Wednesday, January 1, 2014

"Do I Contradict Myself?"

“Do I contradict myself?
Very well then, I contradict myself
I am large
I contain multitudes.”

Walt Whitman

The first time I heard that quote was in a Literature class at UCSD.  Then one day, almost 20 years later, when someone was chiding me for some inconsistency in my personality, I quoted Walt Whitman out of nowhere.   Two things shocked me. 
1.     How in the world did I remember that quote?  I was barely paying attention in class and I never looked at Whitman again afterwards.  (I have since rectified that.)
2.     The lines were true.
a.     I do contradict myself.
b.     I am large.
c.     I do contain multitudes.

I don’t know if it’s better or worse for me than it is for others, but here’s the thing:  My mind entertains dozens of possibilities, sometimes all at once.   I have mild ADHD, or at least ADHD-like symptoms.  I always have.  It is hard for me to be still and to stay focused.  It is also hard to make choices, sometimes even the simplest choices.  Even now as I’m sitting here and writing I’m thinking
·      My bed’s not made.
·      Should I check on my kids?
·      I have to cancel an appointment.
·      Am I a good father?
·      Am I a good writer?
·      What do I do with my life, my writing, and my mind that constantly goes in a dozen directions all at once?
·      Should I take medication?
·      Should I make my bed?

This gets worse.
·      Should I practice the presence of God?
·      Should I live in the Now?
·      Should I exercise?
·      Should I be goal-oriented?
·      Should I strive for wealth?
·      Should I be content?
·      Should I write?
·      Should I make my bed?
·      Are those all the same thing?

Every day we are all bombarded with several, dozens, thousands of messages.  Maybe they’re countless.  They come from parents, family, friends, the media, religion, books…everywhere.  Everywhere. Perhaps this is true of everyone, not just those of beset with ADHD, but my mind entertains every single possibility.  Every.  Single.  One.  The problem is that these voices contradict themselves as well.  They too are large.  They too contain multitudes.  There are so many choices.  All those voices mean well.  Or maybe they’re trying to control my life.  Or maybe both.  Even considering the motivations behind all influences creates more choices.  When sharing how my mind works with a friend, she laughed and said, “Oh, you think just like a woman.”
I hope that didn’t sound sexist, but since a woman said it, I laughed too.  In their book Men Are Like Waffles; Women Are Like Spaghetti, Bill and Kathy Farrel (no relation to me) say that men tend to compartmentalize things so that they can work at work and be family men at home.  Women, however, tend to see the connection in all things.  While this may be a generalization, I think there’s truth to it.  On the other hand, I know women who are far more focused than me and I know men who can’t leave their work at work or their families at home.  There are so many choices.
I often feel like Tevye in The Fiddler on the Roof, who keeps saying, “On the other hand…”   There are so many choices.
When I was a boy in the 1960’s and early 1970’s Marvel Comics had five TV cartoons on:  The Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Iron Man and the Sub-Mariner, a different one each day.  After watching whichever one was on that day, I’d go play with my friends and I wanted to be the hero I’d just seen.  One day my friend, Scott Moore, complained about this, saying, “If the Hulk is on, you want to be the Hulk.  If Iron Man is on, you want to be Iron Man.”  He was right.  I guess he wanted me to make up my mind.  But I had.  At that moment.  The next day I would make up my mind differently.   There are so many choices.

So here’s all I can do:
First, I need to make my own choices.  Any choices.  Then live with the consequences and rewards.  Maybe I’ll wind up homeless, broke and alone.  Or maybe I’ll wind up successful, wealthy and loved.  Having a lot of choices doesn’t have to be a bad thing.   It’s not choosing that is the problem.   I’m truly fortunate to live in this time and place in history.  There is unprecedented opportunity here and now. 
Second, I need to stop trying to make everyone happy. This may not sound nice, but the only people I should be trying to please are God and me.  And here’s what I’ve learned about God.  He will tell me, very clearly, if I’m making a wrong choice.  Doing what God wants me to do has always been very clear and easy, even if it was a difficult choice.  Also, He has only directly spoken to me less than a handful of times, meaning, I suppose, that He trusts me to make my own choices.
Worse than not choosing is letting others choose for me.   Some of the worst mistakes in my life came from trying to please others, only to find out later that they would find another reason to be unhappy with me, or that they would soon fade out of my life, long after I was still living with the consequences of a bad decision.  
None of what I’m saying means that I don’t consider the wisdom and experience of those who have gone before me.  It doesn’t mean that I have all the answers or that I’m always right.  It means that the ultimate responsibility for my life is up to me.  So are the consequences and rewards.  Here are the guidelines that have worked for me.
·      Learn all I can.  Then decide.
·      Be willing to make mistakes and be wrong.
·      Live with my choices. 
·      Stand by them.
·      Apologize if necessary.
·      Accept the criticism, disapproval and even dislike of others.  (Interestingly, I found people in this camp are more concerned with their own agenda than what is best for me.  Learning that was a huge epiphany.)
·      Be grateful for life and for all the opportunities.
·      Change my mind or my direction.
·      Be willing to admit that you're right.  Often.

I am large.  I contain multitudes.  And some of my largeness is also grand and glorious.  I prove this every time I Get Started and Keep Going.