Sometimes I feel like a walking paradox. I totally empathize with politicians who are labeled flip-floppers (and think it’s totally unfair, by the way), because we all change our minds from time to time. If we are growing at all, it seems logical that even the most deeply held convictions would alter over time. I have always had the gift (curse?) of being able to see the same issue from many different points of view, and even strongly held beliefs on my part can be swayed by a good counter-point on the spot. I even like the aha moment experience that hits me like a bolt of lightning from the blue when suddenly the way I view the world is turned on its head in an instance.
F. Scott Fitzgerald apparently saw the benefit of a paradoxical view of life as well when he said, “The test of a first rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function.” Ok then, maybe I don’t have to be so frustrated by this after all.
Lately, I’ve been seeing my views as two sides of the same coin rather than just paradox. There is something important about this distinction that I have been struggling to wrap my head around. I know it is big, but I just haven’t been able to find the words to adequately describe it to others. This blog is the first attempt, and I hope it makes some sense when all is said and done. I haven’t planned out what I am going to say about it, or even thought about some good examples to share. I knew that it was finally time to write about it, and I am literally just allowing the words to flow through my fingers on the keyboard without thinking about them too much.
Perhaps that’s a good place to begin. There is a school of thought that says things must be planned out in detail. Goals must be set. Timelines should be adhered to. “If you fail to plan you plan to fail,” and all that business. I agree with that sentiment – to a point. I was a fervent goal-setter early on in my life. My Dad taught me this important skill, and ingrained in me the importance of writing goals down. I taught the SMART goal-setting method to my students for years, and strongly believed in and utilized this method myself. I noticed two things in regard to this over time. 1. Most of clearest, most detailed, time-bound and important goals didn’t come to fruition even with the most diligent attention. 2. Sometimes I wrote down a whole host of goals (pages even), put them away and forgot about them only to find them later and realize that many of them had actually come to pass. Hmmm.
A cursory study of quantum physics has taught me that what we focus on expands. So if that is the case, then simply writing down or otherwise drawing attention to my desires is the crucial step to bringing them about. Too often we all get caught up instead in focusing on what we are afraid of, what we don’t want or on our problems (rather than the infinite possibilities for solutions). Human nature, I guess. Goals, in my experience, tend to be about fixing problems to a large degree. Whether it’s losing weight, making money, sales targets or excercising, goals often assume that more is better and simply checking the boxes to get there is the best means to the end.
Speaking of ending provides an excellent example. We have waged and fought endless “wars” on maladies we wanted to end – drugs, cancer, and in my recent professional past, hazing. I loved what Mother Theresa said about this phenomena of protesting against something. “I was once asked why I don't participate in anti-war demonstrations. I said that I will never do that, but as soon as you have a pro-peace rally, I'll be there.” Crusading to fix or end something seems to be a losing battle, but moving toward a desired state, infinitely better. When our goals, dreams or intentions can come from nothing (not out of a desire to fix or change something we perceive as wrong), but from a place of deep desire, then they can pack real power. Feeling into what really fulfills us rather than some societal ideal is golden.
Let’s take money for example - a topic that has brought me no end of confusion and frustration over the years. The prosperity convention that asks you to identify a goal income is kind of like choosing a goal weight, in my opinion. $300,000 or 130 pounds might sound like good, even accepted standards of what we “should” want, but are they really my desired state? On the one hand, I believe having something to shoot for can be a great motivator, on the other, failing to achieve a goal repeatedly can be incredibly deflating. And the means to the end can cause us untold suffering if we eat celery and drink grapefruit juice to achieve it or become a workaholic to the exclusion of participating in the things that actually bring enjoyment to our lives.
Sometimes we strive so hard for something like a million dollars or a size 6 figure, only to find out that they don’t measurably improve our lives, or that they don’t bring any change at all to our level of happiness. And occasionally we can become so addicted to the achievement of such endeavors that we have to set greater and greater ones to feel the same high and soon we find that nothing is ever enough. We are never satisfied with our lives as they are.
There is a great story of an American businessman who took a fishing vacation to Mexico. He hired a guide with a boat to take him out and had a great day, catching many fish and enjoying himself immensely. So much so that he asked the same guide to take him out the following day to which to man with the boat replied, “I can’t. That’s my day off.” A few days later when the two did finally go out fishing together again, the American said he had been thinking about the fisherman’s practice of working only four days a week. “If you worked six or seven days you could expand your business, buy more boats, take out more and more people. You are really good at what you do. People would flock to your business.” The Mexican gave the foreigner a quizzical look and asked simply, “Why would I want to do that?” The American said it was simple, he could make a lot more money. “Why would I want to do that?” he asked again. The American’s reply, “So you could take nice vacations, live in a nicer house and enjoy yourself more.” The Mexican answered, “That’s why I take three days a week off now, to enjoy myself and relax.”
After I was diagnosed with cancer in 2006, I wanted to create a different life for myself. I had worked full-time throughout my treatment, and after it ended, I decided to quit my job. I wasn’t sure what was next, but I knew that I had some strong workaholic tendencies, and that I wanted something else. Since then, I have made less money, but I have had much more freedom, and in many ways, found more peace and presence. I look better and feel better without any conscious effort on my part to achieve those things. I focused instead on health and well-being and with those came a host of other benefits I hadn’t considered.
Before, I had allowed myself to fill up my time with activities that weren’t necessarily fulfilling in order to avoid feeling alone. This is the two sides of the coin paradox again. When I was home alone, I often enjoyed it, but I also experienced some measure of loneliness. When I could keep myself busy and active, I was purposeful and around people, but I longed for some down time to myself. Striving for balance is something we all do, but never being happy with what you are doing when you are doing it is torture. How much do we think about work when we are at home? Of home when we are at work? What would it be like to be fully present in each moment of our lives. Slowing down has allowed me to do this much more. To set my own schedule. To take time off to be with my family. To travel whenever I want since I can work from anywhere.
So is it better to make plans, set goals and have strict timelines or to create vision boards, daydream and make intentions? I don’t know! You have to answer that for yourself. I do know that only when you are inspired by what you envision will it prompt you to take action. I know that starting something (like this blog) is the first and most important step, and that once you begin new directions and avenues will magically appear for you. I know that life is filled with contradiction and paradox, and that embracing what is so about both sides of the coin can be extremely powerful.