Balance challenge: The bottom of the lake

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Dear friends,

I’m a long-time fan of the “Xena, Warrior Princess” series (go ahead and laugh if you must), and find the show to be full of metaphors for life. Today I’m thinking of one scene in particular, where Xena and Gabrielle come upon a small lake. They’ve been talking about putting things in the past, “moving on” and “getting over” difficulties, so Xena decides to make a demonstration.

She nods toward the lake. “What do you see?” she asks Gabrielle. “Calm water,” replies Gabrielle. Xena then picks up a rock and throws it into the lake. “And now?” she asks. Gabrielle replies that the water ripples and churns, but will eventually settle back to being calm. “But the rock is still down there,” Xena replies, “it’s now part of the lake. You can’t see it, but the lake is forever changed.”

We all have rocks at the bottom of our “lakes” that others can’t see. They become an unseen part of our life landscape.

Today I want to remember, no matter what the surface looks like, that we each have our own lake bottom to deal with.

Blessings,

Annette

Winnie living her best life

Balance challenge: Short run vs. long term

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Dear friends,

When I look too far down the road, I get anxious. Yes, I know it’s important to plan for the future – and there’s the paradox. How can we maintain our serenity today, while anticipating what might happen in the future?

I try to keep this saying in mind: “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.”

I don’t know what will happen a year from now, five years from now – or even tomorrow. I *do* know that there are things I can do today that will position me to meet the future (whatever it may bring) with confidence and resilience.

And so –

I’m becoming more realistic when making my daily to-do list. I think I’m gaining a better sense of how much I can realistically accomplish in one session of work. At the moment, I’m using multiple lists to manage my work. One is a list of all the tasks I need to complete in the near future, and the other is the “today” list. I select from the first list to build the second.

Yes, there are some big things to accomplish, including the creation of a whole new capstone course for the January term. Worrying about it won’t help, but I can do a little, bite-size piece of the task today.

What can you do today that will position you for strength and resilience in the unknown future? Take a vitamin. Get some exercise. Find some quiet time. Make your lists, but remember that these are tools – they don’t rule you.

Take a deep breath. I wish you peace today.

Annette

Balance challenge: All shook up

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Dear friends,

I was listening to a podcast this morning, and the speaker told a story about a luxury car manufacturer that tests the soundness of their vehicles in an interesting way.  Every so often, a claw mechanism picks up a car, at random, off the assembly line … and then shakes it vigorously for several minutes.  If there are any loose parts or unsound connections, they are revealed through this process.  If the car can withstand the shaking, it passes the test.

This makes an interesting metaphor for life.

We have our peaceful periods where everything is chugging along predictably … then the giant claw picks us up and shakes us.  Will we fall to pieces, or withstand the agitation?  Well, it depends.  It depends on how soundly we’re put together, whether all the bolts are tight and connections are firm.

Once the shaking begins, we can’t reverse time to do better.  It’s up to us, during the normal, routine times of life, to look after our physical, mental, and spiritual health.  We need to keep our friendships strong, to give proper attention to our finances, eat properly, get rest, stay well.

The shaking will come.  If we expect it and prepare for it, it won’t take us so much by surprise.  To me, this is not a fatalistic view, but a realistic one.

Wishing you strength,

Annette

Coffee 1

Is there an upside to “cancel culture?”

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Dear friends,

In the last couple of years, we’ve heard a lot about “cancel culture” – the tendency to shun someone who does not abide by social norms.  Most specifically, we hear it applied to social media influencers and/or celebrities who offend their followers with unacceptable remarks, such as those that embrace racist attitudes.

Before we go on, I want to assert that I believe in forgiveness, and that people can change (through deliberate effort).  As a student of culture, I also believe that each generation sets its own norms for what is expected, proper, and acceptable.  Through my studies, I’ve also learned a lot of fascinating things about American culture.

Before the media explosion of the early 20th century, we were considered a “culture of character” – we cared about a person’s reputation and life choices, and judged accordingly.  A person of good character, the reasoning went, would continue to display those positive qualities in a wide variety of contexts: thus, a man who was a loyal employee and loyal family member would display loyalty in all areas of life.

In the industrial age, this thinking changed somewhat.  This change can be strongly linked to the rise of manufacturing and the role of the “salesman.”  If you’ve ever read about Dale Carnegie, you’ll discover the rules of being a “mightly likeable fellow,” and how developing particular traits is the key to success and happiness.  Smile, shake hands, remember names, have a great personality (a word that hadn’t been used much before).  Personality was the key to win friends and influence people – especially people who didn’t know you long enough, or well enough, to assess your character.

Coffee 1

I took the “Dale Carnegie Course” back in the 90s – a course that was once very popular for “businessmen” to complete in their quest to become “a mighty likeable fellow.”  As I remember, the course was expensive, and the subject matter mostly consisted of cultivating superficial behaviors such as strong eye contact, a firm handshake, and a sincere smile.  The emphasis was not so much on developing long-term relationships as it was about researching other people and memorizing factoids about them, so you could say things like “How is your son Billy?” and impress others with how much you cared.

If the stereotype of the “used car salesman” comes to mind, you wouldn’t be far wrong.  This was the culture of personality.

The culture of personality has endured for a century.  Call it the culture of celebrity if you wish, but the outcome is the same: as a nation, we have come to value flash over substance, a firm handshake over firm convictions, a pretty face over a beautiful heart.  And because those things don’t go very deep to begin with, they’re easy to reject.  These “relationships” are easy to walk away from, because we aren’t that emotionally invested.

timmyscoffee

How does all this relate to “cancel culture?”  Well, I like to think that perhaps we are returning to a cultural norm where character is more important than surface presentation, where we refuse to listen to someone who, through their words and behaviors, has shown that their heart and mind are not in the right place.  If you’re doubtful about this shift, consider: more and more lately, we’ve heard people say things like “I like his music, but I’m not sure I can enjoy it anymore, knowing his attitudes about women,” or, “I like her books, but I’m not sure I can be a fan anymore, knowing her attitudes about queer people.”

We live in community with others.  These rejections – “shunnings,” if you will – might have no effect.  Or, ideally, they’ll have the effect of making the “shunned” think a little more deeply.  If your community rejects you for engaging in a particular behavior, perhaps it’s worth a moment of reflection.  For the mature thinker, such moments can lead to change.

Self-reflection is uncomfortable, and some people seem incapable of taking a hard look inside (many of them are in positions of leadership).  If there is an upside to cancel culture, it may be a nudge toward a new culture of character.  We might begin by reflecting on important “influencers” of the past who weren’t necessarily beautiful, privileged, or givers of firm handshakes, but who drew from an inner well of goodness in their dealings with others.

I encourage all of us to continue pondering the importance of character in the attachments we form to others.

Blessings,

Annette

 

 

Reading roundup June 2020 – book reviews!

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Talents

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Dear friends,

Yesterday, a Facebook meme and a childhood memory converged for me.

When I was a little girl, I won a prize in Sunday School.  It was a little book, a retelling of the “parable of the talents” for children.  This is the first Bible story I can remember having a big impact on my life (and it still does).

If you’re unfamiliar with this story (or have forgotten), it goes something like this:  A wealthy master was about to go on a journey, so he called his three servants to him for instructions.  To the first servant, he gave five “talents,” and told him to be a good steward of what he was given.  To the second servant, he gave two “talents,” and told him to be a good steward of what he was given.  The third servant received one “talent,” and the same message.

When the master returned, he asked each servant to come and account for how they had used their “talents.”  Look at the picture on the book cover to imagine the scene: The first and second servants had multiplied their “talents,” and the master was pleased.  But the third servant had hidden his “talent” because he was afraid.  He had nothing to show for himself, and was banished.

The Parable of the Talents - Arch Books (ebook Edition)

I’ve been thinking of this story in the wake of our current social unrest, as I hear people saying “I want to help, but I don’t know what to do.”  Some are unsure whether they should go to a march, or give money, or talk to others about racial issues.  Others just feel stymied, as the problem seems too big to solve.

Then I saw this on Facebook:

Image may contain: text that says 'some are posting on social media some are are protesting in the streets some are donating silently some are educating themselves some are having tough conversations with friends & family a revolution has many lanes be kind to yourself and to others who are traveling the same direction just keep your foot on the gas'

… and I was reminded that we can each make a difference with the talents we have.

I’ve been sewing face masks for the local hospital.  On the hospital’s Facebook page, an individual posted something along the lines of “Hospitals need ventilators, and more staff, and medicines, not home-sewn masks.”  I replied, “It’s what I can do.”

I can sew.  That’s the “talent” I can contribute to the COVID crisis.  I teach about communication across cultural difference.  That’s the “talent” I can contribute to the social crisis.  I can do other things too, but these are specific talents that I can use to try to make the world better right now.

Do what you can, with what you have, as you join the throng of travelers on this journey.  Everyone is needed.

Blessings,

Annette

There is no balance in “work/life balance”

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Every time the topic of “work/life balance” comes up, I cringe a little.  Here’s why:

First, I think the phrase encourages a weird kind of binary thinking about our daily way of being.  There’s work, and there’s everything else, which falls into the category of “life.”  Somehow, we are supposed to “balance” these two areas of existence.  But that doesn’t work for me, because there are seasons where work demands more of my energy, and seasons when I have to devote more attention to the other stuff.

unbalanced scales - Corporate Eye

Secondly, the phrase has potential to be sexist, to tyrannize women more than men.  Think of the times you’ve heard the phrase, and most likely it’s been in a gendered context.  The idea of “work/life balance” often walks in lockstep with “having it all” – that a person (usually female) should be able to maintain a home, nurture a relationship, raise amazing children, advance on the job … and do each of these things at tip-top, 100% levels.  And look beautiful while doing it.

We can't fix the pay gap without addressing the culture that ...

Here’s a new way of thinking:

What if it’s all just “life?”  What if the “balance” isn’t binary, but a three-legged stool of mind, body, and spirit?  What if we acknowledge that we can’t do everything, and the most noble use of our time is to choose those things that are most important to us, whatever others might think?  What if we give our best in each area of our lives, and realize that on any given day, our best might not be 100%, and that’s ok – what might happen then?

I don’t claim to have the answer, but I’m no longer interested in “having it all.”

50 Ideas to Celebrate 50 Years of Earth Day | Notes from Lisa

Once upon a time, I thought the world had a handle on top that only I could turn.  Then a funny thing happened: I became ill.  I was hospitalized for five weeks.  In the middle of a semester, my classes were suddenly being taught by somebody else, I missed every meeting, attended no conferences, wrote no articles.

And the world went on without me, while I turned 100% of my attention to getting well.  It was a season in my life, a chapter, but the lessons have continued for years.  I had gotten into this mess in the first place by neglecting my health at the expense of work, and my body demanded its due.  It’s time, it said, that you pay attention to me, and I’m going to stop functioning properly just so you get the message.

In other words, my three-legged stool had become wobbly, and it collapsed beneath me.

Marketing is a Three-Legged Stool - MarketVolt - Email Marketing ...

These days, I’m being intentional about feeding my mind, body, and spirit every day.  Some of this feeding takes place through my job, some through physical care, some through tending my environment, and some through nurturing relationships.  The combination of activities will constantly shift and change, but it adds up to a whole life.

A life that’s composed of a lot more than just what’s left over after my workday is done.