figuring it out

however long it takes

“Most people never run far enough on their first wind to find out they’ve got a second.” — William James. 

I read once that the average meal at a fast food restaurant takes 11 minutes. That’s 11 minutes from walking in the door to ordering, eating and back out to the parking lot. There is a way of approaching life that can be similar to eating at a fast food restaurant.

Fast food restaurants are not about savoring.  Not the food. Not the experience of eating. Not even a peaceful moment to oneself to pause in the middle of a busy day. The process of gobbling down a double cheeseburger with special sauce, large fries and 24 ounces of soda is like swallowing experiences almost without chewing. With no reflection, the mark an experience might leave–and the opportunity for awareness–is minimal. With no reflection, experiences are like the drive through where one orders to fill immediate hunger but fails to feed the soul.

With no reflection, experiences are like the drive through where one orders to fill immediate hunger but fails to feed the soul.

I listened today to an interview with a Scottish crime novelist who is about to publish her sixth murder mystery set in the Shetland Islands, a subarctic archipelago northeast of Great Britain. Ann Cleeves was a 24-year-old college dropout when she first came to the Shetland Islands. As she explained in the NPR story she worked as a cook in a bird observatory. She knew nothing about either cooking or birds.

Cleeves had already written twenty crime novels, one a year for 20 years, without any notoriety by the time she returned to The Shetlands with her husband and became inspired by a scene of black ravens standing on crystalline white snow. The scene became her first book set in The Shetlands, Raven Black. There is now a BBC Television series based on her books.

For me the important part of Cleeves’ story is the 20 years she spent writing unheralded novels. Now that she is on the cultural radar, Cleeves’ success might appear to be overnight, like JK Rowling’s with The Harry Potter Series, or Steven King’s supernatural novels like Carrie or Cujo.th

But to focus on just the most recent celebrity is to miss the bigger story, akin to going only to the drive through for meals. Rather than being instant, success for Cleeves and many others is the culmination of a process that has a beginning and repeated, continual efforts over a long time, interspersed with little failures. In The Rise, Sarah Lewis describes how many creatives believe their works are never finished, despite the labels of “genius”, “innovation”, “masterpiece” others place on their work. She tells a story of how Cezanne only signed about 10 percent of his paintings because he didn’t believe them worthy of being called finished. William Faulkner re-wrote sections of The Sound and the Fury after it was published.

Malcolm Gladwell famously dubbed the time creatives spend developing their abilities the “10,000-hour Rule.” His research shows it took any number of people viewed as successful today at least 10,000 hours of continual effort to master their crafts to create the opportunity to succeed. People like Steve Balmer and Bill Gates. Mozart and a host of artists, dancers, writers, and other creative types.

I have been writing for 34 years, ever since I started in journalism as a junior in college. Writing has not always been my sole focus, something I did everyday or nearly everyday, except for my time as a newspaper reporter. Yet I have always yearned to write, either as part of my work or as something I did on the side. But for a long time I felt if I wasn’t serious about writing–as in earning income from my work–then I should be focusing on more important things. It used to be for me earning a dollar from writing was the only gauge of its value.

Rather than being instant…success is the culmination of a process that has a beginning and repeated, continual efforts over a long time, interspersed with little failures.

When my daughter Paige was born I got more serious about journaling. In the 17 years since, I have kept a continuous journal as a reflection of what is going on in my life and in the lives of my kids and those around me. Though there are gaps in my writing history, periods where my self-reflection was limited or where problems I encountered didn’t need to be worked out in my head and on paper, writing has been an important part of who I am. It’s like an ongoing dialogue with myself to figure my way out of challenges. Other times, it has been simply to brain dump and feel better.

Inevitably, my writing has been a way to learn about life. I like to think in many ways it has made me a better person. To reflect upon my thinking, my choices, and the dilemmas I have faced offers me perspective on how I can do better.

This morning’s NPR interview reminded me that reward for any worthwhile endeavor is always out somewhere on the horizon. It is the doing that is most important much more so than reaching the end. Ann Cleeves couldn’t have known that her trip with her husband to the Shetlands would yield six books, a TV series and success as a writer. She toiled for 20 years writing middling crime novels only few bought and certainly no BBC TV executives. But it is precisely this patient practice through all those years that set Cleeves up for success. Just as all the hours upon hours of programming Balmer and Gates did as teens and early twenty somethings helped them create a software giant.

Don’t let the fear of the time it will take to accomplish something stand in the way of your doing it. The time will pass anyway; we might just as well put that passing time to the best possible use. ~Earl Nightingale

My “toil”, if it is even fair to call it, is more private and less public. I have no novels, not even a published short story. The blue couch essays have been a shortcut to get the sense of being published and having someone read my words. It is not the” thing.” The “thing” would be the published book. It is the purpose upon which my life has been built.

All the other “work” I’ve done has been distraction, superfluous. Powerful though the distractions have been, they really amounted needless ambition to keep up with former colleagues in a meaningless chase for some sort of ego boost. I was bent on being liked and accepted into the club, like some tightly knit cross-country team from high school.

Through the years I got inklings my ladder was on the wrong wall but I was either too ignorant or too intoxicated by what I was doing to see.

Through the years I got inklings my ladder was on the wrong wall but I was either too ignorant or too intoxicated by what I was doing to see. Pulling into a Best Western or Holiday Inn and with my American Express Card with Nike Corporate on it made me feel important.

Writing is the more difficult path. It is the one with fewer obvious rewards. It is also the one harder for others to understand. Yet it has always felt more authentic. What scared me away was the practical equation that gets almost everyone:

work = money = security

The truth is that work never means security, just the illusion of security. Once one is fired a couple times the idea becomes clearer. Each time I have been fired, instead of pausing to decipher the real meaning, I jumped back onto the Habitrail of job seeking and interviewing until at last, I gave my security to a new employer.

And while I’ve tried to become less encumbered by material things as my awareness of their lethal nature to my freedom has grown, I have not run away from them altogether either. I have a mortgage and a car and child support and health insurance. Some things I can’t get rid of, like kids with desires and needs. I still buy clothes, although more deliberately and when anything comes in, something else goes away.

But I haven’t yet solved the work = (enough) money = security equation. I’m not very efficient at converting work into money if it doesn’t involve a salary.

Spending so much time pondering this equation drains energy that would otherwise be devoted to creative endeavors, like writing.

I don’t care about many things more. My wife and my kids above all. Then my close friends. I come last. In each day I have to take care of each of them first before I get to me. So I have gone to work deliberately for 20 plus years knowing that it was this obligation underlying   getting up and going on the road. I was attracted to the work at times, even intoxicated by it.

But I’ve learned also that when one takes a long view, one that spans over time, you begin to see patterns and values. The effort of doing the simple thing daily as part of an as yet unrealized and unbroken chain toward a vision of the future becomes less drudgery and more meaningful. It’s as if sitting down everyday at the typewriter, er, keyboard, and writing a few hundred words that might become something nearly worthy of publishing is more important than the destination itself.  Like skipping the drive through and preparing lunch yourself.

In achieving anything meaningful, it is repeating the mantra, “however long it takes,” quietly over and over again.

th-3

###

figuring it out

the sky above, the field below

We don’t receive wisdom; we must discover it for ourselves after a journey that no one can take for us or spare us.

-Marcel Proust

I didn’t intend to meditate. Yet here I was, sitting cross-legged on a rectangular stone, just above the beach. The sun, up for more than an hour, had reached the point where the breeze caught its heat and I could feel its warmth on my cheek.

It was quiet. Just the gentle, constant push of the waves upon the beach, the call of a few seagulls. IMG_0005And me, sitting on this rock with my eyes closed. I concentrated on the sound of the ocean and on the breeze and on my breathing. I couldn’t stop thinking that I would never be in this place ever again. Life offers us so many experiences. It’s hard to know which to capture and  which to discard. But it is absolutely a mistake to treat them like commodities you could just pop up to the Speedway and buy cheap off a rack like M&M’s.

I was on vacation with my family in Florida. We were staying in this beautiful little boutique hotel called the Lotus Inn in Ormond Beach. The hotel sits right on a wide, flat beach. To the south is the Spring Break craziness of Daytona.

I like to get up early on vacation, before anyone else is awake. I went to the lobby to grab a coffee, greeted the German shift manager and headed out to the pool to read and watch the sunrise.

I was already a little late. The sun was well on its path up and there were  a few people passing by down on the sand. No one was yet at the pool. It was an ideal setting to sip my coffee and read. I felt a deep, mystical joy like I was experiencing something for the very first time. It was the kind of bliss you might notice after making love to your wife or husband or watching your kid master something difficult.

Then it occurred to me. Why is it we so often rush through our experiences with out taking an accounting? I realized I will most likely never be in this spot ever again.

I had no expectation of any revelations. I just wanted a tranquil place to enjoy a few pages of a Haruki Murakami novel and my coffee. But the moment grabbed me and pulled me in. After a bit I put down my book and stared at the ocean. Something so simple and complex as the water collapsing against the shore over and over again in an indecipherable rhythm. There is no more peaceful sight and sound, I thought.

I closed my eyes, and using what little meditation training I’ve had, slipped from listening to the ocean to focusing on my breathing. I sat only for about 10 minutes but it was 10 exquisite minutes of nothingness. My head was clear. There was no past and no future. Only this moment.

Then it occurred to me. Why is it we so often rush through our experiences without taking an accounting? I realized I will most likely never be in this spot ever again. There will be no do-over at the Lotus Boutique Inn and Suites. No first trips to the Harry Potter adventure at Universal Studios with my kids. No first times feeling my stomach churn on The Hulk roller coaster.

Even more important, my children will grow up and move on. My wife and I will have other things to attend to. Experiences are only fresh once. After that, the same experiences become mistakes.  Before you know it massive amounts of time have passed and for what?

As I sat and explored this idea, I realized that we can’t capture every moment. This one would have been perfect to pack in my suitcase and take home. But how much pleasure and wisdom have I missed, I wondered, because I was in a hurry or uncomfortable and just wanted these moments over with?

How much pleasure and wisdom have I missed because I was in a hurry or uncomfortable and just wanted those moments over with?

The moments we assemble ARE life. My sixth grade teacher admonished me to “groove on the step I was now taking”. I realized this is what he probably meant. What he was telling me in 1970 to pay attention to I was just realizing in this moment–BE PRESENT.

I have this theory that we can improve our feelings about the past by being more present today. The past is today one day older. If one is aware and engaged in building the best life, then the work is assembling one great moment after another in the present.

When I see people in a hurry, rushing who knows where, I always wonder why the haste? What is so important?

The past is today one day older.

Even the simplest of journeys can become more pleasurable if we simply focus on this moment. There is a great scene in the movie Say Anything where John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobbler talks about the future with his girlfriend’s father. Much to the father’s chagrin,  Lloyd is ultimately only focused on the present. “I just want to spend as much time hanging with your daughter,” he says.

Say you are on a bus on the way to work. You smile at the driver as you get on and pay your fare. You catch someone’s eye and nod as you take your seat. Your smiles and your nods are returned in a singular truth of Karma. Everything feels more relaxed. Slowed down. In control. You breathe easier. You notice spring is slowly taking over from winter. There is fresh green mixed with the dead brown. People are out walking.

If we slow down and focus on just this time, each moment has the potential to be greater.

This is just one example from this simple thought: If we slow down and focus on just this time, each moment has the potential to be greater. It is not that we won’t still have challenges. But even unpleasant experiences can be fuller, more robust and can give us lessons we can apply later.

But don’t worry about later. Go find a beach and find your sunrise and a warm breeze and listen to your breathing.

###

figuring it out

a world that can’t stop talking

“We live with a value system that I call the Extrovert Ideal–the omnipresent belief that the ideal self is gregarious, alpha and comfortable in the spotlight…We like to think we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual–the kind who’s comfortable ‘putting himself out there.’ –Susan Cain in her wonderful book, Quiet

In 1975 I fell in love with a movie called Three Days of the Condor. Robert Redford played a bookish CIA agent in a secret office in Washington, DC who analyzed the plots of spy novels. He spent his workdays reading to see if any fiction writers stumbled on operations the CIA conducted. One day, while he slipped out a basement door of the nondescript townhouse for lunch, all his co-workers were murdered by a rogue CIA operation.

Redford, whose code name was Condor, was an unlikely hero spy. He spent the movie trying to figure out why everyone in his office was killed and why they also wanted him dead.

th-4I identified with Redford’s character because, I realize now, he was a consummate introvert. His co-workers ignored him. He worked alone in the CIA office, contentedly reading and writing reports he never knew if anyone ever read.

When I was a kid I spent long hours by myself in my room drawing and building model cars. On the card my parents gave me on my 13th birthday, my father wrote, “There are more things in life than pizza and models.”

When I was older, I played tennis and played into college. In 10th grade I ran cross-country. I enjoyed that both were mostly solitary endeavors. In tennis my focus was not the player on the other side. I didn’t play someone else as much as respond to the direction, speed and rotation of the tennis ball. My college coach always told us to “play the ball, not the guy on the other side of the net.”

On the card my parents gave me on my 13th birthday, my father wrote, “There are more things in life than pizza and models.”

During cross season, my five teammates and I did training runs through the tall cornfields not far from school, running loops around the perimeter, then back on country roads to school. Even if we ran as a team, I spent most of the time somewhere else, getting lost in the rhythm of my footsteps and the thoughts floating around inside my head.

What drew me to running all those years ago was the chance for solitude. The thousands of miles over the past 30 years have been my time to contemplate, to just be by myself, even if I ran with others.

My wife just finished Susan Cain’s book, Quiet, which we discussed often as she read. Ms. Cain has validated many of my notions about the past. What I once saw as social and career failure, she has helped me re-frame: I was an introvert trying to be an extrovert. According to Cain, this is like being a woman in a man’s world, “discounted because of a trait that goes to the core of who they are.”

Clarity about one’s true nature, understanding what ignites one’s soul and what crushes it, is one of the most direct routes toward personal contentment we can hope for.

Clarity about one’s true nature, understanding what ignites one’s soul and what crushes it, is one of the most direct routes toward personal contentment we can hope for.

For most of my life, I thought I was supposed to be outgoing, gregarious, joking, overtly friendly–an extrovert. I remember a conversation with my dad once at the grocery store. We were talking about work politics and I asked my dad about his approach.

“I haven’t been very good at the politics,” he said. “You are much more outgoing.”

th-12It is common in our society for introverts to try to be extroverts, much to their detriment. Cain says our society favors the extroverts. The loud, glad-handing, attention-grabbing individualists to whom everyone gravitates. When I look at my past, at the tennis and cross-country which I embraced, the friendships I built, the field sales jobs I took, and the intimate relationships I sought, I see introvert written all over them.

To prove something to myself, I took one of the personality tests you can find online. I invited my wife to take it too. You can find it here .

The test confirmed it: I am INFP. Introvert. Intuitive. Feeling. Perceiving. (Incidentally, my wife is exactly the same).

When I apply this new-found perspective to my work life, for example, I can see why things happened as they did. There were times that work felt like a frenetic popularity contest. My opinion had to be noticed and appreciated. I got a kind of high on being recognized for my humor and constant contributions to the conversation. When I wasn’t the center of attention, when my jokes failed or I wasn’t included in conversations, my self-esteem plummeted. I became an approval junkie.

There was some deep need for external approval from my co-workers. But the game of trying to stay the center of attention wasn’t something I was good at. It tired me out. I wasted so much time trying to be an extrovert instead of playing to my strengths, which are observation, intuition, quiet contemplation. I am an introvert.

I wasted so much time trying to be an extrovert instead of playing to my strengths, which are observation, intuition, quiet contemplation. I am an introvert.

For all my efforts at trying to be a popular, outgoing, sociable and significant part of the chemistry of workgroups, I often found myself retreating back into my head. At one point, work friends started calling me Houdini, because after all-day meetings and the social dinners and then drinks til late in the night, I would simply disappear. I just needed to be by myself.

As a child I spent gobs of time alone. This set the tone for me as an adult. Though I thought the game was played by being extroverted, my very nature has always been introversion.

“Many people believe that introversion is about being antisocial, and that’s really a misperception. Because actually it’s just that introverts are differently social. So they would prefer to have a glass of wine with a close friend as opposed to going to a loud party full of strangers,” Cain writes.

There is little more powerful than understanding what makes one tick. Had I listened to the little, quiet voices in my head and my heart, I could have been truer to my real temperament. Who knows what life would have opened up for me then? 

th-7

***

If the notion of introversion interests you, I strongly recommend a read of Susan Cain’s book, Quiet. Far from either introversion or extroversion being absolute personalities, many of us are some of both. Here is her website. Of course you can find her book on Amazon. I always recommend either buying directly from the author if possible or supporting your local bookstore. They are great places and run by people who live in your town.

As always, thank you for reading. Please let me know what you think about introversion/extroversion. I’d love to start a conversation.

-christian

emotions, figuring it out, inspiration, relationships, writing

memorial

“The teacher who is indeed wise does not bid you to enter the house of his wisdom but rather leads you to the threshold of your mind.”  ~Kahlil Gibran

 

My sixth-grade teacher was a man named Smith Clifton. He was tall and thin and had a thick brown beard he stroked when he sat at his desk grading papers while the rest of the class and I took tests. He had a tall beat-up thermos he kept to one side. It was the kind with the plastic top that doubled as a cup he would screw off and fill with black coffee all day long.

Mr. Clifton was one of the most influential characters in my life. He was the first person to get me to write. Every week, Mr. Clifton had us record our thoughts in a journal. He gave us no direction on topics so we wrote what we wanted. Once a week or so he would collect the journals from the class, read each entry and then write comments to each of us. I was always excited to see what insights Mr. Clifton would offer and I was never disappointed.

Mr. Clifton was among the most affable people I have ever known. He was peaceful as a forest. He reminded me of a hippie, he was so laid back, but more grown up. He dressed in jeans and denim shirts and beat up boots so he looked more blue collar

Mr. Clifton was among the most affable people I have ever known. He was peaceful as a forest.

than he was. He displayed a kind of refined deliberateness that one might expect from a gentlemen farmer. In fact he owned a small farm in Mt. Airy, about an hour’s drive northwest from our school, but he also seemed a renaissance philosopher or poet.

I loved this man.

My 11th grade English teacher was a man named Hans Gaussman. Mr. Gaussman was German. He was short, perhaps 5 foot eight. He kept his hair close-cropped and he had a mustache and goatee, which he kept sharp as a razor. In fact, Mr. Gaussman’s personality was as sharp as his goatee. Mr. Gaussman was almost military in demeanor. He intimidated a lot of my classmates and pissed off others.

He was by far the hardest teacher I ever encountered, even in college. Mr. Clifton was the first to get me to connect thoughts to paper, but Mr. Gaussman was the one who taught me how to write.

He was by far the hardest teacher I ever encountered…Mr Gaussman was the one who taught me how to write.

Mr. Gaussman’s favorite implement was his red pen. He wielded the pen like a dagger on our papers, ripping our grammar and our thinking. Mr. Gaussman would not simply pass us on to 12th grade English. His brutality in grading was also his gift. He made us think better.

I came to love this man too.

Shortly after the start of the school year, Mr. Gaussman held conferences with us. This was a private conversation, out of the hearing of our peers, where we had the chance individually to learn the failings of our work. We all dreaded these sessions as much as we did the school lunches. With a Cheshire smile, Mr. Gaussman systematically dismantled any notion we might possess of being smart or good writers.

“So, Mr. Gaussman,” I ventured once, “what do you think of my writing?”

He only paused for a second before he stabbed me in the chest: “I wouldn’t make it a career.” That was all he had to say.

I didn’t cry. I didn’t wander the halls in a daze after such an overt criticism. It was one of the few times in life that I didn’t pack up my toys and move to a different playground.

He said, “I wouldn’t make it a career.”…I was going to show him just how wrong he was. I was going to show him that, in fact, I was a writer.

I took Mr. Gaussman’s words as a challenge. I was going to show him just how wrong he was. I was going to show him that, in fact, I was a writer. This is the part in the movie where the main character–me–drops the f-bomb in his face. When Anthony Michael Hall’s Brian Johnson tells Mr. Vernon in his essay that he can’t diminish his classmates with his bullying. Or when, in the last scene, Jud Nelson’s John Bender defiantly holds up his fist, flipping off every self-absorbed and bullying adult in addition Mr. Vernon.

I put everything I had at age 16 into changing Mr. Gaussman’s mind. And I did. In a couple months, I was getting A’s and I noticed Mr. Gaussman treated me differently. He engaged me with a respect he reserved for very few of his students. I felt elevated, more important. But not like a teacher’s pet. It was one of the first times in my life I felt respected for my brain and especially for my work ethic.

Mr. Gaussman instilled in me a sense that good writing and thinking requires hard work. He helped create in me an identity as a writer. It doesn’t matter that I have never since written a novel or even a got a short story published.

If we are lucky we have one or two significant teachers in our lives. People who care about us.

It was his gift, his hard-assed, judgmental criticism of my work set me on a path I could not change. A few years later I would remember both teachers when I sat at my typewriter, trying to finish a story for deadline for  the newspaper on which I wrote. While my red-haired and red-faced editor yelled for my copy, I paused and silently thanked them for their efforts on my behalf.

If we are lucky we have one or two significant teachers in our lives. People who care about us. Who take time to challenge us to push toward our potential and who expand our abilities. People who are like bridges to better, more enlightened versions of ourselves. People like Smith Clifton whose peaceful demeanor taught me about kindness and how to get stuff out of my head and onto paper. People like Hans Gaussman whose disciplined approach forced me out of the comfort of slushy, unrefined thoughts to greater competence upon which I could build a career, even if that career is still blossoming.

 

emotions, family, figuring it out, health and wellness, relationships

they move on tracks of never-ending light

“Things change all the time, so why do people make such a philosophical to-do that things are constantly in transition?”  — Twyla Tharp

I often walk in different worlds. Since my divorce nearly five years ago and my remarriage, I am a member of three families. It’s awkward sometimes.

There is this family blended from kids from my previous marriage and my new wife’s kids. Then there is this family in which I live most of the time which consists of my wife and I and her two kids. Thirdly, there is the family of my three daughters and me, the one most familiar and the one that feels the most upended by my divorce. This latter family is the one that causes the most discomfort because it serves as a constant reminder of my limits and failures. It is also the one for which I have to deal with my ex-wife, who hates me.

I would not have guessed five years after the fact that crossing to a happier, more fulfilling life would be so burdened by the difficulties of this transition for my three daughters and for me.

I have always felt as if the ground upon which I built my life was never too solid…Never quite settled. Never feeling the full comfort of ritual set down and repeated over time.

In fact, I have always felt as if the ground upon which I built my life was never too solid, like the sand above the water on a beach.  I try to walk or run, but I lose my footing as the sand slides away and I nearly fall.  Never quite settled. Never feeling the full comfort of ritual set down and repeated over time.

My parents forgot my 17th birthday. My mom had been sick with migraines or sinus headaches–a precursor to the more significant and deadly battle she would lose to pancreatic cancer just four years later–and my dad was inexplicably down too. At the last minute my mom emerged from thin the eir darkened bedroom with a credit card, telling me to go get the adidas tennis shirt and shorts I  coveted. I drove the hour to the tennis shop clutching that credit card and eagerly bought the shirt and shorts. I bought myself some socks for good measure too. In the moment, I focused more on the gifts I was buying myself than on the fact that my parents had forgotten my birthday. Years later I realized how deeply I buried this hurt. Kids don’t expect their parents to forget their birthdays.  

Later, after my mom died, well after the doctor grossly underestimated her complaints about the pain in her abdomen, I felt shitty about being angry at my parents for forgetting my birthday. My guilt over my pettiness when my dad lost his best friend and my poor mom succumbed to cancer stayed over the years.

It’s as if the three of us, my dad, my sister and I, retreated to our own private place, all living in the same house but ultimately leading separate lives. There were suddenly no rituals. The rituals we had as a family died with my mom.

It was a transition yet again–from complete family to something resembling a family but not quite whole. It’s as if the three of us, my dad, my sister and I, retreated to our own private place, all living in the same house but ultimately leading separate lives. There were suddenly no rituals. The rituals we had as a family died with my mom.

After mom’s death, I breezed through job after job. City after city became like a playground for me. When I got tired of the kids on my playground, I quit. I chose a new city and a new playground and a new job. I switched careers several times as I sought the perfect fit, hoping to fill a hole left by a deeply held sense of abandonment. People become adults at 21. Not true, at least for me. I was still immature at 21 when Mom died and for many years after. How I lived throughout my 20’s and into my 30″s was surely anything but maturity.

Before I knew it I was married and divorced and living with another woman who eventually would become my second wife.

I operated on an immature emotional plane. When I got uncomfortable, rather than discover what was motivating me, I moved to get rid of the discomfort.  I expected my wife to take care of me emotionally and when she didn’t, I transferred all of my emotional needs to my daughters. At first, this was okay. I could be a great dad and get all of my emotional needs from my kids.  Meanwhile, my relationship with my wife and my marriage crumbled.

I was somewhere approaching 50 before I matured. That’s one long adolescence. My second divorce–another difficult transition–gave me my biggest “aha” moment. Almost like turning pages in a book, I looked at parts of my life and my decisions and realized so much had been about how I responded to discomfort and fear.  I realized I needed to change. I needed to grow up.

We can not stay where we are. Ever. Life is a continual flow whether we realize it or not. Everything is always moving forward. I  didn’t understand that until now.

Our kids don’t stay kids for long. They need parents to be adults if they are to grow as well. Because I’ve seen it in myself, I recognize immaturity and it astounds me how many people walk around with baggage from their childhood.

Our kids don’t stay kids for long. They need parents to be adults if they are to grow well. Because I’ve seen it in myself, I recognize immaturity and it astounds me how many people walk around with baggage from their childhood. It colors everything we do with our kids as well as how we interact in our careers and with friends and our closest relationships. Recognizing my immaturity has been especially helpful in finally building deeply respectful and fulfilling relationships today.

Yet I am amazed at how often I slide into habitually immature thinking. The pause is the greatest tool in my backpack when this happens.

I’ve learned to  recognize transitions by stopping for a moment and breathing. Breathing reactivates the parts of our brains that give us logic. It allows our intuition to meld with right thinking, as the Buddhists might say. Without taking that breath, without pausing to slow things down, I react as a kid rather than respond as an adult

I’ve learned that life is about discovering and refining who we are–our wants and hopes and fears. We are always in transition. I used to think that transitions meant something was wrong, that the world was off kilter and I needed to right things again so that I felt comfortable. It fascinates me that I have been so fearful of transitions when I am even more fascinated by the concept of the adjacent possible. The adjacent possible is all the potential outcomes that might follow depending on which choice we make when faced with a particular obstacle or challenge. We cannot know all the potential great things that might happen yet because we have not yet passed through the door right in front of us. Think how different your life might be if even one choice in the past you made differently. It is both tantalizing and scary, because for most of us uncertainty is uncomfortable.

“A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it.” –Nikki Giovanni

We expect certain things in life to be constant. The sun rises everyday. The four seasons pass. We run out of milk. And our parents stay married.

Imagine how divorce must have felt for my daughters and for my new wife’s kids. We expect certain things in life to be constant. The sun rises everyday. The four seasons pass. We run out of milk. And our parents stay married.

When one of the constants in our lives proves not to be, we are in transition. I did a lousy job preparing my kids for life and helping them through the transition from mom and dad being together to mom and dad being together with someone else. I had a hard enough time handling me. My poor daughters had to do a lot themselves.

There is, however, hope. My youngest sees the upside of the divorce–that she will be better equipped to handle rough patches in her life and possibly to avoid some of the things that led to my divorce. Maybe she and her sisters will be able to leave adolescence much earlier than I. At the right time and intact. They all show signs of doing a better job than I did.

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The title of this essay is borrowed from a song by the post-rock group This Will Destroy You. They are currently on tour and recorded a live album from one of their concerts in Reykjavic, Iceland. Here is their page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thiswilldestroyyou

This Will Destroy You is one of a couple post-rock bands in which I find great joy in listening along with Explosions in the Sky, God is an Astronaut, Signal Hill, Mogwai, Hammock, Tristeza. Thanks always to my friend Keefer to sharing his headphones  so long ago and turning me onto post-rock.