Mind Over Matter, As Illustrated By a Small Child Who Shamed Me At an Amusement Park

It was one of those moments where all the bravado that led you to that point suddenly drains from your being — but it’s too late to go back. The attendant had pulled down the heavy shoulder harness that would keep me from flying off to my death and was going through the standard safety announcements, and all I could think was, Holy shit, oh my fuck, why did I decide to do this?

I am 30-mumble-something and hadn’t been in an amusement park since my early 20s until my recent trip to Cedar Point with my (younger and more physically resilient) sisters. And if the way my metabolism has been treating my weight lately was any indication, I knew my body no longer handles things the way it once did.

I’d been relieved to find out I could still do roller coasters of all varieties, but spinny things — which I once loved — now made me sick. So when my youngest sister somehow dared me onto this whirling dervish of a machine, all bets were off.

The spinning/swinging/twirling contraption looked awesome to the 20-year-old inside of me (which I think is what got me on it in the first place), but the 30-something body housing that inner 20-year-old was fairly certain it was about to pass out, get sick or scream for her life like a terrified child who thought the kiddie coaster would be cool but then spends the entire ride shrieking to mom to stop-the-ride-I-wanna-get-OFF-make-it-STOP!* (*Actual embarrassing anecdote from Cordelia’s childhood.)

The announcements stopped and there was that moment of dead silence before the storm hits something awful happens the ride starts to move.

I was shitting my metaphorical pants.

Then a tiny little voice from a boy who must have been 6 months old (read: probably between 5-7 years in actuality) piped up next to me:

 

“This Is Gonna Be Awesome!”

I couldn’t see him around my enormous shoulder harness, and he couldn’t see me, but I felt instantly and utterly burned.

“It totally is!” I called back, too fragile in my state of panic to realize a show of bravado to keep an unseen elementary school child from thinking I’m a lame-o is in itself pretty lame-o.

“My brother wouldn’t come on this with me,” the small voice responded. “He was too chicken!”

“Well then, he’s gonna miss out!” I replied cheerily, resolving deep within myself that I would not let this little boy know I was a chicken too. I would. not.

So, as the ride gained momentum and my stomach gained some not-so-great sensations, I whooped and hooted with a right good will along with the small boy next to me. We traded “This is so cool!”s and “We’re flying!”s until an odd thing happened:

I realized I was actually enjoying the ride as much as I was pretending to.

It did kinda feel like we were flying, and if nothing else, it felt pretty awesome to have conquered something I’d been petrified over. I felt a wee bit dizzy afterwards, but I was more exhilarated than anything — both at the outcome, and at how it had come about.

 

It’s All About Your Perspective

If I’d kept stewing in my pants-pooping fear and nervousness as the ride got into full swing, no doubt my worst-case scenarios would have come true and I would have felt ill, scared and extremely PO’d at myself for having agreed to go on that stupid ride. But since I’d made up my mind that I was going to enjoy it, dammit, I actually wound up enjoying it.

Funny how that whole “mind over matter” thing works.

I’ve written before about how the stories we tell ourselves matter — how the frames through which we view the world color the way that world looks to us. That’s a big-picture thing, and it’s something I try to keep in mind on a grand scale when it comes to things like my business and my relationships. But this was the first time it really clicked for me that you can play the same game with little-picture things, like the scary ride you’re about to go on or the presentation you’re about to give or the room full of strangers you’re about to walk into.

As James Clear so brilliantly put it, your mind is a suggestion engine. You can choose the way you want to experience things, and you can psyche yourself into situations as much as you can psyche yourself out of them. So why not use that force for good rather than evil? (Tweet!)

Later, feeling emboldened by my newfound Jedi mind trick, my sister and I conquered this bad boy, which shoots you from 0 to 120 mph in 4 seconds, then straight up and down a 300-foot incline in the span of about 17 seconds (that’s me waving in the tan sweater, if you can see it):

 

[KGVID width=”568″ height=”320″]http://www.cordeliacallsitquits.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/Cedar-Point-video.mov[/KGVID]

It’s the sort of ride so ridiculous it has an actual row of bleachers next to it for people to watch it run. It honestly happened so fast I remember nothing but the sensation of mind-numbing speed and feeling, again, proud that I went through with it. I went through with it because I told myself I could. And I found it was pretty freakin’ fantastic — as you’ll find many things are when you decide to decide they are.

 

An Aside

That’s the happy ending to this story.

The extended ending is that when I emerged from my harness on that first ride and went to give the little boy next to me a high-five, I discovered there was another little boy sitting on his other side to whom all of his comments were more likely directed. This made me just some random crazy old lady stranger seemingly talking to herself.

But whatevs. I didn’t promise this method would remove deeply ingrained social awkwardness. Just fears and other bad mental juju.

How can you use this mind trick to make your daily experiences awesomer?

Image:  Tara Faul / Flickr

The Way Things Are Isn’t The Way Things Have To Be

Recently, I wrote about the importance of the stories we tell ourselves about our lives. The way we cast ourselves (victim, reject, center of the universe) affects the way we experience the world. If we think everyone’s against us, we’ll keep seeing things that reinforce that story. If we think we’re better than everyone else, people will constantly let us down. We react to things based on the story we believe about our world, and as a result, we wind up perpetuating the story by playing along with it.

But there’s a bigger story, a story so hulking and omnipresent it warrants a post in itself. It’s a really shitty story our whole society has deluded itself into believing. That really shitty story is the ridiculously depressing notion of “The Way Things Are.”

You may not realize The Way Things Are is a story. That’s part of what makes it so devious (and powerful). Most people just accept that it really is… well… the way things are. As a result, they play along with it without realizing they have any other choice. They take it as a given rather than one way of seeing things.

And since the majority of people are going along with it, it really does become the way things are.

 

So, How Are Things?

Pretty damn crappy, if you believe the story.

If you subscribe to the general belief in The Way Things Are, life is a pretty grim set of circumstances you can’t control and probably don’t like. Here are some elements of “The Way Things Are” mentality:

  • You have no choice but to work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, for pretty much most of your life.
  • You have to do this because you have to have a car, a house, 10 credit cards and a steady stream of stuff and distractions at all times to keep you happy.
  • You need to be kept happy because you probably hate the job that takes up the majority of your waking hours.
  • (Lather, rinse, repeat the above 3 phrases as needed. It’s a nice vicious circle.)
  • You deserve lots of things you can’t afford because you put up with the unfairness of the above circle. Future You can deal with paying for these things.
  • Debt is something you only need to think about when the bills come each month. It doesn’t matter if you’re paying off that flat-screen TV for the next 30 years, because they’re probably going to be 30 miserable years anyway, and the least you deserve is to be able to watch Dancing with the Stars in high-quality HD.
  • What you do doesn’t matter.
  • Dreams are for the naïve and the misguided. Resignation is the mark of a real, functioning adult.
  • If you don’t already kind of dislike your spouse, you probably will after enough time together. Kids will only make this worse.
  • You should still have kids anyway.
  • No one is where they want to be. That’s just part of growing up.
  • No one likes The Way Things Are, but they can’t be changed. Suck it up, have a drink, go out and buy something. It’s almost the weekend.

I could go on, but it’s too depressing. And I think you probably recognize the story by now.

 

If We All Hate This Story So Much, Why Do We Keep Telling It to Ourselves?

The thing is, no one is really happy living according to The Way Things Are. Any story you have to constantly resign yourself to is not a good one.

So why do so many of us resign ourselves to it?

Because we don’t realize we have any other choice. If we did, we think, more people would be doing something different, wouldn’t they? The fact that everyone around us seems to be keeping their heads down and trudging along makes us think that must be our only option. So we all put our heads down and keep trudging, and this grim picture of the world continues to be the way things actually are because no one realizes it can be any different.

It’s not surprising most of us don’t think to question it. Everything around us reinforces the story.

TV shows give us characters who live neatly in The Way Things Are: dysfunctional families, disgruntled cube farm workers, harried moms and overworked suits and couples who communicate in nasty one-liners. We find these shows funny or moving because they portray things we recognize. They make us feel better about our own shitty circumstances by delivering the reassurance that “we’re all in this together.” You don’t see many shows about minimalist, location-independent lifestyle designers living life on their own terms. (And if you did, people would probably argue that they’re completely unrealistic.)

Commercials sell us products to help us escape from The Way Things Are. We deserve that big SUV with dual heat zones and seat-back DVD players because nothing else in our lives is going right, and the least we can do is give little Johnny the comfort of knowing we’re keeping up with the Joneses. (The money we put towards that SUV could fund part of little Johnny’s college education, but what matters is pleasing Johnny, and ourselves, N-O-W.) We need energy drinks because we’re exhausted after 8 hours at a desk and only have an evening of drudgery to follow, and it’s easier to guzzle a little bottle of something than find a lifestyle that actually energizes us.

We’re inundated with ways to work around The Way Things Are, to distract ourselves from The Way Things Are, to make The Way Things Are a little easier to live with. But The Way Things Are, in itself, is considered a given. And if everyone around you is operating under the notion the earth is flat, you have no reason to stop and wonder if it’s not. You just go on living the best little flat life you think you can.

 

What You Don’t Know

What you don’t know could turn everything upside down.

Did you know it’s possible to sell all your stuff, pay down your debt and be free to live literally anywhere you want, at anytime?

Did you know you can visit every single country in the world in 5 years?

Did you know playing it unsafe is a viable option?

It’s time to free yourself from The Way Things Are and instead create The Way Things Ought To Be. (Tweet!) Poke around the blogosphere long enough and you’ll find that more and more people are doing it — real-life, ordinary people who are, in their own ways, rejecting the mass delusion and creating the lives they’ve always wanted. Start reading just a few of their stories. It’s like someone flipping the Technicolor switch after you’ve been watching black and white all your life.

I’m not gonna lie to you. It takes hard work and some serious faith to pursue a life on your own terms. Another reason The Way Things Are has such a stronghold on us is because, shitty and completely miserable as it is, it’s oh so easy to fall in step with it. But you’re always sacrificing something, whichever story you choose to live by. The choose-your-own adventure stories take discipline, hard work and a willingness to stand out and be different. The Way Things Are story takes your soul, your dreams and your day-to-day and long-term happiness.

Guess which sacrifices I believe are the better deal?

It’s your choice. It’s your story. Which road are you going to take?

Image: Eamon Brett / Flickr

Your Happiness Depends on You

We all want to be happy, yes?

We all want to make changes in our lives to that lead to more happiness than we currently have?

(If not, then you may be on the wrong blog. Might I suggest this instead?)

But, no matter how much we all want to be happier, how many of us are allowing our happiness to be dictated by things that are completely arbitrary, unimportant or out of our control?

I’ll make it easier for you—I am currently raising my hand. I have been an expert at letting my happiness fall to the whims of all sorts of external factors that have no right having anything to do with how much joy or satisfaction I get out of life.

It’s extremely easy to do. It’s also extremely easy to fail to realize you’re doing it. So, in the confessionalistic spirit of this blog, let me show you how many stupid mistakes I make in the hopes that it helps you see how not to make them yourself.

 

The Dumb Things I’ve Let Control My Happiness

Here are some of the things I’ve allowed my happiness (or lack thereof) to hinge on over the last few years (annotated list, as full list is redonk):

  • The weather.
  • The amount of sleep I’ve gotten.
  • My dogs getting sick/scared of thunder in the middle of the night and disrupting said sleep.
  • My husband’s social plans.
  • Other people’s social plans, and whether or not they include me (sometimes being invited is an annoyance, sometimes not being invited is an affront. Depends on my hormones and level of current craziness.)
  • How many comments my various blog posts are or are not getting.
  • How many emails I’ve received. (Sometimes too much is bad, sometimes too little is bad. Depends on my mood and the size of my to-do list.)
  • How much I’ve eaten/had to drink recently.
  • What I’ve eaten/had to drink recently. (Both bullet points, incidentally, being totally within my control.)
  • The amount of money I’ve billed clients for.
  • The amount they’ve actually paid me.
  • The amount of bills due at the current moment.
  • The size of my to-do list.
  • How quickly doggie fur balls take over my house.
  • The songs Pandora is currently choosing to play me.
  • How many @mentions I’ve gotten on Twitter.
  • The general tone of the Facebook posts my friends are posting today.
  • Whether my stomach pudge seems to be trending upward or downward.
  • What has come in the mail that day.

None of these things are important enough to have a say in how happy I am at any given moment. But it’s so easy to let them have control, because being reactive is easier than being proactive. Rising and falling with the waves in a dead float is easier than paddling doggedly in one direction, despite the tides and the choppiness.

But who wants a roller coaster of moods that rise and fall randomly based on which way the wind is blowing? You’ll never really be “happy” that way—at least not for very long. But if you take control of the reigns and resolve to choose your own happiness, then… well, then we’re talking.

Because happiness isn’t a mood; it’s a choice. (Tweet!) And it’s one you have to get to make every single minute of every single day. You can always reset. You can always right the ship.

 

The Way to Play It

Your happiness, like so many things in your life, is completely and totally up to you. No, you don’t have all-encompassing power over everything in your life, but you have power over how you choose to react to things.

External circumstances will influence your mood. We’re human. It happens. If you get sick and feel like poo, of course that’s going to bring you down. If some jerk on the road smashes into your car because they weren’t paying attention, you’re gonna be pissed. It’s only natural.

But, regardless of whatever shit is circling around your general vicinity, you have the power to frame your outlook. You have the power to say, “Damn, this sucks, but there’s no point being miserable over it” or to crumple into a ball in the corner and decide the rest of your day (slash-week, slash-life) is going to be crap.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: For me, one of these choices comes out the clear winner. It may not be easy to look at a shit storm and say “Fuck it, I’m going to be happy anyway,” but if the alternative is being miserable, then guess what?

 

I’ma Choose Me Some Happiness

So maybe we’re in the red this week because I no longer get steady biweekly paychecks. But you know what? I also don’t fall into a deep, day-long depression around noon every Sunday because I’m dreading the week ahead down to my marrow. That’s worth being happy about.

Maybe I’ve got too many to-dos and not enough time to to-do them in. But that means business is growing, and this whole cockamamie scheme to work for myself really is proving itself viable. That’s worth being happy about.

Maybe my husband’s Fibro is flaring up, but at least he’s got the chance now to rest whenever he needs to rest, to not have to push himself to the breaking point. If he needs several days in a row, it won’t destroy us because he doesn’t have a job to lose anymore. And—ups and down and all—we’ve found a way to keep the bills paid in spite of that. That’s worth being happy about.

There will always be shit storms. There will also always be those constant little gnats of annoyance and disruption that can make a day fluctuate wildly up and down on the “Am I happy now?” scale.

But when you see happiness more as an attitude you choose the face the day with, a deliberate reaction to your circumstances instead of an elusive “mood” that depends on them, then it becomes less elusive. Then you’re onto something.

Who are you depending on for your happiness?

 

Image:  Flickr

You Do You Like a Boss (or a T-Rex)

The Tyrannosaurus Rex was the pimp of the dinosaur world.

He took names, he called the shots, he ruled the show. Which dinosaur got to be the logo for Jurassic Park? Which dinosaur do most kids want to see first at the science museum? Which dinosaur’s name (rex) actually means “king” in Latin?

That’s right: the mother-effing-T-Rex.

Because he is the incarnation of awesome killer monster dinosaur power.

But you know what? If a T-Rex existed today, he’d be lying on a couch in a psychiatrist’s office talking about his feelings of inadequacy despite of all the fame and glory he gets. Why?

Because T-Rexes Have Tiny Little Arms

For all their razor-toothed, huge-headed terrifyingness, the T-Rex has one genealogical (and rather hilarious) flaw: He has stumpy, useless little flaily arms that The Powers That Be had to have included solely for the purposes of amusing irony.

This means that, in addition to being the target of mean playground ridicule, these kings of the dinosaur world have all sorts of things they CAN’T do.

They can’t do pushups:

They can’t give each other high fives:

T-Rex high fives tshirt

 They can’t adorably express how much they love their significant other:

It’s enough to give any dino a complex.

But you don’t read about these things in the history books. Because—aside from the fact that pushups, high fives and relationships did not exist in the dinosaur era—T-Rexes did the one thing they were designed for very well: they killed things, and they killed them dead. They were predators, and they preyed like nobody’s business.

Brontosauruses, on the other hand, were physically stunning dinos—massively large, tall as fuck, and with all four legs perfectly proportioned. They were walking, symmetrical mountains. And they got killed. They got killed dead—by T-Rexes. Because the gimpy little arms didn’t matter, anymore than the Brontos’ impressive heft did.  Brontosauruses were made to eat leafy things.  T-Rexes were made to eat things that eat leafy things.

What’s the Lesson Here, Cordelia?

The lesson is this:

a) I want any and all of the t-shirts above, and will gladly accept them as early Christmas presents; and

b) We are all designed with certain talents, and certain shortcomings.

You can’t compare your skills against someone else’s, because they’re different. All that matters is that you do what you were designed to do—and you do the everloving shit out of it. (Tweet!)

You may hate your social awkwardness, but you can write one mean piece of copy that magically makes total strangers leap to do your bidding. That’s amazing. A million aspiring writers would kill for that talent.

You may not be the prettiest belle at the ball, but you’ve got the snarkiest, sharpest sense of humor of anyone you know—which is exactly what your future prince charming is looking for in his princess.

You may not know how to run a marathon, or juggle, or have any idea what the latest trending meme is on Twitter. But you do what you do like a boss.

And that is all that matters.

 

Image: Flickr

It All Comes Down to You (Some Stories About Adversity)

This post is from way back in 2011 (remember those days?). I’m re-airing it because I very much need to hear it as I overcome my own challenges this month — namely, kicking my sorry tail into shape.

I have a feeling you could stand to read it, too, whatever challenges you’re currently facing.

So, sit back and listen up, kiddies. I’d like to tell you some stories about some people and the things they have done…

 

Helen Keller Was Deaf and Blind

She not only learned sign language, but earned a Bachelor of Arts degree, wrote 12 books and numerous articles, was a fundraiser for the blind, and campaigned for many liberal causes including women’s suffrage and workers’ rights. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame.

No one would have faulted her for living a quiet life of solitude, given her seemingly insurmountable disability. But she didn’t.

 

Beethoven Began to Lose His Hearing at the Height of His Career and Eventually Became Completely Deaf

He sawed the legs off his piano so he could set it on the floor and feel the vibrations as he played. His Symphony No. 9, of which he never heard a single note, is one of the best-known works of classical music.

He could have given in to the suicidal thoughts that overtook him at first and become just another poetic tragedy. But he didn’t.

 

Elie Weisel and Viktor Frankl Experienced the Unspeakable Horrors of the Nazi Concentration Camps

Weisel went on to spread a message of hope, atonement and peace, drawing from his own struggles to come to terms with the presence of evil in the world. He wrote over 40 books, including the acclaimed memoir Night, and is a political activist for human justice, tolerance and freedom the world over. He was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his crusades for human dignity.

He could have become disillusioned, bitter and withdrawn from the world. Few of us would have faulted him for that. But he didn’t.

From his own attempts to find a reason to keep living in the midst of meaningless suffering, Frankl developed a philosophy that even in the cruelest and most hopeless of situations, man has the ability to find internal meaning and purpose. He went on to teach that even when we are helpless to change our circumstances, we have within us the power to summon the will to live. He pioneered existential and humanist psychiatric systems and wrote more than 32 books, including his hallmark Man’s Search for Meaning.

He could have been broken and defeated by the horrors he experienced. Most of us probably would have, in his situation. But he didn’t.

 

Nelson Mandela Spent 27 Years as a Political Prisoner

He became a leader among his fellow inmates, fighting for better treatment, better food and study privileges, earning his B.A. while imprisoned through a correspondence course. He also became a symbol of hope and anti-apartheid resistance for his entire country. While behind bars, he continued to build his reputation as a political leader, refusing to compromise his beliefs to gain freedom, and upon his release, he led negotiations that resulted in the democracy he had always fought for.

He was elected president of South Africa and received more than 250 awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize. His funeral was a global event.

He could have decided to lie low, give in, and let those 27 years sap his motivation and his influence. It would have been easy enough. But he didn’t.

 

Albert Einstein, Alexander Graham Bell, Leonardo da Vinci, Thomas Edison, Walt Disney and Winston Churchill Are All Said to Have Displayed Signs of Learning Disabilities Like Dyslexia

They did poorly in school. They were told they were stupid, talentless, unteachable, and that they would never amount to anything beyond “mediocre.” I think you know they all went on to do some fairly impressive things.

They could have believed the negative voices and been the smallest versions of themselves. But they didn’t.

 

Speaking of Thomas Edison…

In addition to failing about 10,000 times before landing on a successful design for the light bulb (“I have not failed; I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work”), his factory burnt to the ground when he was 67, destroying countless lab records and millions of dollars of equipment. When he surveyed his losses, he remarked, “There is great value in disaster.  All our mistakes are burned up. Thank God we can start anew.”

He could have thrown in the towel at any one of these setbacks. It certainly seemed like “fate” was trying to tell him to do so. But he didn’t.

 

J.K. Rowling Was a Divorced Single Mom Living on Welfare When She Had the Idea for the Harry Potter Books

She walked her baby in its stroller until it fell asleep, then rushed to the nearest café to get out as many pages as she could before the baby woke up. She is now the revered master creator of a beloved global franchise and one of the richest women in the world.

She could have dismissed her idea as silly or focused on something more “viable.” But she didn’t.

 

James Earl Jones Still Struggles With a Speech Impediment

When he was young, his stutter was so debilitating that at one point, he actually gave up speaking.

He could have stayed silent. But he didn’t.

 

Jackie Joyner-Kersee Was Diagnosed With Asthma When She Was 18

She is now a six-time Olympic medalist in track and field, is ranked among the all-time greatest athletes in the women’s heptathlon, and was named by Sports Illustrated for Women as the Greatest Female Athlete of the 20th Century.

She could have seen herself as defective or weak and given up on her dreams. But she didn’t.

 

Jean-Dominique Bauby Suffered a Massive Stroke That Resulted in “Locked-In Syndrome”

The well-known French journalist, author and editor was left paralyzed and speechless, his only thing method of communication being the ability to blink his left eyelid. He went on to write the book The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, letter by letter, with this one good eyelid. A transcriber recited a modified alphabet to Bauby until he blinked his eye to indicate the letter he wanted.

An average word took around 2 minutes to “write” this way. The book was written in about 200,000 individual blinks, accomplished in 4-hour-a-day sessions over a span of 10 months.

If anyone ever had the right to claim “writer’s block,” it was him. But he didn’t.

 

The Moral of These Stories

Circumstances mean nothing.

Limitations mean nothing.

Obstacles mean nothing.

It all comes down to you. (Tweet, tweet!)

YOU decide how you react to circumstances. You decide who you are in those circumstances and what you can do in spite of them (or because of them).

YOU decide what you do with your limitations. You can see them as a challenge, a minor setback or a message from the universe that you’re just not “meant” to do something.

YOU decide to let obstacles stop you or keep blazing ahead.

You know what the above people did. What’s your choice?

 

Image:  Flickr

The Inspirational Power of Prosaic Badassity

(This is a kickass guest post by Shanna Mann.)

 

I was really excited by the message of the now-defunct “Impossible League” (brainchild of Joel Runyon). Kicking the ass of the so-called impossible? Right on! Finally, a group of people who will really celebrate the hard stuff and what it means to overcome. That was until I realized that they had an unbelievably narrow view of what it meant to tackle the impossible.

To me, impossible isn’t just when you intentionally push your limits. However difficult that situation is, it’s fully in your control.

To me, the real impossible stuff comes when you’re stuck between a rock and a hard place, or when you can’t succeed in the typical manner, whether that’s because of a disability, a disease, being neurodiverse, or just having a really complicated personal situation — that’s what I see as “impossible.”

This collective embracing of feats of physical fitness and stoic challenges represents an actual cultural bias in favor of the fit and healthy. As understandable as that bias is, it shouldn’t make people who don’t reach that standard feel like failures. If anything, it should be the opposite.

That’s why I’m such a fan of making your own job. You can mitigate your issues far better that way.

You see, the way the world is now, it expects certain things from people. A commute. Set hours (or perhaps shift work, which is worse). It requires ridiculous “workdays” that no human being could possibly be productive across the whole span of. It prevents and really kind of pooh-poohs the idea that you should be able to have good hot food, naps or breaks when you need them (not only when they are legally required).

It insists that you should have to save anything and everything personal until after hours, even things that would be more efficient to prod along with throughout the day, like laundry or exercise or walking the dog.

Basically, the modern job requires an automaton, and some of us can’t even fake it. Rather than do all that and fail, we choose to put ourselves into circumstances where it is possible to succeed. Whether it’s a chronic illness, lack of childcare, or some other reason, there’s no reason to play with a stacked deck if you can invent a new game that plays to your strengths.

 

Not “Hacking It” Is a GOOD Thing

I’ve always said that coping mechanisms hurt as often as they help, and this is why: Not being able to hold down a “real” job helps us.

It makes us find another way to keep a roof over our heads, even if we’re suffering from debilitating pain 6 days a week, even when our elderly mother needs full-time care.

Oh, it sucks shitballs, because you have to make things up as you go, but at least it forces you to take your life by the reins. The people who can squeeze themselves into the role their workplace and the economy demands of them are afraid to move for fear of losing the “security” they have. Those who have nothing to lose can afford to be bold.

 

Test Whether the Default Settings Work for You

There are loads of articles about how beneficial it is to be your own boss or to work from home. People rhapsodize about how cool it is to get paid while you’re in your pajamas. That’s fine and all, but that’s really the lowest common denominator when it comes to how being freed from the shackles of societal default settings.

Not many people talk about how you can really take unconventional actions to solve your problems. You can move to Florida to mitigate your SAD, to Ireland to reduce your allergies. You can cope with a rare sleep disorder because when you run your own business, it doesn’t matter if you gain two hours every day. You can earn a living without having to afford daycare. You can take your mother to all her doctor’s appointments — hell, you can go to your own.

I’m on the other side of that issue. One by one, I’ve adjusted the defaults until I’ve settled into a lifestyle that’s so supportive, all my various health problems are nearly asymptomatic.

Why? Because I can wake naturally without an alarm, nap whenever I feel the warning signs, take the day off if I feel ill, eat every 4 hours without fail, and exercise daily to keep my body from seizing up.

When I worked a traditional job, I would wake with a start multiple times in the middle of the night, worried I had slept through my alarm. I would rise in the middle of a sleep cycle and feel nauseated because of it. I would force myself to eat something anyway because I could never be sure when I would get a chance to eat again. I would drive 45 minutes to work, where I would stay pepped up on coffee, B vitamins and Red Bull, and I would take Advil, Robaxacet, and a glass of rum every night so I could unwind and get to sleep without my body aching too much. I coped, but barely. I was still in the stage of trying to prove I could hack it.

What woke me up was someone asking me where I saw myself in 10 years. I said, “Not working this hard.” But when I looked into the future, I couldn’t see any way how what I was doing would lead to a better life.

 

Just Being Brave and Strong Is Not Enough

There tends to be this concept that if things are tough, we should stick it out. We should persevere. But it’s not as simple as that. When we struggle, we should struggle for a purpose. I damn near killed myself trying to prove I was tough, and let me tell you, I now have pretty strict standards about what is worth struggling for.

I am sufficiently convinced that I am not a malingerer. I guess I’ve paid my badass dues. My husband has rheumatoid arthritis and never missed a day of work, even on his surgery days. He’s convinced of his own toughness.

When people talk about their badassity, about the impossible things they’ve done, they never talk about the fact that they get through life on 15 spoons a day. They never talk about how they manage their business by working only when their kids are sleeping (except for years after the fact when they’re being interviewed by Forbes.)

They don’t talk about the second job they work, or how they keep it together in front of clients when their spouse is undergoing cancer treatments. WTF? This is the stuff of heroism. Not cold showers and running triathlons. (Tweet!Those are acceptable training, but the people in my examples are already in the pros.

Fitness and training goals are easy. Not in the sense that you can just snap your fingers and they’re accomplished, but in the sense that there’s a concrete measurability to them; there are simple templates to follow, and there’s a warm camaraderie with all the rest of the crazy people out risking an ankle with you. I have loads more respect for the way that Joel Runyon built a movement around the Impossible League than I am that he ran a marathon and takes cold showers every day.

I don’t have any grand lesson to share with you. If you’re in this situation, you’re already doing everything you can. You might not be doing everything right (because who can tell what that is?), but you’re the man on the ground, and no one can gainsay that. This sparse little poem sums up my feelings on the matter precisely:

I used to admire

Men who sailed the unknown seas or climbed dangerous mountains,

Who flew planes in the Yukon or parachuted for fun,

Men who built their own house and planted with their own hands,

Giants who built shopping centers and skyscrapers 100 stories high.

I used to admire

Priests who missionaried in China and scientists who discovered cures,

Industrialists who built empires, celebrities who made a mark.

Now I’m glad I’ve lived long enough to do some of the things

I used to admire.

Lately I only admire people

Who do what they have to do.

~James Kavanaugh (1928-2009)

 

Professional Badass: 24/7

If you’re already in the pros, own that shit. Don’t treat it like you’re secretly failing because you can’t “live up” to the default. You’re not failing; you’re winning against the odds. You’re taking your own destiny in your hands, and you are fucking crushing it.

If you’ve never been able to talk about your triumphs for fear they’ll sound like whining, tell us in the comments, and we’ll cheer you for the impossibility-crusher you are.

 

Shanna MannShanna Mann is a business coach for freelancers and solopreneurs. She’s not the “$100K in 90 Days or Less” type of business coach, or the “How Can I Get Paid for My Passion?” type — she’s the “How can I pursue excellence, both personally and through my business, and how can I secure my gains so that my family doesn’t suffer the stress and uncertainty of the risks I chose?” type of business coach. If that sounds like your cri de coeur, visit shannamann.com and sign up for the free business management guide Be The Boss.

 

 Image: Atos / Flickr

Are You Chaining Your Elephant?

I bet you don’t know how elephants are trained.

I didn’t, until I read the method in a book recently and was floored. Here’s how it works:

A baby elephant is placed on a chain that is staked to the ground. The chain is substantial, and although baby elephants are not small by any means, they’re also not quite mammoth enough to pull a big chain from the ground.

So, every time the baby elephant tries to roam, or wander, or (more proactively) break the hell free from its restraints, it can’t. It’s stuck. And after enough times of trying and trying and getting nowhere, eventually the little trooper gives up and realizes he’s beat. That chain ain’t lettin’ him get anywhere. So he stops trying.

Fair enough. Seems like a logical conclusion.

But here’s the kicker: When that little pachyderm grows up into a big, hulking, people-crushing adult, it still thinks the chain is stronger than it is.

At this point, it could very easily take an angry running start and yank that puppy clean out of the ground, setting itself free and trampling any trainers, circus-goers or other smaller mammals that try to get in its path.

Just a yank or two. And it’s free.

But it doesn’t even try, because it’s learned that being chained means being trapped. Never mind the size of the chain. It doesn’t even try to break free, because in its (admittedly not mammoth-sized) mind, “chain = stuck.”

If it tried? It would pleasantly surprised.

But it doesn’t. And it won’t. Because elephants, as they say, never forget.

 

You Are Not an Elephant

This whole training process seems ludicrous, right? (And more than a little sad?)

I mean, this big, wild, super-strong animal is held captive by a tiny little chain simply because it’s been trained to believe the chain is stronger than it is. It’s the equivalent of you being fixed to one spot in your yard by a rope of Silly String, because someone when you were 5 once told you, “That thing will hold you in place, no matter what.”

Except, it’s not so ludicrous.

Because every day, we’re held in place by equally flimsy chains, courtesy of negative training much like our floppy-eared friends.

We don’t bother trying for that dream or that position or that gorgeous guy or girl, because we know we’re not good enough. We’ve been told so. We’ve failed before. Failure seems to be our thing, so why bother?

We’re glued to our miserable cubes for 40 hour a week because we don’t see anyone else trying to break free, so we assume it can’t be done. There must be no other options. This is just The Way Things Are. We learn to deal because that’s what good, well-adjusted grownups appear to do.

We let ourselves be bound and limited by fears, anxieties, insecurities, anger we’ve been holding onto all our lives, because they’ve become internal narratives we don’t even realize we’re telling ourselves. Like subliminal messages, they influence us without our even realizing it, and we never think to fight back because we don’t realize there’s anything to fight against.

The trainers have got us.

Whether it’s our own inner hang-ups, cultural expectations or bad things that have happened in the past, we tend to operate in the same tiny little patch of life, never imagining it’s possible to move further, let alone that we have it in us to do so.

But we do. More than we may realize.

 

 Break Free

We have in us the potential for infinite progression.

When we were little, we were wise to this. We knew we could become astronauts, or doctors, or prima ballerinas because we saw the world for what it was: a playground of possibilities just waiting for us to start experimenting with our options.

So we experimented. We tried a million different things and learned about ourselves and didn’t let grownup silliness limit us because the adults were still letting us have our fun before “reality” hit.

But as we got older, we got the chain training. We learned the parameters of what could and could not be done– what was acceptable, what was expected, how to operate within the confines of the world as it had been parceled and boundaried out for us.

We learned to fit in — to boxes, to predefined expectations, to our own biases about our faults and weaknesses, to what “the average person” did in “the real world.”

Except the real world has always been much bigger than we’ll ever be able to explore, and none of us is as small as we’re led to believe “the average person” is. We just stop seeing that after enough training to respect the chain, no questions please.

 

Well, Fuck That. Fuck It Hard

You are a mammoth, people-crushing ball of possibilities, and you have the power to roam wheresoever the hell you choose in this great adventure called life.

Are you really going to keep puttering around your same little circle, thanking life for the peanuts it throws you while you’re one good lunge away from infinite possibilities?

I don’t think you should. Because you know the secret now. You know the chain has no power except the power you give it in your mind.  (Tweet, tweet!)

And once you know that? It’s awful hard to keep respecting the chain.

What’s keeping you bound to the same tiny circles? What can you do to break free?

 

Image:  Flickr

Acceptance Does Not Mean Acquiescence

There’s a thing about the Zen mentality that makes it a bit tough to embrace for a thug-for-life revolutionary:

Being Zen seems to imply being “o.k.” with things that are, inherently, shitty.  A lost job, a bad diagnosis, a broken relationship…while feel-good happiness blogs will tell you that “accepting” these things will make them easier for you, will help you “come to peace” with them, will let you get on with your life, it can feel like they’re telling you to push the truth under the carpet.

And the truth is, these things do suck. If you have any get-up-and-go at all, you’re inclined to be pissed off about them.

Which is only reasonable.  No one in their right mind would say, “I’ve got cancer!  That’s awesome!  I’m looking forward to this!”  Yet amazing people every day manage to get through the shittiest of shit like that with a gracious spirit and a joyful attitude that puts the rest of our daily gripes to absolute shame.

Does that mean these are people weak, because they’ve accepted the fact that sometimes life sucks, hard?  Or does that mean they’re actually strong as hell, because it’s only the strong as hell that can take the things that would cripple most people and continue to focus on being as happy as they can in the moment?

 

My Tat, Almost a Beatles Song, and a Standard Happiness Trope

shoulder tattooI’ve been toying with the idea of a new tattoo for a while now, but I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted.  (We don’t have it in the budget anymore, but it was earmarked for my birthday gift before our own shit hit the fan.)  I started a board on Pinterest to gather some ideas, and they were nearing the mark, but they weren’t quite there.

I wanted something that wouldn’t be super-obvious to everyone who saw it.  Something classy, but also a little rockabilly.  And since I wanted it to be on my shoulder—my first visible “that’s right, I’m a tattoo person” tattoo after getting 4 others in easily hideable places—I wanted it to have a freakload of personal meaning.

I just didn’t know what that meaning was until recently.

If you’re an editing nerd like myself (and I know some of you out there are), then you’ll know what the word means.  “Stet” is a mark used by proofreaders and editors to signify that a change they’d previously marked (crossing out a word, adding punctuation, etc.) should be disregarded.  In Latin, it means “let it stand.”  To me, in this tattoo, it means “things are as they should be.”  There is a reason life unfolds the way it does.

Regardless of the changes I want to make—regardless even of the changes I’m trying desperately hard to make—things are as they are for a reason.  I can fight them—I can hate them, even—but I accept that the life I’m living right now is the only life I have, and that there is no sense in not trying to find as much happiness and freedom (i.e., the bluebird) as I possibly can in the midst of current circumstances.

Because “acceptance” does not have to equal “liking the way things are.”  In fact, it usually doesn’t.  If you find yourself needing to accept something, chances are it’s not something all that great.  (“Oh fine, I guess I’ll accept this $100 bill I found lying on the ground…”)

You can hate the everloving shit out of something and still accept it.  That’s not a contradiction.  It’s when you acquiesce to something you don’t like that you’re in trouble.

 

Accepting vs. Acquiescing (Hint: One Is For Zen; One Is For Punkasses)

Of the many definitions of acceptance (and yes, some are “to acknowledge something as favorable”), the one the happiness gurus are talking about is “a disposition to tolerate or accept people or situations.”

Note the word “tolerate.”  Not “love.”  Not “trick yourself into thinking it’s awesome when secretly you hate it.”  Just “tolerate.”

Tolerating implies that whatever it is you’re accepting is something you’re not thrilled about, but you’re taking the higher road.  For whatever reason—harmony in your relationships, your own peace of mind, the ability to get through the day—you’re learning to live with something that is less than ideal.  You’re learning to be happy in spite of the fact that it’s there, rather than boo-hooing your crappy luck and fixating on how unfair things are.

That’s not to say you can’t be trying to fix it in the meantime; you should be.  You just learn to not let it bring you down while you’re doing so.

Acquiescence, in contrast, means “passive assent or agreement without protest.”

I hope I don’t need to elaborate on why this is not a philosophy CCIQ would ever in a million years endorse.

Protest your little fucking hearts out, readers dear.  But don’t let it make you miserable.  Don’t give it that power.

 

In Practice…

The application of this dichotomy in my own life would read as follows:

I accept the fact that there’s been a bend in my road.

I accept the financial uncertainty this throws us into, the delay it  puts on my Quits dream, the fact that I will be tired and overextended and (yes, I’ll be real) disgruntled with certain things for a while longer now.

Because by doing that, by saying “stet” quietly over and over to myself as I work my way through the days, I find the patience and determination I need to keep on keepin’ on.  I find myself able to still smile at sunsets and laugh at the jokes on the sitcoms I watch with my husband.

It keeps me on the positive side of the line I’m walking.  Because who wants to walk the negative side?  Seriously—it’s your choice.  Why would you choose miserable?

But, will I acquiesce to this bend?  Will I let it convince me that my dreams are pipe dreams, persuade me to go back to The Way Things Are, grind me down into the sad, defeated little puddle I could become if I accepted it without protest?

Hell to the no.

That’s not what revolutionaries do.

 

Your Turn

What things in your life do you need to say “stet” to?  How can you accept without acquiescing?  Work it out with me in the comments, babies!

Image: Nickolai Kashirin / Flickr

My Misery Is Miserabler Than Your Misery

First off, infinite thanks for the incredible outpouring of love and support you all gave me on Monday’s post.  I knew you guys would be awesome about it, but I can’t begin to tell you how much all your kind words and encouragement mean to me.

I, lover of run-on sentences, TMI, and endless rambling, can’t find enough words to express my love for you all.  So you know it’s like way huge.  🙂

An update:  The husband and I are going to a counselor this week to discuss local support group options, and talking to his primary care physician about a potential fibro specialist who may be able to give us some better tips on coping. Plus we talked/cried/hugged it out, so things are on the path to getting better.

That all said, here’s today’s post:

Don’t Mind Me While I Momentarily Become an Annoying Tween…

Monday’s post had me entering the office Monday  morning with a particularly stormy outlook.  Having spent the weekend dwelling on a post that summed up weeks of anger and sadness and worry and stress, I’d finally begun to realize—really realize—that my husband wasn’t going to “get better” and this was going to be our life going forward.

Having this hit me left me like one big raw nerve.

I’ve gotten pretty good at laughing off my coworker’s Eeyore attitudes.  It’s the only way you can get through spending 8 hours a day with people without having their shoddy mindsets bring you down.

But this Monday, I wasn’t in the mood for any of it.  Oh, was I not in the mood for it…

So when my coworkers began their usual grumbling and groaning about all the petty hassles of being a downtrodden secretary (My printer isn’t working!  I’m only getting a 55-minute lunch break instead of my full hour!), something in my brain snapped.  Not just a little snap, but an Acme-fireworks-KERPLOOEY!, the mess of which wound up on mostly my personal Facebook page.

You know how much you hate it when people passive-aggressively type-vomit their frustrations on their FB pages as though you give a crap?  Yeah, even the most panda-hatted of us are subject to that in weak moments…

It wasn’t pretty.

Perhaps the clearest example of this was this lovely status update:

Dear shitty office workplace vibe: I’m rubber; you’re glue. Everything you bitch & moan about bounces off me and makes me want to say SHUT THE FUCK UP YOUR LIFE IS EASY PUT ON YOUR BIG GIRL PANTS. </rant>

Classy, huh?  The kind of thing you’d expect from someone fluent in personal branding, social media dos and don’ts, and the basics of being a 30-year-old grownup?

Yeah, I thought so.

The Truth About Troubles

Two Tylenol, two Aleve, three cups of coffee, two generous snifters of Buffalo Trace, and one very long call with my mommy (thanks, Mom!) later, I’ve come to I realize a few things about the way I need to approach this whole “my problems vs. your problems” mentality: It’s the totally wrong way to approach life.

Yes, it is frustrating to see the people around losing their heads over stapler jams when you’ve just come to realize your husband will always be sick.  But, turning into a resentful “my shit is shittier than your shit” judgment-a-holic won’t do anyone any good.  And it certainly isn’t very Cordelian.

So, in a calmer state of mind and rationality, I have come to realize the following:

You have no idea what the people around you are secretly dealing with.

Personally, I think many of the bitch-and-moan issues at my workplace are a matter largely of people needing to put on their big girl pants.  Some things are just so stupidly unimportant there’s no use getting yourself in a twist over them.  (See below.)

But, that said, who am I to judge?

I of all people know what it’s like to struggle with things (my husband’s illness, my own issues) in secret and put up an “everything is normal” front.  Maybe something else is going on behind the scenes.  Or maybe some people simply are just chronic whiners.  Either way, it’s not my place to say.  And it’s certainly pointless to get upset over it.

None of this petty shit matters.

Two days after my own personal meltdown, I can look at the silly hassles that normally make me a grumpypants (like, a-hem, complaining coworkers) and say “Seriously?  This is what I’ve been getting so upset over?  This is a negative on the scale of importance.”

I’ve noticed that the people I happen to know have the most on their plates (sick loved ones of their own, family problems, money trouble, overwhelming schedules) tend to be the ones that roll the best with whatever punches are thrown their way and laugh off stupid inconveniences with a sense of humor I can only envy.  I need to learn to be more like them.  I can’t get mad over someone taking small things out of proportion, because that in itself is taking a small thing out of proportion.

No one can say their shit is shittier than someone else’s.

Because no one is living anyone else’s life.  We’ve all got things that are weighing on our minds.  There are always going to be people much worse off and much better off than we are.

All we can do is live this one life we’ve been given, with as much grace and humor as possible, and leave other people to do the same with theirs.

(Holy mother, I’ve been deep and solemn the past couple days.  Back to your usually-scheduled Railing Against the System shortly…)

 

Image: Flickr

What Story Are You Telling Yourself?

When I was a little kid, one of the funnest games to play was “let’s pretend”: “Let’s pretend the living room is the ocean, and the furniture is islands, so you have to swim to get to them!”… “Let’s pretend everything is opposite, like we can only move backwards!”…  “Let’s pretend I’m a really rich person and you’re my butler!”

(O.k., so you usually can’t get your younger siblings to go along with that one, but it’s worth a try.)

The awesome thing about the “let’s pretend” game was that it made the boring everyday things around you seem suddenly new and exciting. In the blink of an eye, you weren’t stuck inside with nothing to do on a rainy day; you were on a cool adventure, and everything you saw was part of that adventure.

Banisters were trees. Trees were giants. The world transformed around you, just because you said so. (It’s a handy trick to use if you’re babysitting, too. You’d be amazed how excited a kid can get about brushing his teeth or helping clear dishes if you make it into a race or a secret ninja test.)

 

The Power of Frames

The way we frame things matters. When we get older, we may stop intentionally imagining the world around us into something different. But while we’re no longer saying “let’s pretend,” we’re still telling ourselves stories that change the way we view things — and not always for the better.

It’s way too easy to cast yourself into a role. You’re the overworked, under-appreciated martyr. You’re the only nice person left in a world of jerks. You’re no good. You’re too good. Everyone else is no good. You’re hopeless. And, like magic, everything around you seems to fall into place to support that role.

Self-stories have a way of becoming self-fulfilling. If you look at the world through whatever-color glasses, guess what? Everything will look whatever-colored. (Tweet, tweet!)

But that doesn’t mean that it is. (Or that it has to be.)

 

Red Flags

I’ve begun to realize there’s one surefire to tell when I’m operating based on faulty self-stories. Any time I find myself thinking in terms of things that “usually,” “always” or “typically” happen, I should learn to stop myself right there, because I’m probably telling myself a story that won’t lead to anything good.

For instance:

  • This guy’s gonna cut me off. SUVs usually cut me off…
  • Of course she dumped that project on me. People always dump their projects on me. I’m the only one who ever does any work around here…
  • One more load of dishes to do. Typical. The chores never end…

Can you tell which sad, sorry stories I’m telling myself about my life in these examples? Here are the underlying (/unattractive) assumptions:

  • Everyone else drives like an idiot. Everyone is only out for themselves. SUV drivers are obnoxious. Woe is me. [Cordelia note: I personally do believe that the ratio of obnoxious SUV drivers to obnoxious small car drivers is considerably high, but an assumption is still an assumption, so I’m trying to be more charitable. Apologies if you’re one of the nice ones!]
  • Everyone wants to take advantage of me. No one appreciates how hard I work. Everyone else is just goofing off playing online poker or updating their Facebook status. Woe is me.
  • My life is ruled by chores and errands and I’m helpless to do anything about it. I’ll never have any time for myself. It’s all on me. [My husband is actually perfectly willing to help out if I ask him, but I rarely ask anyone for help because I’m too busy doing everything myself and then stewing over it.] Woe is me.

In summation: Not good, folks. Just plain Not Good.

 

Bad Story. Bad!

(In Which Cordelia Confesses She’s Not Always That Great)

In case you couldn’t tell, way too often I tell myself the “woe is me” story. I cast myself as the harried Girl Friday who does everything for everyone and never gets a break.

And what happens as a result? I’m stressed. I resent things. I dwell on petty inconveniences. I’m inundated with stress because I’m approaching the world stressfully. I’m easily irritated because I’m focusing on all the things that irritate me.

It’s not pretty, and I don’t like it. Actually, I feel pretty awful admitting to it. It’s a horrible way to approach a life. I’m not sure how I acquired it, but it’s time for a redo, stat.

 

Self-Story 2.0

(New & Improved!)

I’m deliberately trying to teach myself a different story now. For all my Cordelian ideals, I still find myself defaulting to the old story when things get hectic or I’m not feeling particularly strong. But I’m learning to catch myself when the bad self-casting kicks in and to start the new story playing instead.

The new story is infinitely better:

I’m taking control. I’m on my way to something better. I’m Cordelia, and I’m calling it quits, because there are better things to do with a life.

Are the same stresses and petty inconveniences still there? Yep. Of course. But I don’t mind them as much. The world seems a little rosier in my new role, which means I’m reacting to it better, which in turns makes better things happen.The story perpetuates itself.

Is this sort of self-narrative a little too golly-gee-whiz perky? Damn straight it is.

Sort of a silly “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and gosh darn it, people like me” affirmation? Might be. What of it?

I’ve takenthe opposite approach, and personally, I think it’s crap. If I’ve got a choice between stories to believe in, you bet your sweet tail I’m going for the happier one.

I’m done bemoaning the world I think I’m stuck in. I’m ready to start creating the world I want to live in.

So, what kind of story are YOU telling yourself?

Image: Flickr