Friday, August 29, 2008

Go In With Eyes Wide Open

I like to read medical and health news on pretty much any topic. I'm just kind of a nerd that way. So I was reading this New York Times piece yesterday with this headline: Regrets After Prostate Surgery. It's basically about men who are told that post-surgery, they will have a great chance at normal, ahem, function, but then find that they don't. The article then goes on to say:
The Duke researchers said that the study shows urologists need to communicate more carefully the risks and benefits of the treatment prior to surgery so that men have more realistic expectations of what to expect.
In other words, the doctors weren't properly defining what "function" meant, and so the numbers for normal function were, excuse the pun, inflated, and therefore misleading.

What does this have to do with following your bliss? Well, first of all, that quality of life is clearly important and worth prioritizing! But perhaps more importantly, that it's so crucial to have truly realistic, unbiased information before making a decision.

I remember when I began my research into the freelance world that I paid special attention to the warnings and cautions provided by those who had experience. Many of them said the same things: not a good choice if you're bad at time management or being alone. Lots of feast-and-famine cycles. Disadvantages in taxes and other cost outlays.

Some people are good at blocking out what they don't want to hear, because they think it might dissuade them from making a choice that they really want to make. I see this all the time, and it inevitably leads to disappointment. While information is no substitute for actual experience, at least I knew I would have bouts of loneliness, or that I'd have to pay more out of pocket for Social Security and taxes than my non-self-employed friends. I didn't like it, but I expected it, and was willing to make these trade-offs for the benefits.

Expectations have so much influence over your happiness in life. This isn't to say that the pessimists have it right--"If I have low expectations, I'll always be surprised when things go well," as they say--but rather that if you have properly analyzed the whole picture, you will be more ready to deal with the negatives when they inevitably come your way. Every job, every person, every choice has a downside. Every single one. It's whether you understand that before you commit to a decision that makes the difference.

So whether it's a spouse or a new career or even that adorable little puppy who would never, ever eat your favorite sweater (RIP, favorite sweater), examine all angles and prepare yourself. When the bad stuff crops up, it won't crush you like a meteor falling from the sky. Instead, you'll see it coming from far away, and because your eyes are open, it'll end up looking more like a shooting star that gives you the opportunity to move out of the way. Aware and protected from unrealistic expectations, you can more fully appreciate the beauty of the big picture.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Use Your Emotions as Information

Chances are, one of the ways you know you're on the right or the wrong path is how you feel. Are you jittery, anxious? Or calm and serene? Do you snap when irritated, or are you able to brush off a bad day? Our behaviors say so much about our interior emotional landscape, and yet we ignore them so much of the time.

For example, when I was at my last job, I was clenching my teeth at night. I didn't really pay attention to it, however, and just dismissed the dull ache in my jaw each morning. Finally, when I could hardly open my mouth to chew, I realized something was off. And then I started paying attention. I was cranky. I snapped a lot. I cried more than was normal. I felt generally awful, in other words. And yet how long did it take me to do something about it? Longer than I would have liked, that's for sure.

A woman I know who works with horses tells me that they are experts at using emotion as information. They can pick up on the subtle gradations of feeling and energy that people and other animals give off, as well as their own emotions. They are prey animals, and, she says, this means that if they are afraid, they must act upon it.

For horses, it's self-preservation to use emotions as information. For humans, it could work that way too, though we often try to ignore our feelings. Let yourself become aware of what's happening on the feeling rather than the thinking level, and then use that as information upon which to build your next action. Chances are, if you're paying attention, you'll know exactly what you need to do.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

What Do Your Questions Say About You?

The web is a bit like a Magic 8 Ball, isn't it? An empty little search box, ready for your question, for your quest. How will I find love? Why can't I be happy at work? When should I start a family? How do I install ceramic tile?

A lot of people come to this blog hoping to find the answers to many of the big questions: How to make a big decision. When to make a leap of faith. How to be happy. How to ask the universe for what you want most.

When we type these questions into search engines, we hope to find the answers, hope that there's something or someone that can help. We yearn, we seek, we inquire, we contemplate. And often something does turn up, and we seize it like a found coin glimmering on a dark and indeterminate path.

It's great that so many answers are out there. But there's one answer that these questions can conjure that you may not be aware of. And that's the answer of the questions.

In other words, what questions do you ask again and again? What pattern do you find in your questions? The things you type into the anonymous interface of a search engine are often the vessels for your most closely guarded dreams, wishes and secrets. Have you ever taken a moment to analyze what you're seeking?

Try writing them down somewhere private. Make a list that no one will find. What category do your questions fall into? (Maybe you're just trying to buy a power drill, but you know what I mean about the "big picture" questions, I think.) Love? Career? Spirit? Mental health? Physical health? What do you ask again and again? How do you phrase the questions? Which keywords come up again and again?

Do this for a week or two, and see what your wandering mind wants to know and when. When you're bored and sitting at your desk? When your kids are asleep? Early in the morning before you go to work?

While you may think you know what you want or what your questions are, write them down anyway. Like a food diary well-kept, what you find yourself asking may surprise you, or reveal patterns you weren't aware of. And by noting the time, you can discern when your mind is most eager, and what situations trigger your searching.

We all want answers. But first we need to know exactly what the questions are, and why we're asking them.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Admitting Two Heads Are Better Than One

As are two bodies, two spirits, two lives. Everyone knows by now that Randy Pausch, who I have mentioned many times on this blog, has died from pancreatic cancer. When I got the news, I was not surprised, but deeply saddened nonetheless. After my initial feelings of sadness, I sent out into the universe prayers for his widow, children and those close to him who will have to now live without him.

In his book about the last lecture, there's a part that talks about what his wife says at the end of the speech. He writes that she whispered into his ear "Don't die." On a TV special a few months ago, she added that she had also said "All the magic will be gone."

As someone who is very grateful for her husband, these words resonate deeply for me. I love my husband, and can only imagine that without him, my world would seem considerably paler, flatter, more pedestrian. I also would not have been able to achieve all I've been able to without him, from the most mundane things to the most profound.

This post is not meant to be all pro-marriage or pro-coupling necessarily, but I can only offer what I know, so take that for what it's worth. What I know is that I can do more, I can feel more, I can understand more, and I can love more because of a partner, and specifically because of the wonderful partner that I have. (A giving and supportive and accepting and affectionate and hard-working and thoughtful and patient man. I'm not trying to canonize him here, but he's really great, and I'm very lucky.)

If you are not part of a couple or you are part of one that's not working, consider what is possible, and consider making a strong relationship one of your priorities. While romance is not essential--after all, our friends can certainly give us a lot-- something about the bond of real, selfless, committed love makes so much more possible. Including bliss following.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that two heads, two hearts and four hands unified and working for a common goal are greater than the sum of their parts. What they can accomplish is far more than I ever would have thought possible. For me, there is certainly magic at work.