and fake names. But, if I'm being totally honest, I also do not care for the posts that generally have a sincere message, but then attach that good message with a double dose of guilt; 'copy and paste this to your timeline for 1 hour' or 'I know which of my friends will read all the way through this message and then care enough to share'. I would much rather read your thoughts, applaud your efforts for sharing, and then form my own opinion; but the second an ultimatum is attached I will lose interest. Hopefully this doesn't make me a bad person. I will still read your message, consider your beliefs, and most likely support your cause if I agree, but most times I will not share it to my timeline or forward it to my contact list. That is my opinion and my choice, as it is yours for posting in the format that you do.
 
Will you still consider me your 'Facebook' friend if I don't? I hope so. I would hate to think that our friendship was structured around ultimatums and guilt.
 
How do you feel? Do you tend to share posts and emails that you receive, and if so why? Do you tend to send the posts asking for support? I understand that exposure means everything when you are trying to share news or support a cause. What topics are you most likely to share?
 
In a respectful and productive way, please help me understand.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Try Changing Your Perspective

We can always remind ourselves to try to think positively, to view the glass as half full, and that we have enough to worry about today without thinking about tomorrow. For many, these can just be words; words that we tell ourselves over and over again, but unless we start believing them will mean absolutely nothing.
 
I am certainly not one to give advice; my life isn't perfect and I can openly admit that I rank up there among the best of worriers. It's my nature. It's in my genes. It's what I can do with my eyes closed while multi-tasking on six other things. Of all the things I think I do pretty well, this isn't one that I am proud of.
 
So I won't give advice. I won't pretend that I know more than you. I certainly won't try to convince you that I have all the answers. What can I do? I can keep trying. I can keep listening to my pastor's sermons on Sunday mornings. I can listen objectively to conversations and see what little nugget of wisdom I can learn and try to apply to my own life. I can see what works and what doesn't and NOT give up.
 
I have a great life! I have a loving and devoted husband, I have awesome kids, an amazing daughter-in-law, the most beautiful granddaughter in the world (and I don't think I'm biased at all, lol), and a second granddaughter due to arrive in a month. I have my health, people tell me I look younger than my age, and I have a job I like and think I'm pretty good at. I have a lot going for me, but I'm human. I still worry ... a lot, about many different things. But at the end of the day I can either worry myself sick (which isn't good for me or anyone else) or I can try to change my perspective; every day and every other hour, if needed.
 
When I am stressed or find myself frustrated about something I have to do, rather than tell myself 'I HAVE to do (insert blah, blah, blah)', I need to learn to rephrase my action and say 'I GET to do (blah, blah, blah)'. Will this work every time? Perhaps not, but it might help me regain my perspective. Yes, lately I find myself inundated with paperwork and responsibilities for me, my immediate family, my extended family, and my job. BUT I need to remind myself; I HAVE a job. I HAVE a family to worry about. I HAVE a roof over my head; so what if the wind took down three big trees in my yard last week ... they didn't fall on my house or anyone else's. I can worry about my son's health or my daughter finding a job after graduation, but guess what? I can't wish my son's discomfort away and I can't send in a resume' for my super-talented and qualified daughter (but if anyone wants to hire a soon-to-be-graduate with a lot of knowledge and great people skills, please give me a call).
 
In the end, I can continue to try to make each day better than my last. I can try to create a better balance for myself (whatever that looks like). I can remind myself daily to change my perspective and make my shoulders lighter.
 
Maybe you have a nugget of wisdom for me? How do you keep a healthy and positive perspective these days?

Friday, March 3, 2017

The Battle Of The What Ifs

With everything that is going on in today's society; competitive job markets, political unrests, health scares, economic statuses ... it is no wonder that the average person is left to deal with worry and anxiety. Stress isn't a new word, by any means. People, young and old, have been dealing with it for generations. People worry about their their incomes, they worry about the rising costs of a college education for their children, they worry about the price of health insurance, utilities, about the strength of relationships, and about practically everything else.

It was only a week ago that my pastor targeted his sermon about worries. How by worrying about tomorrow today, we were basically wasting our time because God had a plan and there was enough worry for today without worrying about the future too (I'm paraphrasing, of course). I find comfort in knowing that God has a plan for my life and those I care about, but He also made me the way that I am. He gave me a set of gifts and talents, which I attempt to use as wisely as I can. But I am also a natural born worrier, a mediator, a wanna-be Wonder Woman who seems to think it is expected for me to have answers and solutions to everyone's questions and problems at any given time. With that self-imposed responsibility, though, comes tension headaches, stiff shoulders, countless sleepless nights, worry lines around my eyes, and bouts of unexplained tears. I want to convince myself that I am strong and can deal with anything (and most times I can), but sometimes I am humbled and reminded of my humanness. No one else expects me to have it ALL together ALL of the time, well some may, but I am only one person.

I have a tattered small piece of paper taped to the rim of my computer screen at work that says '...God will never give me more to handle than he knows my shoulders can bear.' I read it several times a day to try and help me keep an even perspective.

Most days I am a 'glass is half full' kind of gal, but we all have our moments of doubt when the WHAT IFS start creeping their gloomy heads in to our days and dreams at night. What if our friend loses their job? What if the college students we know don't get jobs after graduation? What if we don't meet our deadlines and quotas at work? What if the price of health insurance continues to rise more than it already has, HOW will be be able to pay for it? Worse, what if someone gets sick and we actually need to USE the insurance, how will be afford to pay the deductibles?

Trying to keep the glass half full is a lot of work; it is no wonder we have sleepless nights, nauseous stomachs, and headaches. Study after study has shown that anxiety can give us physical symptoms; being 'sick' of the stress and the worry is more real than you know.

So, what's the perfect answer? I wish I knew. Continue to take life one day at a time, I suppose. Continue to do the best that we can using the tools we presently have. We'll never be able to get 30 hours in a day or 8 days in a week. We need to be able to slow down long enough to hear ourselves think; to temporarily block out all the things that may be overwhelming us. We need to set boundaries for ourselves and pray that people will respect them for what they are. We need to find an inner peace that allows us to take the 'being perfect' pressure off of ourselves. We need to trust God more that He really won't give us more to handle than He knows we can deal with.

What if we could say NO once in a while when we were asked to add something to our already overflowing plate? What if we forced ourselves to take 20 minutes out of our already busy day to focus on us? What if  we learned, a little at a time, to trust that everything could turn out okay? What if we packed the Wonder Woman lasso and golden cuffs back into the Halloween dress up box and stopped thinking that we needed to wear them every day?

Personally, I'd love to try focusing on these WHAT IFS instead. 

*Disclaimer ... this blog post is my twenty minutes of ME time for today. Trying to use my own advice. 😉

Saturday, February 25, 2017

If You Dream It Will It Happen?

What are the meaning of dreams? I'm sure there are scientists and physicians who have studied the topic extensively and would most definitely have an opinion. There might be those who believe in the more spiritual side of dreams and believe them to be a connection with our inner soul; perhaps trying to tell us something. Sometimes dreams are memories. Sometimes they are fantasies. Sometimes, depending on what we had for dinner, they could be REALLY out there and confusing (just ask my daughter; she once had a dream that involved dancing green beans).

Often, my dreams are a reflection and continuation of whatever I was thinking about before I dozed off. That could be good or bad, depending on the kind of day I'd had. If I'm working on a creative project and over thinking something, my dreams can take me in a direction of the different possibilities. That can be a good thing IF it helps me come to a conclusion.

Some dreams can be nightmares; they can be scary and overwhelming, often caused by fear, stress or doubt. When we're worried we find that our dreams take us down paths of distractions and gloom. We imagine the what ifs and the worse case scenarios; kind of the 'glass is half empty' type of dream. There's always that dream where you feel like you are falling and jerk yourself awake right before you hit the bottom.

So ... do you think dreams are real? Do they have any major significance other than helping us pass the time when we're sleeping? I am neither a psychologist nor a scientist, so I wouldn't presume to know for sure. However, I can say that last week when I woke up in the morning with a stiff shoulder and a tight neck, it may have had something to do with the yellow piece of paper I had accidentally knocked over and behind my desk and the 2 hours during the night I spent contorting my body trying again and again to reach, BUT I could be wrong.

When was the last time you had a dream that you thought was real or insightful? Was it helpful? Do you dream about accomplishing a personal goal? Do you dream about finding that someone special you've been looking for? Personally, I constantly have dreams where I am playing with some of the most adorable, furry little puppies, but sadly so far I haven't gotten one. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Cookie Cutters Are Best Left In The Kitchen

Cookie cutters are a great invention. Anyone can express their creativity in the kitchen with a cut out for any shape. You can honor every holiday, a birthday, a graduation, a new house, or tell someone you love them simply by pressing that special cookie cutter into some dough and then decorating it so that it is just the way YOU want it to be. But cookie cutters are best left in the kitchen.
 
People are not cookie dough, although their personalities can be sticky at times and things can get messy. Employees can not be duplicated to perform the same. Students will not all learn in similar ways. A lot of 'things' can be mass produced in a factory on a conveyor belt and they will appear to be the same, but people are different. People are unique. We look different, we behave and react different, and we process everything differently. A factory can create a product where the outcome will basically be the same because there are NO variations, but service-related industries will never have the same result. Why? Because people are directly involved. Sure, a company can have a goal of how their customer service should perform, but there are too many unknown factors. The customer may have had a bad experience with the company. The customer service rep may not be fully knowledgeable of the company's product or service and unknowingly give the customer the wrong information.
 
This week I attended a college lecture given by Henry Winkler (actor, writer, producer, etc., but best known to many as 'The Fonz' from the TV show 'Happy Days'). It was an interesting lecture with many great insights. He talked about his career, about his family, about his struggles with dyslexia, and his personal experiences with learning. Everyone has issues and things they must overcome in their lives, but he didn't discover his dyslexia til he was in his early 30s. Until then he was told constantly that he was dumb, he was stupid, he was lazy, and he would never amount to anything. His teachers couldn't (or didn't) help him; neither did his parents. But he didn't give up. He had dreams and goals and was determined to find a way to achieve them. He talked about today's education and the need and importance to try and reach each student where they are.
 
We've all known that student (perhaps we were that student) who tried and tried and tried to get through a particular subject at school, but found themselves struggling. I am certainly not going to blame the teachers, but believe it or not even teachers are human. As with any profession, some teachers are great and some are not. Today's schools have limitations though, as do many areas of life (businesses included). It is easy to understand why in a classroom of 30+ students some will be at the top of the learning curve and some will be at the bottom AND some will get lost in the middle. It is frustrating for any human being though, whether they are a young student in the classroom or an adult working at their job, to feel overwhelmed because they are yearning to learn and do a great job, but the system seems to be fighting them.
 
People cannot be treated like a product created by a shiny silver cookie cutter. We will never be perfect, nor will we be identical. We will all have our flaws, but if given some personal attention we will thrive. My advice? Leave the cookie cutters in the kitchen and save them for when you're feeling creative and want to impress someone. For everything else, stop and listen to what people are REALLY trying to say and perhaps assist them in getting to where they are trying to go.