“Courage is not the towering oak that sees storms come and go; it is the fragile blossom that opens in the snow.” – Alice Mackenzie Swaim
I love watching the first blooms of early spring. Tulips, daffodils, and crocus have been lying dormant for almost a year. When they make their appearance each April, it reminds me that warmer weather is on the horizon. The promise of more daylight, more time outdoors and even more flowers.
Every so often, winter ignores the calendar. We wake up to find that the grass has disappeared under a fresh coat of snow. The temperature has dropped below freezing. The daffodil stems are bowed down in submission. A lone tulip stands defiant.
“We have to go into the despair and go beyond it, by working and doing for somebody else, by using it for something else.” – Elie Wiesel
I love language. When reading a book, I’m always fascinated by the way great authors assemble words to form powerful messages. Like master chefs, writers take the basic ingredients – the words available to all of us – and deliver marvelous creations.
A word that has been in use a lot lately is “essential”. Only essential businesses are allowed to remain open. Only essential travel is permitted. Only essential employees should report to work.
Is your business essential? Is the trip you make to the store essential?
Are you essential?
“Clearings. That’s what I needed” Slowly my brain righted itself into spaces unused for months.” – Helen MacDonald
Last year brought a lot of changes to my life. I was forced to stop running and had to face my fears when having major surgery. I was fortunate to have an amazing doctor and access to a teaching hospital. My surgery went as planned, and my doctor was impressed with my “quick recovery.”
Of course, what was “quick” for him was “painfully slow” for me. I had followed the pre-operation workout routine and completed the exercises assigned by the physical therapist afterwards. But I didn’t feel as strong as I thought I should. A walk to the end of the driveway and back felt like a 10k run. Not exhausting, but a workout.
The longer the recovery took, the older I felt.
"The purpose of learning is growth, and our minds, unlike our bodies, can continue growing as we continue to live” – Mortimer Adler
For decades, I’ve disdained slippers. They seemed like an unnecessary piece of clothing. Either I wore shoes – dress shoes, work boots, running shoes – or I went barefoot. Having something “in between” would just take up more room in my closet.
My outlook changed with my hip surgery last summer. In addition to needing a cane, I would have difficulty bending over for weeks. That would make tying my shoes a challenge. Walking barefoot wasn’t recommended, so I had to find slip-on shoes – slippers.
Reading and Books,
"If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you." - Calvin Coolidge
In a world of uncertainty, many of us feel overwhelmed by the challenges around us – real or imagined. Will we have a job next month? Is the small repair on the house a symptom of a larger expense we can’t afford? With so many personal and professional responsibilities filling up our calendar, is there room for ourselves?
The list goes on.
“I think we all have empathy. We may not have enough courage to display it.” – Maya Angelou
In a few days, I’ll be having total hip replacement surgery.
I’m nervous about it.
My rational mind knows that I will probably be fine. I have a good doctor. I will be having surgery in a good hospital associated with a good medical school. I am covered by decent health insurance. I know that I must have the surgery to end the pain and prevent more damage to my body.
"I never met a man I didn’t like.” – Will Rogers
Traveling for business means eating at a lot of restaurants; usually alone. I look for a seat at the counter in diners, or a seat at the bar in restaurants if they aren’t too noisy. Most times, I’m seated at a table for two. I use the extra space for whatever book I’m reading.
Just because I’m alone, doesn’t mean I don’t enjoy some good conversations. In fact, many of my blogs are inspired by what I learn while eating. And listening.
“One can be the master of what one does, but never of what one feels.” - Gustave Flaubert
On any given day, I can feel warm and loved or cold and lonely; very happy or deeply saddened; and even bold with confidence or uncertain with fear.
On a really good day, I’ll feel all those emotions.
A benefit of getting older has been learning to accept myself – and accept my feelings. Even when I experience thoughts on opposite ends of the spectrum within moments of each other. The ideas of love and loneliness don’t cancel each other out, but complement each other. Even heartbreaking loss may be accompanied by beautiful, heartwarming memories. And in the midst of being afraid, I find strength I wasn’t aware that I had.
Too often, I hear people apologize for their emotions. As if one could control how our hearts react to a situation. We might as well apologize for breathing the air. Instead of being sorry, we should be proud of who we are – and that includes what we feel.
This doesn’t excuse bad actions based on emotions – even intense emotions. We have a right to be angry, but we don’t have the right to inflict pain on another person. We may find ourselves afraid of the future, yet we still have to find our way to move forward. We may love being with another person, and know we that we must let them leave.
Then there are the actions we need to either allow to happen, or sometimes, make happen. Accepting the tears that accompany our pain – physical and spiritual. Embracing a loved one, whether it’s to celebrate or console. Taking the next step, even when faced with silent fears no one else sees.
There are moments when we choose to hide our sentiments. Sometimes, that decision is based on a desire to not hurt another person. Maybe in a professional setting, it may be inappropriate to express yourself. Those may be wise choices.
When we’re with the people we love, we should let them know how we feel, and why we feel that way. In many cases, they can’t do anything to change the situation. Perhaps all they can do is be present in silence. But even that may be a powerful experience for you both.
Scientists struggle with processors and programs in attempts to develop artificial intelligence that mimics the way the brain manages information. Psychologists and neuroscientists understand a small fraction of the mechanics of how our state of mind is formed. But the power of our hearts remains a mystery that eludes their grasp.
The ability to feel, express and describe our emotions is an amazing gift.
"Every time I've done something that doesn't feel right, it's ended up not being right.” – Mario Cuomo
My business partner and I were reviewing a proposal with representatives from the client. They asked for some changes to the pricing. Actually, they wanted us to cut the price in half. They explained that this was would be the first of many projects with their company. Whatever money we lost on this agreement, we would make up in future contracts.
It was a very large company. And one that was well-known in our industry. The prestige associated with their brand would be a big boost for our firm. With the promise of future contracts, we wouldn’t have to worry about finding new prospects. People would seek us out. It sounded like a good deal.
It also didn’t feel right. It went against the principles and methods we’d used with our existing clients. We started to think about the true costs we would bear to increase our income.
We passed on the deal.
While this example is about business, most of us have had similar circumstances in all areas of our lives. Family situations. Job offers. The next step in a relationship. A decision, that once made, has lasting impact. Moments that make us pause.
During that pause, we can reflect on the emotions and concerns surrounding our choice. It’s common to experience enthusiasm and fear simultaneously. We’re excited about the prospect in front of us, but are afraid of the risks involved. At times like these, a simple cost-benefit analysis doesn’t seem adequate. We need a moment to decide.
Other times, we sense something else during the pause. At first, we may not be able to put our finger on it, but the situation doesn’t feel right. Perhaps it’s instinct, or maybe a suppressed opinion. No matter what words you choose, you know that something’s wrong.
These are critical moments that cause for more reflection, and not immediate action. This sensation is more than just an evolutionary reflex coded in the recesses of our brain. Rather, our reactions are based on years of experience facing other issues, and making other decisions. We need to respect our reflex and reconsider our choices.
What may look like a “Yes – No” situation, may actually be a multiple choice question. We just haven’t found the other options – yet. Or we may be so focused on the outcome that we haven’t spent enough time on the reasons why we want to go in a certain direction. Perhaps there’s an important reason for selecting a different path.
While our lives are short, poor decisions can make the hard parts seem longer. Too often, we are faced with problems that must be resolved immediately. But many times, we have the option of taking a moment to fully consider the import of our choices and the impact on our lives.
Seize the moment! And pause.
"Of all the passions, fear weakens judgment most." - Jean-Francois-Paul de Gondi
Fear is often misunderstood, and is thought of only in extremes. People with no fear may be described as courageous or foolhardy. Those who admit to being afraid are called cautious or cowards.
In many cases, fear is the best response to a situation. We feel some apprehension before trying something new, especially if there’s risk involved. That’s good, as we’ll be more aware of potential dangers, and be cautious as we move forward. Yet we do move forward.
The challenge arises when fear paralyzes us. Our minds are seized with anxiety, and we can’t move – figuratively and literally. The potential dangers appear overwhelming, the risks too great, and the rewards minimal. We look for whatever we perceive is the safest route.
Before starting down the “safe” route, we should question our motives. Are we basing our decision on what is prudent, or what is easy? Is the threat real, or only perceived? Are we avoiding injury, or avoiding discomfort?
Difficult questions, and our heightened emotions may confuse the situation. Unlike facts, there’s no absolute “right” or “wrong”. We may reach out to others for opinions and suggestions, but the final decision is personal.
However, the questions - and our answers - will bring strength, resolve and acceptance.