Friday, May 4, 2018

Superheroes


In comic books there are different types of superheroes. (The same applies to supervillains, but I’d rather concentrate on the heroes.) One type of hero is the mutant. These characters are born with their powers. They have an extra advantage (or disadvantage as the case may be).  Examples of this type are Wolverine and the X-Men. For our purposes here, we will not discuss mutants. For the same reasons, we will not discuss magic-based characters such as Dr. Strange.
Another type of super-hero is the one who is an ordinary person but gains his or her powers through some fantastic event. Most superheroes fall into this category. Some are ordinary but have honed themselves to near perfection, like Batman, Hawkeye, or Black Widow. Others are powerful usually because of some scientific or biological discovery or mishap that created the character’s powers. Most characters fall into this category – the Black Panther, Spider-Man, the Hulk, Captain America, the Flash, Daredevil, and the Fantastic Four. (Some characters also have a technological power like, again, Hawkeye, or Green Arrow, Green Lantern, and Iron Man.)
Finally, there is the hero who is not magical or mutant but is born with his or her power. The most well-known heroes of this type are Superman and Wonder Woman. As stated in Kill Bill 2, while Spider-Man is really Peter Parker in disguise and Batman is really Bruce Wayne in disguise, the reverse is true for Superman. He really is Superman. Clark Kent is his disguise. Diana Prince is Wonder Woman’s disguise.
Still, it is not disguise, but identity which is relevant here. Identity and power.
We all have identity and we all have power. Sadly, many people find neither or at least not enough to fully realize their full potential. But we all have identity and power. And realizing one helps us realize the other. It doesn’t matter which we find first because they go together. It doesn’t matter if our powers came to us one day through some fantastic or even tragic event. It doesn’t matter if we’re Superman and Clark Kent or Peter Parker and Spider-Man. There are two truths at play here. One: we can choose who we want to be. We can also choose how to think, how to spend our time, and how to behave towards others. We can choose to view problems as obstacles or opportunities. How we choose to think is part of our super power. How we choose to act is another power we have. Ultimately what defines most comic book characters is not their costumes or even their unique abilities, but how they face adversity.
Most superheroes are borne out of crisis or tragedy. Most non-powered heroes are, too. None of us is immune to tragedy, setbacks, heartbreaks, or disappointment. It’s how we deal with them that makes us heroes (or villains). It’s how we choose to Get Started and Keep Going or how we quit that makes us heroes, defining and determining our identity and power (or not).
I have seen in my own life in the last few months an unusual number of setbacks and disappointments. I think if I had the choice, I would have just stayed at my place and retreated forever. But the nature of my problems and the love I have for those in my life and the love they have for me does not allow a retreat.
In her book You Are a Badass at Making Money, Jen Sincero discusses how it is the subconscious, even more than the conscious than can determine our lives and allow us to tap into or, more commonly, limit our power and hide our identity from us. She calls the subconscious “the little prince” and his job is to keep us safe. When we are young, this is helpful. But when we become adults, this is often counterproductive and even harmful. We say we want to be wealthy, but our little prince does not like the inherent risk, so he sabotages us by making us late to appointments and getting us into fights with the people we love.
A superhero is different. He has power and knows who he is, so he faces danger. He doesn’t look for it because it’s always there anyway. And so he often goes towards it because he knows on the other side, there is a better life. He is rescuing himself so he can take care of those he loves. He or she Gets Started and Keeps Going because that’s what superheroes do.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

A Lesson Relearned


Recently I learned a lesson. Perhaps I relearned it because I had forgotten it. Either way, it was powerful.
At work there was a project that everyone had to do. The project was long, boring, and full of problems. No one, including those who were in charge of the project, were completely clear on all the elements necessary to do the work correctly. Inconsistent and even contradictory information was given by different supervisors. This was not intentional, but it created stress nonetheless. In addition, the project had a deadline and all other work, no matter how important, was to cease until each person completed his or her part of the project.
As I worked on my part of the project, I got into some trouble. It began taking longer than I thought it would. It was also harder than I thought it would be. I thought I would be in for a long and lonely night, trying to finish. I was reminded of another night when I was trying to finish a paper for a history class and it was taking far longer than I thought it would. It began feeling overwhelming and traumatic. And instead of bringing me comfort or rest, my easily distracted nature created more stress. I got on Facebook for a while and had a very unpleasant encounter with a complete stranger. I went for  a walk, but I felt scared and tired walking late at night. Nothing was comforting except doing the work, the work that seemed to take so long. Of the year and a half of my history Master’s program, that was my worst night.
Working on this project felt similar. I started feeling stressed and panicked and wondered if I would be exhausted and miserable in a couple of hours. Then something happened: a co-worker offered to help me with my work. At first I said no because I thought I was the only one who could do my part. My co-worker pointed out that this was incorrect. Then I almost said no again because I was embarrassed. But I said yes.
In thirty minutes, we were done.
It was amazing. In thirty minutes, we were done.
And here’s what I learned.
·         It’s better to work with others than it is to work alone, but only if you work with the right people.
·         It’s better to be with others than it is to be alone, but only if you are with the right people.
·         Work gets done faster not just because two or more people are doing it, but because the enthusiasm generated creates even more speed and enthusiasm.
I actually learned this lesson once before. Under the direct influence of someone I love very deeply, I got more work done in one week than I had gotten done in the previous month. I wanted to be like that person, to have her work ethic, and so I found the work invigorating in a way I couldn’t find on my own.
It’s okay to be alone. I have no problem with or fear of it. But sometimes, often, we need each other. We are not meant to go through life alone. I Get Started and Keep Going when my Muse or anyone who works well with me, pushes me to be better with someone than I can be alone.




           

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

I'm Working

It’s the Christmas break but I’m working. I’m housesitting for a couple with a dog. The job is a little more work than I thought it would be. The dog is great, but he can be a little demanding. He barks at me when he wants to eat, have a treat, go outside to use the bathroom, play with me, and, surprisingly, even when I’ve forgotten to give him his medicine. So this dog, Kiko, keeps me working. I’m also working to change my life for the better and it seems I’ve been doing that for a long time with mixed results. I was reviewing some of my older blogs and this led to (again this word) mixed feelings. Most of them are well-written and encouraging.  I did a lot of work and reached some personal goals. There’s a small amount of contentment in what was accomplished. But there is a down side. One can’t help see what has changed, but also, what hasn’t. Here is what hasn’t changed:
·         I still don’t have enough time with those I love.
·         I still don’t have enough money and, in fact, my financial situation is worse than it’s ever been in my life.
·         I’m still nowhere nearer to my house by the beach.
                 I’m not complaining, just stating facts. But here is what has changed in the five years since I wrote my first blog:
·         I have finally, after all these years, learned how to handle money well.
·         I’ve written two or three books.
·         I got a Master’s Degree in US History, something I’ve wanted to do for years.
·         I traveled through a good part of the country.
·         I’ve joined a church that values my service.
·         I’ve found new paths in Purpose with educational politics.
·         I won an election.
·         I’ve helped people graduate with their high school diplomas or equivalencies.
·         I haven’t had a panic attack in months (except one when starting a new project).
                 Here are some other things that haven’t changed:
·         I still face fear and procrastination.
·         I can still write.
·         My Muse is still with me.

     My life is not perfect. But the challenges I’m facing feel more meaningful and even more helpful than what I’ve faced in the past. Brian Tracy said that it’s not reaching your goals that is the most important thing, but who you become while striving to reach your goals. So now I’m working harder than ever to become better than ever. I’m working on my character, to not be negative in thoughts or words, to be a better father, to take up the cause of others, and most of all, to wait patiently for what I want and need. I’m working on my ability to Get Started and Keep Going.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

John Quincy Adams and Purpose

I am currently reading about John Quincy Adams, the sixth US President and I find we have some things in common (but not everything). I want to write a blog about it, but I’m not sure if I know how any longer. It’s been so long. My life has gone in new and unexpected directions, particularly educational politics and trying to get out of debt, but I miss this. I miss the communion with my Muse that I once shared regularly, even daily for a while. I still have the same old doubts about myself and the same old questions:
·         Will I make a difference in this world?
·         Can I do something that will garner positive attention (and maybe some money)?
·         Will I ever get my house on the beach?
·         Can I be a good father?
·         Will I write or teach history one day?
·         Why do I have so many passions?
That last question is tricky. (They are all tricky.) When I first started doing these blogs
was very excited because I felt that they were giving me some direction and some much needed
courage to make some changes. After having done about fifteen, I shared my excitement with a
men’s group I was in at the time. Their response was less than enthusiastic. The comment that
hurt the most was, “You always start things but never finish them.”
            Maybe that hurt because I believed it was true. But maybe it wasn’t (or isn’t) true at all. Maybe I just have a lot of interests. Since that tepid response from those men, I’ve written nearly 900 blogs. I also got a Master’s in US History, traveled through part of the United States, self-published a book, won an election, and made significant contributions to my work and church. I created curriculum, taught middle school, and expanded my occupational skills. I think it was Brian Tracy who said, “It’s not the goal that’s important, but who you become as you strive to reach that goal.” I’ve become a different person. More accurately, I’m becoming a different person.
            For better or worse, one of my greatest priorities is to become a better, kinder, more useful, and more knowledgeable person. So I find myself doing many things, reading many books, and having many priorities. One of my current projects is to read or listen to two books on every single US President. I’ve read or listened to about sixteen books so far.  I’m currently listening to John Quincy Adams: A Public Life, A Private Life by Fred Nagel. What I’ve learned about the sixth US President is that he too had many interests and many things he was good at, including science, writing, and poetry. He was, like me, very driven and very, very hard on himself. Also like me, he may have had mild ADHD, but that was not an identified condition at the time. He was, like me, easily distracted and would procrastinate even on things he loved to do. He was, unlike me, cold and aloof with many people. He was disagreeable, and very impolitic for a politician. He claimed that his true love was literature and study, but he spent most of his life (including his adolescence) in some political or diplomatic position or other until the day he died, literally in the Senate chambers on Capitol Hill while arguing a point. His funeral was the most attended in US History until Abraham Lincoln’s.
            Most historians agree that his tenure as US President was forgettable (due much in part to an extremely oppositional Congress who believed he brokered a deal with his Secretary of State Henry Clay in order to give Adams the required number of electoral votes to make him President). Like his father, John Adams, JQA only served one term (both Adams were the only two of the first seven Presidents to do so). But Adams, despite his often-denied desire to become President, wanted to be remembered for his other accomplishments. Diplomat, Harvard professor, poet, scientist, author, husband, parent, Congressman, Senator, and scholar. He was more than his famous father’s son and he was more than a President. He may have not done it all, but he did more than most men do in two lifetimes.
            One of the reasons I like history is that it shows us that our problems are not so unique or unprecedented. Our forefathers often struggled with the same things we do today. This makes me feel less alone. I, like JQA, have a lot of interests. My Muse tells me I can pursue them all if I just use my time well.
            I believe her.
            That’s why I Get Started and Keep Going, just like JQA.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

It's Been a While

It’s been a long time since I’ve written a blog. My confidence in my writing abilities and in myself are at a low. I’m facing some unprecedented crises that will most likely pass one way or another, but I don’t know how or when, so I’m shaken. What does one do when things feel darker and scarier than they’ve ever been? In my case, it’s the same thing, I Get Started and I Keep Going. I have set some very clear goals, even a couple of not-so-clear goals, and I’m working towards them. Resolve is important. So are reminders – constant reminders.
One of those reminders is a book I’m reading (listening to, actually) called You are a Badass – How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life by Jen Sincero. It just showed up on my YouTube channel and I have found it very helpful. In no particular order, here are some things I am realizing or have been coming to realize over the last several weeks. This book is solidifying things I’ve been thinking and introducing new ideas as well.
First, I need to change my way of thinking, especially about who I believe I am and what my capabilities are. I have always believed that I am far less capable than I am. “Inferiority complex,” “low self-esteem,” “untapped potential,” call it what you will, but I’ve suffered from it all my life. It’s like a chronic condition or a disease. But the truth is, self-perception is a choice. There are plenty of people whose lives have been far worse than yours or mine who have gone on to great success. There are people who have made worse mistakes, had greater setbacks, were older, less intelligent, or had greater obstacles and still achieved great success. There’s no reason I can’t do better in all areas of my life. I don’t know how I’m going to achieve what I want, but everything I’m reading says the how will come to me. I just need to start doing something.
To that end, I try to learn all I can. I take action where I can. For example, recently I went to the Richard Nixon Library, leaving at 1:00 a.m. to avoid the traffic, sleeping in my car when I got tired and then researching most of the day (in between naps). I didn’t even find much of anything useful. But I took action and that’s what mattered. Now I know that I don’t need to go back (at least not for this project). Experience has taught me that action is the cure for almost everything. Actions that have helped me in the past have been:
·         Studying
·         Cleaning
·         Walking
·         Working
·         Writing
·         Organizing
·         Waking up early
There are probably more, but those have been the most helpful for me.
            Another concept I’m realizing is what a friend told me – Question everything. This is a difficult and painful process. I’ve questioned a lot of things, especially my spiritual beliefs. I am still sure there is a God and that He is a God of love. I still believe in the power of prayer as a healer and change agent. I still believe the Bible can speak to me and is God’s word. Everything else I question. Questioning is scary because it may mean that some, much, or all of what I have based my faith on may be false. That’s a scary place to be. On the other hand, a lot of the paths I followed for years led to great unhappiness and futility. The truth is I don’t know what to believe anymore other than what I still believe. This is still an unresolved area of my life.
            The final large concept I’m dealing with is money, or lack thereof. This has been a problem my whole life. I’m not sure why, but it has. The why doesn’t even matter. What matters is changing the behaviors (or misbehaviors) I’m aware of and creating new behaviors. At the point in my life where others are close to retirement and building their nest egg, I am starting all over again and in the negative. But I’m also (finally, finally, FINALLY) developing habits and a mindset that should keep me from ever being in this place again. I’ve also set a goal around money that’s larger than just getting out of debt. Now I’m thinking about others and about my future and their futures. I wish I had known to do these things years ago. It doesn’t matter; I’m doing them now.
            I wish things were better. I wish I had more positive things to report. I’m struggling, but I’m not unhappy. I’m blessed. I have my health and my job and my car and the means to do things I want to do (most of them anyway). People are praying for me. I still Get Started and Keep Going and that’s all that really matters.
           

            

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Golden Charge

There’s a concept called the “Golden Charge,” which is an expression of admiration for another person usually around a quality that other person has. I’ve also seen it expressed as genuine affection, such as when a man told me he was sincerely happy to see me again after a prolonged absence on my part from our men’s group. Generally, however, it is more often associated with a quality. I have had golden charges around people’s appearances, sense of humor, intelligence, wisdom, kindness, or leadership abilities. Like its opposite, “the charge” (no color), in which I feel less kind about another person, the quality I admire is often something I also have, but it has remained dormant, undiscovered, or underused. Another way of stating it is saying that the golden charge is a positive judgment rather than a negative one that most of us have about others. So what could be wrong with that? What’s wrong with seeing and admiring the good in others? Nothing, if that’s where it ends. But of course, it often doesn’t. At least not in my case.
In the men’s group ManKind Project (MKP)  I was taught to “own” my problems, to not only take responsibility for them, but to recognize that it is my problem, not someone else’s and to not project my faults on other people. On the other hand, I’m aware that my failings and foibles are not unique and that maybe sharing my struggles will help others with the same struggles.
My problem with the golden charge has been a life-long one. It comes from a good place, a genuine love for others and a heart that sees the good over the bad. But it also comes from a bad place, a sense of inferiority, a belief that there is a hierarchy, and that most people are better – smarter, wiser, stronger, funnier, better-looking – and in all ways superior to me. A few were my equals and these became my friends. And a few were my inferiors. This led to a bizarre dualistic thinking and behaving that taught me to treat people based on my view of them in the hierarchy. Fortunately, it was tempered with a genuine love and acceptance of most people, but it still colored many of my relationships. The golden charge, as benign as it seems, was especially damaging. First, it put me in an inferior position. Second, and this was worse, it put me in a dependent position. Because I was “inferior” I was dependent on those to whom I had given a golden charge to supply wisdom or guidance to me. Third, it prevented me from seeing these people as what they really were – people. They were neither gods nor gurus. They were not my father or my spiritual guide. (Even my own fathers weren’t my fathers. I never met the first and I often had a very distant and tenuous relationship with the second.)
Because I had burdened them with a golden charge, I could not see (or was unwilling to see) that the same people whom I saw as kind or wise or funny or golden could also be mean or bizarre or boring or indifferent, or wrong, or tarnished. Or human. Their advice wasn’t always good. Sometimes they hurt me, even deeply. Once, when I was 16, one of my golden charges, a clerk who worked in a bookstore I frequented said loudly upon my arrival, “I cannot handle you today!” Devastated, I turned around, walked out, and never saw her again. Another golden charge gave me the worst advice of my life causing me to make one of the worst mistakes of my life. And, around the same time, another golden charge completely ignored my plight, when only a few words of wisdom would have prevented me from making that mistake.
None of this was their fault. It wasn’t even mine. I was too young or too inexperienced to understand, really understand that what I needed to was not burden anyone with a golden charge, but to appreciate what was good in them and forgive the bad. I also was too young and inexperienced to realize that what both they and I needed was not golden charges, based upon skewed perception, but love. By love I mean acceptance of who these people were – imperfect, tarnished human beings with some gold in them, but not completely them. If I had known this I would have established boundaries for them and for me so that I would not be devastated or misled. I would have trusted my own heart more and listened better. I would have been more sensitive, less needy, and stronger.
Here’s one other aspect of charges, golden or otherwise: when I see something in someone else that strikes me, it’s often because I have, or potentially have, that same quality. Focusing on the golden charge, that means I already possess the wisdom, kindness, intelligence, humor, or any other admirable quality I see in others. It’s in me and it’s up to me to bring it out and develop it. I have the ability to Get Started and Keep Going. I have the ability to be golden.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

I Hate Myself

I hate myself. I hate my life. I hate the stress that comes with a new situation. I hate how I never feel prepared enough no matter how little or how much I work. I hate how I don’t use my time as well as I thought I would. I hate how I feel that I’m not reaching my potential.
I’ve had this problem all my life, but it really became evident when I was in the 7th grade. I was lazy, disorganized, immature, and afraid. Bad work habits (no work habits) and disorganization brought me to a place of self-loathing as assignment after assignment piled up and my report card looked worse and worse. I was sure that I was stupid and that everyone else was better and smarter than me. I was terrified and miserable and the only things that would have fixed it were understanding the work I was supposed to do (math was especially hard) and doing my homework every day. But I didn’t know this. I also didn’t know I had ADHD.
Now I’m working with students who have some of the same problems. I work with a group of 7th and 8th graders who all admitted to me that the reason they are in the Credit Recovery class is for not doing their work. They are smart enough to not blame their teachers or anyone else. They take the responsibility. But they need to go further. They need to change what got them to me in the first place. So my job as a teacher is not to teach only about Charlemagne or the Holy Roman Empire or George Washington, but to teach students self-discipline and love for learning. I need to teach them that purposeful action is the key to self-love.
I also need to teach them (or maybe myself) to not be too hard on themselves. This self-hate is really just another form of self-sabotage that keeps us from doing our work. Also, that critical voice is never satisfied. It never says, “Okay, you’ve done enough. Good job.” It always says that you haven’t done enough or that that it could be better. Here’s the funny thing. It rarely is enough and it probably could be better. But that’s not the point. The point is I got started.
This is what I want to teach my students – to Get Started. So many things don’t get finished because they don’t even get started. The other thing I want to teach them is to Keep Going. That is the other reason things don’t get finished. People don’t Keep Going until something is done.
But when we finish something, even if it’s not perfect, (whatever that means) the self-hate disappears. At least mine does. I realize it was a lie, that I don’t hate myself, I’m just nervous. That’s when my Muse comes and whispers in my ear. “Good work. You did your best. Don’t compare yourself to others, no matter how much you admire them. When you read a book on how to get better in something, even a very good book, and the author seems perfect and disciplined and orderly, just remember that he or she is a writer just like you. He or she is also imperfect just like you. You only see the book, not the whole life. And he or she is growing and changing just like you.”

And when I feel disappointed in myself, my Muse adds, “I am not disappointed. I am so proud of you and everything that you are doing.” I love that encouragement. It’s the same encouragement I want to give to my students. I want to do for them what my Muse does for me – show them that they can Get Started and Keep Going.