Mistakes Will Be Made

While waiting for a friend today, I scrolled to an interview with a high-profile and internationally known celebrity. She described a recent ‘health scare’ she’d had, amplified by the failure of her doctors to correctly diagnose her issues. Which caused her to believe she was seriously ill, when she actually wasn’t. It’s comforting to believe that medical professionals have super-powers; I fell into that habit for decades. It took the pressure off of having to be accountable for reading, learning, and studying up on my own body. But, as this very famous, extremely wealthy woman (who could obviously consult only the best physicians) discovered, even the most intelligent and well-educated professionals can get it wrong. In reality, smart, sensitive, aware and responsible people get it wrong all the time. It just doesn’t feel good for anyone, giving or receiving, to admit that.

It’s for sure that, as we enter the adult realm, others begin holding us to higher standards of knowledge and behavior. How many times over the years have I heard “You should have known!” Buying a particular car; moving to a new city; taking a certain job; entering into a doomed relationship. The less-than-stellar choices I’d made meant, in the opinion of others, I’d ignored The Signs.

And how many times have I rolled my own eyes, when a friend tells her story about putting a loving heart (as well as years of commitment, not to mention tangible assets) into the hands of a liar and a cheat? Someone who had raised Red Flags all over the place, multiple times. How did she did not see them?

There are two key Truths that I stumbled onto, just through the act of living, with the only ‘toolkit’ I was born with, and with the best intentions for myself and those around me. The first is that Life itself is a Progress Toward Perfection in our minds only. Mistakes are not only bound to happen, they’re completely acceptable and even necessary. ‘Failure’ is not supposed to feel, or become, fatal:  we only experience it in that way, in our darker moments. Repeated mistakes (“I always choose the wrong people to fall in love with”) are important lessons that are – sad to say – going to continue until and unless personal work (inquiry) happens, and the ‘message’ comes through in a way that just can’t be side-stepped.

Despite our best efforts to ignore it – or to put the responsibility onto to someone (a messed-up parent) or something (bad luck, or fate) — each one of us has to ‘deal’ with our own stuff. The second Truth I stumbled onto (after getting knocked on the head with repeated ‘learning opportunities’) is that telling  someone “You should have known” is not helpful. Not even a little bit. People are much smarter than we give them credit for. Most of the time, S/he did, actually ‘know’,  but chose to look the other way, as disaster of some kind was oncoming.

If, to me, another’s miscalculation feels like a “Well, duh!”, there are a few things I can say, but How Could You Not See This Coming ?! shouldn’t be one of them. As part of my own process here on Planet Earth, I have to assume that most everyone (I concede that there are exceptions) is doing the best that they can, with the ‘toolkits’ they have. No one needs to hear my criticism, in order to live bravely; but I’ll definitely share my mistakes as I continue to make them, which is going to be a lifelong gig.

“Your Request Could Not Be Processed”

If you follow astrology – even in a discreet way, so as not to appear foolish to yourself or others – you know that each and every planet in our solar system (including our Sun) has meaning, purpose and influence in our daily lives. While I’m actually more interested in the science of things, I have to admit that this month (November), what astrologers have to say about the ‘retrograde’ planet of communication (and technology), tiny, fast-moving Mercury, feels mighty convincing. A retrograde planet, according to astrology, weakens or dilutes whatever the planet ‘rules’.

For me it started towards the very end of October (I can feel the group nod of those who ‘get’ what I’m talking about), about 3 days before the retrograde. I wasn’t even thinking about it – after all, I was with someone I’d known for decades. We’d gone to see a really good film and were de-briefing on the walk back to our hotel. Suddenly, a comment I’d made about the lead character in the story was interpreted as a declaration of verbal warfare. My companion reacted swiftly and negatively, having inferred that my intention was to insult him. I was shocked by his reaction and back-pedaled quickly, apologizing (for what? I was clueless) for any harm. But I could see by the set of his jaw and the stare straight ahead that my explanations were not making things better.

A quote that’s been attributed to Oscar Wilde, but I’m not at all sure it was he who said it, says this about a perceived insult:  “Go ahead and take it personally – it saves time”. Wilde was well-known for his wit and scathing verbal swordsmanship. I’m much more of a peace-maker and harmony-seeker in all of my relationships; even with total strangers who feel abrasive from the get-go. I want to see and feel their ‘side’ of things; understand their viewpoints; untangle any misunderstandings I may have caused.

Since this month, so far, has been rife with misunderstandings and miscommunications, my patience and tolerance are really being put to the test. I mean, I know I have an appointment with your office next Tuesday; I responded to your text confirming it. So why do I continue to get text-reminders at least once a day? Check your messaging system, for God’s sake; am I the only one reporting this? ( I did actually speak with a human about the issue, in much kinder terms. She was unaware of the glitch. Apparently we’re all so used to annoying texts, that they just merge in our minds with all of the other goofy things our phones do). And speaking of texts:  the same day I received one from an out-of-state phone number that I didn’t recognize. The message was simply “NO”. I tried not to take it personally.

Communication, for people like me who pride themselves on being tolerant of human and  technology mishaps, is a Big Deal. When it’s muddled and confused, I immediately ‘check’ my own words, verbal or written. I try to re-state what’s obviously been unclear, and maybe landed badly. But sometimes, especially lately, my struggle to make sure I’m being clear makes me realize that I might actually need to “just shut-up already!” In the personal relationship arena, clarifying talk definitely has a sell-by date. I need to recognize when the other person has stopped listening – for whatever reason – and just let it go. Accept that there’s a communication breakdown but the moment will pass, the relationship will survive (or not).

With work, it’s a different matter:  I actually  need you to understand and to comply with instructions, so that your product will turn out the way you want it to. Sometimes, however, it seems that the client just hears blah-blah-blah and continues on their path, oblivious. What to do?

Whether a retrograde Mercury is in fact involved is debatable. But what I know for sure is that, when I experience a steady stream of misunderstandings, miscommunications, and resulting frustration, it’s time to stop talking, stop writing, stop trying so hard to bring clarity out of what feels like a super-dense fog or mist that’s settled-in. Communication is more than talking, verbally or non-  (of course); there’s active listening involved, and engagement. I can’t make that happen. Some days it really does feel like something to do with the stars…a reminder that my own timelines and expectations are just that – my own.

Can Love Be Re-Purposed?

Can ex-lovers be friends?

Life in Balance

Writing has been an ever-changing experience for me. Early in my career I was an editor, and speechwriter, for a very large county-schools system: 48 separate districts under one superintendent. I wrote articles that were published in the WSJ, that someone else attached their name to:  standard-practice, but so annoying. The speeches I wrote for the CEO? Same thing. Still, I was having my ‘voice’ heard, and I liked it.

prima.co.uk

Other kinds of professional writing – proposals and grants – not so much love there. By the time I entered a doctoral program and faced the challenge of a writing my dissertation, the only real struggle I had was with the ‘structure’ required of an ‘academic’ publication. Why so resistant to (APA) guidelines? Because I felt they interfered with my creative process. Because I felt the ‘guidelines’ were meant to create a kind of template for how scholarly-writing should look. Because someone, somewhere, decided that Readers really do pay attention to things like how References appear on a page. (I remain unconvinced.) Because I’ve always questioned, and frequently disregarded inexplicable Rules. Rules for writing; rules for creating; rules for living.

Over the weekend I had a discussion with a younger adult about this very topic:  how the desire to live an inspired, free and creative (how happiness and fulfillment unfolds for you) life gets tangled-up with largely unwritten Rules. “Say you’re part of a team function,” he said; “you’re expected to participate in group activities outside of ‘the work’:  lunch together, drinks, sharing aspects of your life with strangers. If you don’t, people start calling you weird.”

Is this a chicken-egg thing, I wondered? Which comes first:  our own need to fit-in and be accepted, or the influence of others telegraphing that we might be ostracized by the group if we don’t conform to its norms? What’s the real challenge, in being authentic – in proclaiming who we are, what we enjoy and what we want for ourselves, ultimately? I think the answer to that is, ‘depends on how high the stakes are and what the goal is’. I freely share (only when asked, of course) with (mostly younger) people how I’ve vigorously ‘bucked’ the Rules, but also ‘played by’ the Rules when necessary:  when I’ve wanted something (like a Ph.D.) that just wasn’t going to happen if I acted the maverick (read: true to my nature). If the task at hand is situational and of a certain time limit – with an end in sight – it’s easier.

But a full life of going-along-to-get-along, to me, represents inertia, then coma, then death of spirit. How many people are swept-up in the life-long engagement of trying to please, wanting to conform, needing acceptance from as many people as possible? Sometimes it can feel, especially when we’re writing, painting, sculpting, dancing – or just preferring to brown-bag it in the park, instead of joining The Team for lunch – that we’re struggling against something important, and possibly even  risking “being alone forever”.

Quite a few notable people, as it turns out, have asked, and addressed this struggle…

George Carlin

 “I like it when a flower, or a little tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete. It’s so   f***in’ heroic.”― George Carlin

John Lennon

 “It’s weird, not to be weird”.  – John Lennon

Hermann Hesse

“I have no right to call myself one who knows. I was one who seeks, and I still am, but I no longer seek in the stars or in books; I’m beginning to hear the teachings of my own blood, pulsing within me.” – Hermann Hesse

The Black Dog

Depression is sometimes referred to as “the common cold” of mental illness, due to its prevalence in the United States. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) is constantly tracking data on people 12 years and older, relative to such things as doctor and ER visits, prescribed medications, racial disparities, vulnerable groups, and depression that leads to death by suicide.

sheffield.co.uk
enwikipedia.org

Britain’s former Prime Minister Sir Winston Churchill suffered from it profoundly. He called it The Black Dog: a dark shadow that slipped into his mind quietly, without being summoned, or welcomed. According to historical records, the prime minister made no secret of his depression, which would sometimes last for days. “Taking the Black Dog” is still a familiar expresson for depression’s symptoms, and an important mental health facility in Sydney, Australia uses the phrase in its name.

With stats reflecting that depression is not an insignificant problem in the U.S., it continues to amaze me that it’s still so hard to talk about. Even in family situations, where a young person is involved, an inability to share ‘just how bad it is’ is common. I know that I could easily extend that statement to mental illness in general. But even though psychological disorders have been “outed” in the media, making it seem as though depression is akin to the common cold, we see it, but we don’t really understand it. I suspect, too, that often we’re reluctant to accept it as a valid, potentially serious illness.

Recently I provided some direction and encouragement to a young adult who’s roughly halfway through her doctoral studies. She described an array of personal concerns that, to me, sounded like a version of depression (defintely not diagnosing, here). She linked her feelings about work, school, and her parents (still living at home) to her general aimlessness, lack of focus and energy. But she also referred to her emotions as ‘fake’ because, as she put it, “There’s just no logical reason for me to feel this way. Life isn’t that hard.” Or is it? Can depression be misinterpreted as mere self-indulgence? My parents looked at it that way, with disastrous consequences for my mother.

Churchill, annamasonart.com

For years after Churchill left public service, a debate raged about whether or not his darkest Black Dog moments allowed the prime minister to perceive Hitler’s threat more acutely than allied politicians. Regardless of the help or hindrance, Churchill was never accused of malingering or being too morose; rather, he’s remembered to this day as courageously fighting his own inner demons by acknowledging them publicly: “Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, in nothing, great or small, large or petty — never give in…” Far from ignoring his problem, this man wove his depression into his life as a strength: paradoxically, a reason to persevere. I aspire to such Bravery.

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