A week before Christmas, this from Joshua Fields Millburn came to my Inbox. Then, a couple of days later, I read this edgy piece by Tina Lear about erasing our future.
I’ve been thinking about these two pieces of writing as I clean out cupboards, pack, and work on finding a temporary storage unit to help smooth the process of moving house.
To outsource is to obtain something from an outside source. I loved Millburn’s article about outsourcing our happiness because I’ve noticed this, too. We outsource our success. We outsource our sense of style and beauty. We outsource our power in all kinds of ways. We don’t even notice we’re doing it most of the time. What it really amounts to is permanently putting ourselves behind bars.
I had an interaction recently at work that perfectly illustrated outsourcing our power. It was the end of a 10-hour day. I was tired. We were trying to close the pool, which requires several complicated chemical and maintenance tasks. We had some late swimmers we were working around. A woman walked in asking for information about joining. I launched into our well-rehearsed spiel about paperwork, reservations, COVID precautions, and our policies and procedures.
Our population is mostly elderly, and this woman was grey-haired. There’s a lot of information to absorb, and we’re used to people being confused or anxious and needing to ask several questions. We can also anticipate problems with filling out the paperwork correctly, so we show newcomers all the places they’ll need to sign, date, and initial.
She interrupted me abruptly in midflow, saying she was busy and didn’t have time for all this. She didn’t smile. I shut up, handed her the paperwork, and thanked her for coming by. She left and I went back to what I had been doing. I was busy, too.
A half an hour later, on the way home, I realized I was upset. I went back over the interaction to figure out where it had gone wrong. I rarely have interactions like this. I’m usually good with people. Had I said or done something wrong? Had I been impatient or unhelpful or unpleasant in some way?
All at once, I felt as though I’d had a “bad” day at work. I’d screwed it up. It hadn’t gone well.
I realized, of course, it wasn’t about me. This woman is a stranger. She doesn’t know me well enough to dislike me. I knew I was being oversensitive and I let it go.
She came in a few days later to swim, which means she took her mask off. I recognized her immediately, though she took no notice of me. I watched her as I guarded and noted, once again, how attractive she is. I also noticed how sad she looked. She’s got beautiful bone structure, but she has an air of iron self-control and her face in repose as she enjoyed the warm therapy pool was stoic, her mouth secretive and folded in upon itself. She looks as though she’s suffered in her life, and is determined to bear it with dignity.
It takes one to know one, I thought to myself.
That thirty seconds of interaction with a stranger tilted my whole day. In a moment, I lost my sense of competence and confidence. One interaction erased all the dozens of positive interactions I had and all the things I did right over my 10-hour shift and before.
This is outsourcing our satisfaction and happiness with ourselves and our lives. It puts our power outside us, into the hands of someone else. It doesn’t matter if the someone else is a loved one or stranger.
The second article, by Tina Lear, suggests we consider erasing our stories about the future. She’s coming at it from a minimalist perspective. She realized she was keeping lots of things “in case.” In case collapse comes. In case the power grid fails. In case we suddenly become different people. In case we lose weight. In case things come back into fashion. In case we suddenly love doing something we’ve already tried doing and didn’t love.
This is a big one for me. I always want to be prepared for anything. If I’d had the money and focus, I’d have been a prepper.
I don’t think being prepared is bad. Not at all. In fact, my partner and I are having considerable friction right now around preparing to move. I want to do a little cleaning, a little packing, a little organizing every day. He’s not interested. He won’t be interested until his back is against the wall and then he’ll begin taking action. I can’t work that way. He drives me nuts. He thinks I’m exhausting myself for no reason.
Aren’t relationships fun?
Anyway, Lear is right. When is the future ever what we think it will be? We can’t prepare for all eventualities. (Didn’t I just write something about leaping?) What we can do is be sure we don’t outsource our happiness, our confidence, our sense of self. We can be on our own side. We can validate ourselves and cheer ourselves on when we need it. We can love ourselves, even in the moments when it seems no one else does. Especially in the moments when it seems no one else does.
We can stop scaring ourselves with stories about what might happen in the future and trust we’ll survive and thrive, no matter what does happen, because we haven’t outsourced our happiness, our confidence, or our competence. We may have discarded something we suddenly need, but how serious is that, really? We can buy another. We can borrow it. We can use something else. The sky won’t fall. We’ll figure it out.
Life will go on. Let us be in charge of our own lives rather than outsourcing them to someone else.
I work in a small local hospital rehab facility. Maine has recently instituted a mandatory COVID vaccination requirement for all healthcare workers.
Here in Maine, school districts are choosing whether or not to enforce masking and social distancing as in-person school begins.
As we go into Fall, these two issues are inescapable, not only here but across the country as businesses, organizations, and individuals make choices about dealing with COVID. Or not.
It’s an unpleasant atmosphere, rife with argument, outrage, broken relationships, blame, and contempt. I frequently drive home in tears, exhausted by the effort to remain calm and professional with our patrons, patients, and some staff members.
Much of the current conversation centers around the issue of freedom of choice, and those are conversations worth having. However, I’ve noticed a key part of that conversation is nearly always missing.
We are not free from the consequences of our choices and the choices of others.We have never been and never will be free from the consequences of our choices and the choices of others.
Freedom of choice goes hand-in-hand with responsibility, and choices cannot be separated from their effects. Sometimes those effects are logical, and other times they’re unpredictable. Sometimes they’re obvious and immediate, sometimes subtle and long-term. Sometimes the right choice results in heartbreaking consequences, and sometimes the wrong choice doesn’t. None of us can fully foresee where our choices will lead us. Some people are paralyzed by this fact and resist choosing.
Refusing to choose is also a choice, and it creates consequences.
This inescapable part of being human is something we all share and experience. Nothing can shield us from it, not power, not money, not beliefs, not government. Sooner or later, consequences catch up to us and play out.
We are not “losing” our freedom to choose. We’ve never had unlimited choice. We are experiencing the effects of our choices, just as we’ve always done. It’s a process beyond justice or injustice or good or bad. Consequences are often teachers and opportunities.
Choices and consequences are simply what life is. Everyone’s life. Every day.
Sometimes consequences are deadly and tragic, and we never have a chance to make a different choice. Sometimes we have lots of chances to choose again. Most of us are familiar with the I’ve-been-standing-at-this-crossroad-before kind of feeling.
Choices are linked together in our lives in an endless chain. We decide who to believe. We decide what to believe. We make choices reflecting our faith in someone or a source of information. Things happen. We discover our faith was misplaced, or we discover our faith was justified, or, possibly, both.
This is the human condition.
I believe most of us are making the best choices we can in life. Inevitably, we will experience consequences we didn’t expect and don’t want, and we’ll have to manage those as best we can. Sometimes we’ll need help and support to manage the effects of our choices.
At the end of the day, our power resides in making choices for ourselves and accepting the consequences. We can’t make choices for others, and nobody is making choices for others. Rules and mandates regarding the pandemic are going into place, joining countless other rules and mandates we’ve always lived with. As individuals, we will choose whether to resist or comply, and then deal with the consequences of that choice.
Because the globe is so densely populated, our choices, and the effects arising from them, are bound to affect others. We can’t escape from interconnection. Even so, we can only choose for and manage ourselves. Hurling contempt at one another over the choices we make isn’t useful. It doesn’t provide resource, support, or respect. It makes unwanted consequences more difficult to experience and manage for all of us. It doesn’t persuade anyone to make the “right” choice.
It doesn’t change minds or save lives.
We are comparatively free in this country, but freedom is never absolute. None of us have unlimited choice, but all of us have some, and that means all of us will experience consequences generated by ourselves and others. Freedom does not erase the consequences of our choices.
Free. Managing consequences, just like you. My daily crime.
When we teach Parent and Child swim classes, most of what we teach is for the parents. Holds, encouragement, how to demonstrate skills, the importance of trust, safety, and initiating lots of play are among the highlights. One of the things we talk about is the “Terrible Toos.” Too far. Too many repetitions. Too tired. Too scared. Too hot or cold. Too hungry. Too thirsty. Too much sun. All of these impact a child’s ability to learn.
I begin lessons with a lesson plan, but I’ve worked with children all my life, and I know one never knows how a session will go. Every time is different. One day they’ve napped, and another day they haven’t. One day they have a tooth coming in, or they’ve just had a doctor’s appointment, or they’ve been to school. Sometimes they’re getting sick. Sometimes they’ve just gotten a new puppy.
Sometimes they’re up for learning, and sometimes they’re not. When they’re not, I need to set aside my agenda and work with where the child is. It’s surprising, how many skills we can practice during 30 minutes of “play!”
Recently I read this article about figuring out what is enough from Becoming Minimalist, and it made me think about the “Terrible Toos.” We know so much about more, and so little about too much and enough.
Enough. As much or as many as required for satisfaction.
There’s a problematic definition! Satisfaction is entirely subjective. We are taught from babyhood to consume, to want, to desire more. Our culture is structured around appeals to our longing for belonging, connection, and more than we have. More clothes. More food. More friends. More tech. More money.
I wonder how many people know what enduring satisfaction feels like.
Enough is a boundary. It’s a destination. It’s power.
Unlimited More is a black hole.
Enough is reality.
Unlimited More is addiction, or perfectionism, or pleasing. It never ends. It never stops. It’s never satisfied. It’s based on the fantasy that if only we had more _______, our lives would be better. If we were only more ________, we would be loved.
Enough is a choice to say yes or no. No, I don’t need that. No, I don’t want that. No, I have enough.
Unlimited More is not a choice. It’s yes, yes, yes, yes, and yes, I need more.
When are we good enough?
When have we tried hard enough?
When do we have enough?
When have we suffered enough?
When have we given enough?
When have we loved enough?
When have we forgiven enough?
When have we tolerated enough?
When have we accommodated enough?
When are we fast enough?
When are we busy enough?
When are we enough?
Enough. My daily crime.
Violence, self-destruction, despair and human rights violations are rampant in our world. We can choose our favorite flavor: Climate change, racial and ethnic problems, gender ideology, immigration issues, terrorism, food production and diet, religion, capitalism and the economy, and a multitude of other issues clamor for our attention.
Who is to blame?
Everyone? No one?
Our global social problems overwhelm me. They’re too big for one person to deal with.
As I explore blame, I’ll zoom in to an example from my own life.
A long time ago I married an abusive man, and he abused me. (Big surprise, right?) My experience of abuse was quite real. I realized his behavior was not okay. I realized domestic violence is a huge problem, and I realized it can happen to anyone.
I found a way out, and I could have stopped there and just carried the identity of a victim of domestic violence and an abusive man. It’s a big club. I could find validation, support groups, therapy and other assistance. I could compare stories with other victims, seek revenge, stalk his Facebook page, bad mouth him, have bad dreams and feel ashamed every time I flinch away from a sudden movement a man makes in my vicinity.
I could have turned my experience as an abused woman into a demon, a chronically bleeding wound, a source of darkness, fear and impaired trust. I could run from it, avoid it, try to forget it and stay stuck in power loss. I was victimized. It was unfair. That’s how the world works.
But what’s underneath that reality of being an abused woman? Why was I an abused woman?
Because men prey on women, men are entitled, it’s a man’s world and women are not granted equal power, recognition or rights.
It wasn’t my fault. I was a victim. End of story.
A victim is a person harmed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action. Notice that powerlessness is not part of that definition, which is paraphrased from Oxford Online Dictionary.
I was an abused woman because I thought that’s what I was worth. That’s my truth. I don’t shame myself over it, but I own it. All men do not prey on women. All men do not feel entitled. Men do not define the world unless women allow them to, and the only person who can give away my power and ignore my rights is me.
And, at various times in my life, I have.
Blaming is easy, and we all do it. Managing personal power is a lot of work, a daily practice if we want our lives to work well. Blaming is quick and socially acceptable, especially in this age of hyperreaction to any hint of victim shaming.
The problem is that blame is a dead end. It keeps us firmly fastened in what has befallen us rather than what we’re going to do now. We can blame all we like, but it doesn’t bring us justice, resolution or healing. It doesn’t help us understand the complexities of our situation. We can’t learn from blame. It’s not useful or productive in any way. Blaming is an abdication of responsibility, power and resilience.
This is even more true when we blame ourselves. Blaming myself is what put me in an abusive relationship in the first place. I am not responsible for the behavior and choices of the man I was with, but I chose to be with him – for a time. I believed it was what I deserved because of my guilt and shame over previous choices.
If we are victimized by a crime, accident, or other event or action, and all we can do is blame, we’re effectively embracing a victim mentality, and that kind of thinking goes nowhere.
Sooner or later, we’re all victims of something. Sometimes our own choices lead to our victimization, sometimes we get hurt through no fault of our own, and often the situation is a complex mixture of choices, actions, and events that’s impossible to disentangle.
It’s what we do with our experience that counts. Are we going to blame someone or something and stay stuck, or take appropriate responsibility for ourselves and problem-solve?
We’re not responsible for what other people do or random events we’re caught up in, but we’re always responsible for what we do in response. Healthy boundaries help us discern the difference between the places we have power and the places we have none.
Taking responsibility is not the same as blaming. Responsibility is a powerful tool for problem solving. It’s forward-focused. Blame is backwards-focused and solves nothing.
Being or feeling victimized is no fun, and it’s not a place I want to pitch a tent and call home. I refuse to identify as a victim, and I don’t victimize myself or others. When I catch myself blaming, I know I’ve stepped out of my own power.
Being victimized is a teacher for me. It’s not about blame and shame. It’s about using the feelings and discomfort of the experience to learn, to grow, to find new resources and to reach out to other victims in a supportive, constructive way. Making a healthy contribution out of our experience of victimization heals our wounds and helps other victims find their way to healing. It helps us reclaim our dignity and power.
It’s a lot more work than blaming, which any toddler can do.
Blaming signals disempowerment, and I refuse to go back down that road. In a perfect world, we’d all be held accountable for our victimization of others, but it’s far from a perfect world, and the only choices I’m in charge of are my own.
I may be, at times, a victim, but I’m always in charge of my own power.
As I implemented the holistic planning process earlier in the year, the first step was defining the whole I was trying to manage. I continue to feel challenged as I remember to include my needs in the whole. My default has always been to work harder in pursuit of goals, but now I recognize the wisdom of working smarter instead.
Last week I read a post titled ‘Do You Like the Person You are Becoming?’ by one of my favorite minimalists, Joshua Becker. His piece doesn’t focus on needs, but on how we feel about who we are in the context of our lives and projects.
Something about his language cut right to the heart of my struggle to hold onto my own hand as I go forward into the future.
I feel a lot of movement right now. The season is part of it, with its new growth and hope. Pandemic limitations are relaxing and human affairs flow more “normally.” Personally, I’ve had some new opportunities, some of which I engaged with and some of which I didn’t. I’m involved with an exciting new creative project (more about that later).
At the same time, balance is hard. I squeeze the last minute out of every hour and berate myself when I feel unproductive. The gardens and yard cry out to me, but I haven’t spent more than an hour playing with them. If I work hard creatively all day, I feel too drained to exercise. If I exercise and choose to be more active, I’m unhappy with my creative progress.
Now, more than ever before, I simply can’t do it all.
Writing has made me confident, authentic, joyful and playful.
Which woman do I like better? Whom do I want to live with and see in the mirror?
The fact is I could meet all my needs and still not like myself. I could have chosen to make more money, but I would have liked myself less.
Learning to love myself has been an incredible journey, one that saved my life.
I have no intention of going backwards.
Another tenet of minimalism is understanding the feeling we don’t have enough space and time doesn’t mean we need more space and time. It means we need less stuff and fewer things to do. We need to find a way to make our lives easier, not harder.
We need to love ourselves enough to create a meaningful, joyful life with plenty of space and time.
Maybe, as I begin my day, the question is not what I want and need to accomplish, but what choices will make me like myself better than I did the day before.
Can it be done? Is it possible to lead a balanced, vibrant life, full of texture and joy, keep an adequate roof over my head, and create a more secure future while doing the work I love, all while loving the person I am?
(I finally know what I want to be when I grow up! Not only what I want to do, but who I want to be!)
We compare ourselves to others in contests and competitions. Our capitalist culture shapes us to believe winners receive the most money and fame.
Our culture assures us money and fame equal power, and winners have to spend a lot of money in order to win. Everyone else has to spend a lot of money in order to compete with them.
The fact is, contests and competitions produce one winner and many losers. But those losers want to win, so they spend even more money to become winners.
Win-win for capitalism, but lose-lose for almost everyone else.
I recently heard of a question on Facebook to men: What woman do you admire?
Nearly all the answers involved women of extraordinary intelligence and talent who have made important contributions to the world but are not necessarily well known, although their male colleagues are!
Are they losers because they’re not rich and famous? Can they be winners if we’ve never heard of them?
Is our win meaningful if nobody recognizes it? Is it meaningful if it’s not part of our identity?
Is it the win we care about, or the validation, power and applause we expect to receive as a winner?
Are our wins and losses about what we think of ourselves (empowering) or about what others think of us (disempowering)?
How important is winning? More important than the truth? More important than our own integrity and dignity? More important than our health and well-being?
Is our win really about someone else losing (I’ll show them!)?
Winning, like perfectionism and people pleasing, is a moving target, not a permanent state. Winners come and go, just like losers. Money and fame come and go, just like winners.
Our personal power stays with us, win or lose, rich or poor, famous or unknown. We each hold the keys to our own success.