The Blog

What fills you up?
June 21, 2018

The HuffPost closed its contributor platform recently. I started writing for the site not long after Radio America picked up the talk show -- and was delighted by how seemingly impossible it would be to peg me as a result. My journalism roots run deep. No sense aligning too closely with the left or the right.

A while back I was corresponding with someone who travels in rarified air. You may or may not have heard of him, but trust me -- the opportunity to even correspond with him was a thrill. That was before he told me he’d been reading up on me, too. My HuffPost pieces. “Wow!” he said.

Which made me wonder (1) what was left to want, and (2) if I should go back through those myself and see what he was talking about. When the HuffPost people said we had the chance to go into those archives and delete anything we didn’t want online indefinitely I thought, “Well, now’s the time.”

I read everything I wrote for the site. And I don’t mind telling you how good I felt afterward! That’s the whole point, right?

I’ve been working out with weights for a long, long time. I know I’m supposed to mix it up, but I haven’t. I’ve been doing mostly the same routine for all these many years. It works.

I mean, it’s boring as hell -- but it works.

On a whim recently I decided to use that time as meditation. I see how many reps I can do without losing count (and starting over). I see how thoroughly I can focus my mind on those reps -- as opposed to this blog post, my next presentation, whatever. It’s more difficult than it might seem.

And that’s what makes it fun. Well, sort of. You know, for now.

When Katie was little she wanted to take a framed portrait of the tooth fairy to school to prove to a boy in her class that her parents hadn’t been lying to her. “You guys wouldn’t lie to me, would you?” she asked, with an expression that broke my heart.

So we talked. About the tooth fairy, about the Easter Bunny, about Santa. Christmas was right around the corner, and suddenly the season felt anything but magic.

We talked, and she sobbed into my chest -- with tears so big I could’ve sworn I heard them hitting my sweatshirt. At one point she pulled away long enough to grab the proverbial knife. “I just have one question,” she said. “How did you like the milk and cookies I left for you?”

She was despondent.

The next morning she was in the best mood.

“What happened?” I asked. She shrugged and said, “Got some sleep.”

Doesn’t that remind you of most of the bad days you’ve ever had? It’s incredible what a difference even one night of really good sleep can make.

DuluthIt’s never failed me. Listening intently to what others regret, and taking action to avoid that.

The biggest regret I’ve ever heard is not appreciating kids when they were little. Melissa West, quoted by Janet Luhrs in The Simple Living Guide, has a sweet take on that time.

I sat on a back porch with my mother and daughter in Montgomery, Alabama, one humid southern evening last summer and realized that just one breath, one heartbeat ago, I was in my young daughter’s place, sitting with my own mother and grandmother in the damp and fragrant heat. In yet just another breath, another heartbeat, I realized as well, I would be in my mother’s place, rocking with my own daughter and granddaughter. How quickly time passes. How quickly the chance to practice open-hearted parenting slips through our hands. How precious this brief time we are given with our children truly is.

Isn’t that a beauty?

If you’re no longer in the business of getting approval from people you don’t (1) know, or (2) like, congratulations. You’ve passed the first test of being a grownup. That’s why you say “yes” when you mean “no,” right? You want to people to like you. At some point you realize it’s more important to be genuine than to be liked, and that you aren’t running for mayor. You’re still a nice person. You’ve just added yourself to the list of people you’d like to please.

So when someone asks if you want to do something you don’t, just say, “No, thanks.” Or, “It was sweet of you to think of me, but I’m going to pass. Thanks, though!” Whatever your version of “no” is, as long as it doesn’t include an excuse. An excuse gives the other person something to counter, and you aren’t opening a discussion. You’re closing one.

If it still sounds harsh, I hope you’ll consider how much harsher “maybe” is. “Maybe” inspires the person to keep asking, and eventually to feel a bit foolish. Worse is “yes” when you really, really want to say “no” -- and you seethe your way through whatever it is, as if the other person won’t notice.

Doesn’t “no” sound so much kinder now?

A guy I used to know was legendary for telling the truth and inspiring others to do the same. He was fond of suggesting people preface more of their statements with, “The truth is…”

“It’s bizarre what will come out of your mouth when you do that,” he says. “The truth is, I don’t exercise because it’s boring.” Or: “The truth is, I don’t exercise because I did it once and I got hurt, and it cost me four hundred dollars in doctor bills.”

Saying you “can’t” do something is usually a lie. You can’t jump off the Empire State Building and survive without a parachute, granted -- or hold your breath under water forever. But aside from the obvious exceptions, “can’t” is almost always inaccurate.

How about this: “I don’t want to. As a matter of fact, I wish you had never asked. That’s the truth.”

The beauty of my friend’s approach is that you don’t have to tell the truth out loud. I mean, you could -- he does. But you might find, as I have, that telling yourself the truth makes it easier to say “no” gracefully. More on that magic word in my next post.

People fight career changes once they reach a certain age, a friend told me, because they don’t like making mistakes. It’s likely taken them a long time to build a successful career. To start over and be a beginner? No, thanks.

Which reminds me what one consultant would’ve said to that: “You’re failing all the time anyway. Why not fail at something that counts? There’s a concept.”

The more mistakes you make the further you’ll get, because at least you’ve set out. Mistakes are just information. Directions. Go that way. No, too far. Back the other way a little bit.

Mistakes are not a sign you’re defective, your dreams are stupid, and that you should give up on all of life.

“Grownups forget that,” the consultant says. “When you’re a kid you accept that messing up is just part of the deal. Think of a toddler learning to walk. He doesn’t take a couple of spills and then decide he can’t do it. He doesn’t say, ‘I can’t walk. I might have to crawl until I’m twenty. The kid next door, he’s walking at eleven months. I mean, look at me.’”

The wisest people in your house are likely years away from kindergarten. I still say that’s the reason we have kids, to help us grow up.

When Katie was little we used to do A Report on the Day. I wanted to show her how much more fun life is when you mark your lessons and savor the silly. She wanted to delay bedtime, so this was an easy sell.

If I had that little kid back for a day -- oh, how I wish -- I would’ve included a question about mistakes. I would’ve compared notes with her about the mistakes we’d made in the past twenty-four hours, and how much we learned from those.

Katie understood at a younger age than I did, though, that mistakes are a nonnegotiable part of a life that doesn’t bore you to death. That’s one reason I love this post so much -- and I hope you do, too.

physics notes

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photo courtesy of Katie Anderson