Be Ready! The Only Thing Constant Is Change

I know it’s a bit of a cliché, but all the same, one of the fundamental tenets I try to live by is, “the only thing constant in life is ‘change'”. So you gotta be ready.

This theme repeats itself at home, at work, and everywhere in between.  If your attitude is properly primed and ready to adapt when necessary, you’ll be a lot better off.

I work for a small business where the priorities shift on nearly a daily (and sometimes hourly) basis.  Forecasting and planning and follow-ups and filing are all important, but if an opportunity comes to the fore that means a good piece of work for the company, we all shift focus in effort to bring that contract in the door.  After the “fire drill” [as we call it] is over, it’s back to the more strategic priorities.

At home, with three kids under 5 and two dogs and not a lot of time, my wife and I are constantly shifting activities to feed the kids, do the dishes, clean up the living room, put away clothes, finish the laundry, feed the dogs, change a diaper, put the groceries away, pay the bills, clean up the kitchen, etc.  You get the idea. We adapt and adjust and try to keep moving forward, keep the family on track.

If someone gets sick, or hits their head on the corner of the table, the situation requires a whole different shift of priority. Sequence and even schedule might have to change to accommodate the circumstance and help whoever needs a little extra love and attention.

Most of us have to deal with a job change or two (or three or four or five) during our career; we’ve had to deal with a car that breaks down or gets a flat tire; sometimes dinner gets burned and you have to eat peanut butter and jelly instead; the computer suddenly, inexplicably freezes and you have to reboot (or worse, lose you work).  We’ve all been there.

So don’t let the unexpected catch you off guard.  Expect change to happen.  Be ready with the right attitude, and hopefully some advance thoughts about “What if…?” It’s super important.

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Death & Taxes

There are few things that are certain in this life, but two of them are “death” and “taxes”.  I’m settling in to finish up a few tax returns today, and that old phrase came to me as I started to motivate.  Then I got to thinking, those two things may be certain, but they also demand “acceptance” for us to transcend them and move forward in our lives.

In the case of taxes, if we desire to be law-abiding citizens and “do our part”, we have to file a tax return every year.  This project entails, at minimum, gathering up your records, financial or otherwise for the previous calendar year, organizing everything, and completing a tax return (actually two returns, since we are required to file a federal return and return(s) for the state(s) in which we are residents also.

Once everything is together, it’s either a bundle that you give to a tax accountant to complete the return on your behalf, or if you’re so inclined, you bang the returns out via TurboTax or similar software program.

Regardless of your approach, acceptance that this is something you must deal with is the start of the effort.  Or it should be.  Otherwise, you’re likely to be frowning and gnashing your teeth and grumpy through the whole process.  Better to work on the basis of  acceptance, rather than go kicking and screaming through the effort.

Death is a heavier topic of course, but perhaps even more demanding of acceptance.  After all, there’s no dodging death.  Acceptance allows us to get over the angst and anxiety and wringing of hands and move forward.   Rather than dwell on death (either of someone we love perhaps, or fear of our own passing, whenever that may be), it’s better to accept it as reality in whatever context you face, and focus on living.

As I’ve written elsewhere referencing Scott Peck, “Life is difficult….but once we accept it, acknowledge that fact, we’re able to transcend the reality and move forward.”  In other words, rather than lamenting any particular situation, accept it and do your best to improve it if you can.

So with that attitude in mind, I accept the tax returns waiting for my attention, and know that I’ll get through them faster than maybe I think I will, and they’ll be done for another year.  And once I’m finished, I’m going to be sure I linger a moment with the feeling of accomplishment, the reward for accepting the circumstance and moving forward.

Up Your Game

JVS_Victory!_P-R2011

[2011 Paris-Roubaix Winner, Johan Vansummerenwinning the bike race after a 15km solo breakaway]

Simple words are sometimes the most profound and meaningful.  “Up your game.”  It’s a command, a spur, an encouragement, a motivator.

I find this phrase coming to my mind periodically.  It happens when I witness someone trying to shift blame for a mistake or problem, when I see someone settling for less than their best effort, and when I catch myself not trying to be better at whatever task I’m engaged with.

Obviously the phase is likely indigenous to sports, with the use of the word “game”.  However, it really applies to so much more in life.  Maybe apropos of the many ways sports teach us how to deal with daily life and the real world.

It’s really about effort and holding yourself to a higher standard to do the very best you can.  In sports it could be making every free-throw, or having better at-bats, or nailing the ollie on your skateboard, or mastering the corner kick, or whatever.

The concept of making your best effort applies to all facets of life.  Whether you’re a student and we’re talking about your studies, a kid in a family doing the chores your parents asked you to do, when you come through with a good performance you feel good about yourself.

Whether you’re a worker of ANY type who has tasks to complete (which is what you’re paid to do), or in efforts at home to make your family life — whatever the circumstance — as positive and enjoyable as possible for everyone, you make a difference for yourself and those around by doing your best.

In fact, I would say that doing the best we can is something we owe to ourselves, and those around us.  After all, when we DON’T do the best we can, our self-esteem drops, we feel like we fell short, we missed the mark,  we let someone down — first and foremost, ourselves.

I’d like to say upping your game is something we should do “every day, in every way”, but that’s not the truth really.  Letting things slide a bit sometimes is inevitable and necessary — we can’t do it all.  If we attempt to perform at the very highest level, all the time, we’ll get tired, sloppy, and our motivation will lessen as we inevitably fail (at least partially) at something.

We have to prioritize efforts so that our limited energy is put to maximum use.  We also have to manage our commitments in a manner commensurate with the time we have available.   You hear this frequently when reading time management tips, with experts suggesting we schedule our most important work of the day during the hours when we have the most energy, concentration, motivation.

“Up your game.”

In the end, the phrase should encourage us to strive, to reach, to focus, to improve, to expect more of ourselves.  Use it with others in the right manner, together with constructive, supportive tone and commitment, and they’ll shine as well.

Golgotha

Good Friday.

Since I was a young adult, the day always has a particular effect on me.

As a Christian, or at least for me as a Christian, I think a lot about what Jesus went through on this day, during what is more formally called The Passion.  I reflect on his final journey as a person on this planet, as he struggled to reach the place where he would die:  Golgotha.

I think about Golgotha not only as a destination, a small hill, scholars say, outside the old city walls of Jerusalem, where the Romans exacted capital punishment by crucifixion. Rather I think about it in the context of what I imagine Jesus was thinking on his way to his death.

Was it a walk filled with dread?  After all, Jesus was fully human, even as he was also divine.

You might recall that he was reported to have experienced such anguish on the night of his arrest that he sweat blood while praying in Gethsemane.  After being taken into custody, he was interrogated for hours, brutalized in numerous ways, and was finally flogged by Roman soldiers in the palace garrison.  He was clear on his fate, shouted by the crowd in front of Pilate.  “Crucify him!”

But maybe by the time he was carrying the wooden cross down the dirt road to Golgotha — bleeding, beaten, exhausted — maybe he had a sense of acceptance as he gazed up the hill.  Did waves of panic and despair still flow through him, or had fear finally drained away?  I try to imagine the unimaginable on this day.  It’s part of my faith, after all.  He died for me, as they say.

Did he have a sense of despair and abandonment?  Surely this makes the most sense.

As the soldiers stripped him naked, the Roman centurion looking on, Jesus must have felt completely alone, defeated, doomed.  Even though he had already been beaten badly over many hours, tortured really, the pain must have reached a new crescendo as they nailed his hands and feet to the cross on the ground, before hoisting it up on that hill.

After all these trials, did he still somehow, inexplicably, have faith?

Is it possible that even in that darkest moment, even as he hung there dying, his body broken and life seeping out, that deep within, the faith Jesus had sustained him as the final hours of his life ticked away?

I obviously don’t know.  I know what I try to believe, but I don’t know.  I’ve pondered it since before the sun was up today, prayed on it over and over again these many years since I started thinking about this circumstance, but I don’t know.

Sometimes I’m more certain, sometimes I feel skeptical, a bit ashamed actually that I’m not sure. Then again, what is faith without doubt?

What I am certain about is what Jesus’ story and this particular day mean for me, what it represents.

For me what happened on Golgotha comes down to love.  God’s love for humanity, for me, and how that love was expressed through Jesus of Nazareth.    His message to the very end, and beyond,  is just that.  It’s instructive really. Love God. Love each other.  Even love your enemies.

The message is a good one.  The lesson is also. Perhaps that’s why, as I heard a homilist say once, they call this Friday, “Good”.

I Believe In Relationship

From my “This I Believe” submission in 2006. Didn’t make the cut with NPR, and it’s a from a while back, but still holds a lot of truth for me.

I believe in relationship.

With people and places, experiences and emotions, plants and animals; with old shirts, ball-caps, music, writing and cooking. I’ve searched for it in all endeavors, and have only been really satisfied with an experience when I’ve managed to secure a foothold, a rapport with the people and things around me.

I’m relatively sure that I can’t be alone in the feelings I have associated with this idea: connecting with the temporal world we live in. As I reach middle age, however, I’m very certain that I’m more sensitive than most when it comes to the practice. For me it means survival, success, and inner peace.

Whether it’s the first time or only time, meeting someone, or visiting with a friend I’ve known all my life, I always am in flux until I’ve felt the sense of that certain comfortable something that tells me I’m connected to the other. For me relationship is the way to get the most out of the present and is a primer for the future.

On the grade school playground, in the many classrooms of my life, the wrestling room, football field, committees, the fraternity, the swimming pools of summers past, teaching swimming, then later teaching English to Soviets. In Santa Clara, in Moscow, in Rivas Nicaragua, Beijing, Florence or Munich or Hong Kong, in South San Francisco, Sunnyvale, or Morgan Hill, all the experiences in all those places have become worthwhile to me only and ultimately through relationship.

Like most everyone I’ve had my share of successes and failures. I’ve tried to learn what I can from all of them, tried my best to savor the successes; persevere and even gain something through the failures. I am certain that it’s been my relationship with both the good and the bad that has solidified my attitude toward both.

I recently went through a divorce. I only reached a sense of peace and acceptance of the loss through the support of the many good people that let me share the experience with them, relate with them, and thereby process my complicated thoughts and feelings. It was also only by reaching a new, truer relationship with my ex-wife that I was able to find closure in the marriage ending, and begin a promising, connected relationship with someone new.

When I consider this attitude juxtaposed to my faith, it all makes even more sense to me: connecting with others, befriending others, helping others. God in all things and in all people. My relationship with the world around me strengthens my sense of proper path, somehow brings me a bit closer to the Divine.

I believe in relationship. It is the surest indicator of my place in time and space on this Earth, speeding along with everyone else toward the most we can get from life.