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The Trivial

One thing I’ve learned from living six decades, Vera, is that humans spend a lot of time on trivial matters. It’s not that we think they’re trivial when we’re spending time on them or, worse yet, worrying about them. But they are. So much of what we do and think really doesn’t matter much in the grand scheme of things.

Oftentimes, it doesn’t matter. So what if it’s not truly significant? If it’s what we want to do or think, then so be it.

Oftentimes, however, it does matter. I see it play out in two arenas all the time: 1) work and 2) relationships.

In the work environment, spending time on the trivial means you’re not spending time or putting effort on that which truly matters. In the corporate and nonprofits worlds, this manifests itself as busy work and subpar performance and results.

It’s so easy for us to think we’re accomplishing something important (and that we’re really important people for doing so) because we’re busy. But activity often merely disguises waste and inefficiency. Or is a symptom of self-aggrandizement. The failure to prioritize well and, therefore, to accomplish much is, from what I’ve observed, an epidemic in quite a few organizations.

As for relationships, the tendency is to make too big a deal out of things and, in so doing, failing to foster caring relationships. Also, when we lose sight of triviality, we tend to infringe on people’s space and fail to respect boundaries, which inevitably leads to hard feelings, conflict or worse.

I think this is one of the reasons it’s so enjoyable being a grandparent, Vera. With age, I’ve come to realize many of the things I thought were important when I was younger really aren’t all that important and, in some cases, our focus on them did more harm than good.

Indeed, my basket of trivialities has grown exponentially with age while my basket of things that truly matter has shrunk dramatically.

I wonder what it would be like to relive life with this time-tested perspective.

I think it would be nice.

Expecting Life To Be Fair Leads to Persistent Unhappiness

Shane Parrish recently wrote, “Expecting life to be fair leads to persistent unhappiness.” I think he’s right. The unfairness of life is difficult for some of us to deal with.

I don’t know why I think life should be fair. My theory is it’s because of my upbringing in Christian churches. Hearing about the Gospel of Jesus. Always thinking about how people should live, how the world should be. Could be.

Churches do their kids a disservice by talking so much about the shoulds. They should talk more about the way things really are and how one is to navigate a cruel and dangerous world.

Better yet, they should talk less and put more effort into showing by doing. Seeing someone live a happy, loving live while embracing noble and honorable values goes further than listening, especially when deductions of hypocrisy are inevitable when observing the gaps between words and actions.

There is a lot of unfairness and cruelty in the world. You even encounter it a lot among churchgoers. Perhaps it’s an essential element of being human.

Martyrdom is one answer of course. And the church talks a lot about its martyrs. But most people aren’t martyrs. Most of us don’t have what it takes. Church should talk more about the ways the rest of us are to navigate an angry and selfish world without allowing it to get us down.

Some religious folk deal with this by hanging out primarily with their own. Take the Amish. Or Bruderhof. Or Mormons.

That works for some, but others either don’t have that option or haven’t realized the risks associated with living in the midst of rampantly individualistic capitalists who have no pretense of fairness or common good.

The problem isn’t them. The problem is us, that is, if we think they should behave as we’d like them to behave: fairly and with respect and concern for the community and others.

If I had life to live over, I’d try to have no expectation or illusion of fairness. I’d try harder to accept the world for the way it is and not the way I (or anyone else) think it should be or how we want it to be.

That doesn’t mean I’d forfeit fairness as a value. Rather, it means I’d forfeit expectations of fairness.

Why? It’s simple and selfish: greater happiness.

I think Shane is right.

Place Matters: Today I Became A Hoosier

At the risk of laying claim to a derogatory term, today I embrace Hoosierism. Well, maybe.

What’s inarguable, however, is that, today, I became a Hoosier. We closed on the purchase of a house in Carmel, Indiana this morning.

But part of me knows that I’ve always been and always will be a Pennsylvanian. It’s the land of my and my family’s roots. Every time I think I’ve shaken it, I return home to the Commonwealth to visit friends and relatives and realize it’s not something one can shake. It’s in my bones.

But on the surface, I am now a Hoosier.

I came here after living the past five years in a blue state: Colorado. Indiana is a red state. I take a tiny bit of solace in knowing it’s just a bit less red today than it was yesterday.

Hoosiers are friendly people I’m told. However, I’ve learned over the years that friendly comes in different packages, some more authentic than others. I hope Hoosiers are authentic people. I find authenticity to be far more valuable than friendliness.

Regardless, I am so lucky to be here. We came here to be near you, Vera. That’s the power you possess. Try not to let it go to your head. Or to take advantage of your grandparents.

There are collateral benefits of course. We’re near your parents, too. And nearer to the rest of our family (sans your uncle on the west coast).

And we finally live at a place that’s within walking distance of just about everything we need in life. And we’re a stone’s throw away from a trail that will take us, by bike or foot, to downtown Indy or north into the countryside.

My goal is to burn as little gas as possible. And to walk, hike and bike as much as possible.

So now we go about the business of nurturing place.

Place is something that resides in our subconsciousness more than our consciousness, which is odd considering how important it is.

When I was younger, I didn’t appreciate the importance of place. I lived not in a place but in a cutthroat world — a world of competition, domination, discontent and violence — primarily violence against oneself and one’s soul.

I now think place is paramount.

The place we envision will be an enclave of love, peace and grace. Our home will be your home, Vera. And your parents and uncle’s home. And a home for friends and family to commune. A place to laugh. A place to cry. A place where precious memories are created.

Outside, your grandmother will take the lead in creating a tribute to nature and humanity’s connectedness to the earth. She will play in the dirt, as angels are inclined to do. It will be a place of peace and tranquility. And of beauty. I’m looking forward to seeing it unfold. It will be glorious.

Beyond the borders of what we naively think of as “our property” will be the larger place. My place in that place is yet to be defined. I’m counting on the rhythms of life to show me the way. Some people call it “the hand of God.” I’m no longer sure I believe that. But I don’t disbelieve it either.

I try not to delude myself however. I know that, for many, place is hell. Daily, some are forced to walk into or through the valley of death. It’s hard to create place when confronted by harsh realities.

Perhaps my place will nudge me forward, to hold their hands, to carry their loads, to help create place in the midst of pain and suffering. Perhaps my place will go with me wherever I may go.

Place can do that. Place has incredible power. But only if we allow it. Only if we allow place to thrive and become a living force within us.

On my journey, I have been blessed to live within the beauty and grandeur of Pennsylvania, Virginia, Colorado and, now, Indiana. I have absolutely no idea where my journey may take me in the years yet to be lived. But, for now, I am attending to important work. Holy work. I am allowing place to do its work.

Walk

Looking back, I realize I didn’t walk enough. I should have walked more.

We chose our new house primarily because we can walk. To many things. Stores. Coffee shops and restaurants. The post office. Doctors and dentists’ offices. Barber. Parks. Farmers market. Entertainment venues. A trail that runs from downtown Indy far into the northern suburbs.

My goal is to use the car as little as possible. And to walk or ride my bike just about everywhere I go (locally).

For most of my life, I spent too much time in a car, especially commuting to work. What a waste of time. If I had to do it over, I’d live within walking distance of my work. Or biking distance. Or at least live where my commute was as short as practicable.

Walking is a healthy endeavor. Sitting in a car isn’t. Plus, it’s the time. I can’t imagine many worse ways of spending my time than sitting in traffic. Or spending an hour or two a day commuting. Or more (as many people do).

Do the math. It adds up. I wish I could have those hours back. I wish I’d spent them differently.

I walk more today than I have at any time in my life. Rarely a week goes by that we don’t take quite a few long walks or hikes. Or long bike rides. Usually, a day doesn’t go by without a walk or ride.

It’s possible because I have more control over my time at this point in my life. But it’s also because it’s something I want to do. And because I value my time more than I used to. And because it’s important if one is to age gracefully and try to forestall physical decline. And because outside is simply a more wonderful place to be.

I realize my body eventually will fail. And that it may shrivel up before succumbing. I’ll get shorter. And weaker. But I have no intention of cooperating. In fact, I plan on resisting. Walking is resistance.

There is a reason there are fewer obese people in Colorado than most places we’ve lived. People walk and hike more. And ride bikes. I suspect they have healthier diets, too. I plan on taking a bit of Colorado with me to Indiana.

One thing that concerned me about moving to Indiana is the way people back East hibernate in the winter. I don’t want to revert to that lifestyle. I can’t import Colorado’s sun to Indiana, but I can ensure I don’t hibernate.

If it requires spending some winter months in Florida or Arizona, so be it. Or some summer months in the Rockies.

Yesterday, we took three walks, Vera. You initiated one or two of them. That’s an encouraging sign. Keep it up. Don’t stop walking.

Cars aren’t inherently bad. They’re only bad when they’re overused. Try not to overuse yours, Vera.

Keep on truckin’.

The House That Fails to Excite

I think our builder thinks there’s something wrong with me. We’re buying a brand new house in a wonderful town. It’s a nice house. He thinks we should be excited. I’m not.

Don’t get me wrong: it matters. If I had to live in poverty, or in an apartment with noisy neighbors, or beside barking dogs, or next door to a dump or chemical plant, I’d be even less pleased.

So what’s wrong with me? Why am I not excited by the privilege of moving into a new house? Continue reading

From Mile High To Sea Level

 

For the past five years, I’ve lived a mile above sea level: 5,130 feet to be precise. Living at altitude is different. Blood oxygen levels are lower. Sleep can be impaired (not good for someone with sleep apnea). But you’re closer to the sun, which is out most of the time. And the humidity here, in this semi-arid high plain, is low.

I’ve made no secret of how much I love this place. I wish I’d moved here years ago. I can’t think of a better place to live. Yet today I leave my mile-high home.

There is a lot about this place I’ll miss, but perhaps I’ll miss the skies the most. The two photos were taken at Boulder and Rocky Mountain National Park. I can’t find an adjective to do the Colorado skies justice.

Vera, your grandmother said she’ll miss the mountains the most. I can’t argue with that. Seeing the magnificent Rockies every day is an indescribable blessing, and climbing over them has been an inexperience unlike any other.

But today we leave our mile-high home. Soon, we’ll be living near you. That will make it a very, very special place.

The anticipation of the next excites me. I always look forward to turning the page. So I will travel down to sea level or something close. And as I do, I will turn the page in the book of life.

I don’t know what I’ll find in the next chapter, but I’m sure it will be new and interesting. I like new.

I’m an incredibly fortunate guy, certainly more so than I deserve or have earned. I’ve had the good fortune to spend the past five years in an amazing place. And now I get to spend the next few years in a place that’s even more amazing, because that place is your home.

My life reminds me of a scene from one of my favorite movies, Babette’s Feast. Following the feast, one of the town’s men looked up to the starry sky and remarked, Hallelujah!

Hallelujah indeed!

Perhaps it’s a good time to listen to this.

Simplicity

The lesson of simplicity was taught to me by two different people or movements: i) people of a certain element of Christianity and ii) the CEO and my boss at Arkema (the CEO who preceded me there). It’s a hard lesson to learn though.

On the face of it, there is no inherent validity to the principle; there is no reason to think simplicity is preferable to complexity. Yet I believe it is preferable. I’m come to believe it’s a superb guiding principle for one’s life. Continue reading

What To Do When Confronted by Bad Behavior

Everyone is confronted (aka victimized) by bad behavior from time to time. Sometimes it comes at the hands of a boss. Or spouse. Or friend. Or customer service rep. Or fellow driver. Or any number of other people whose paths cross ours.

It was tempting to write bad “people” versus bad “behavior.” But that would be an overreach. I used to think there were bad people. And perhaps there are. But I now try to distinguish people from their behavior, recognizing that all (or at least the vast majority of us) do some bad things at times. Moreover, I’m weary of the demonization of people, which seems to be a national pastime among certain groups. So I’ll focus on behavior.

All of us are imperfect of course. All of us wear gray hats. When we think our hat is pure white, or others’ hats are pure black, we delude ourselves, not in a benign way, but in a toxic way. Unfortunately, it’s a story that sells, particularly in times such as this. But it’s based in something other than reality.

In any case, no matter where people land on the morality and ethics continuum, people are capable of behaviors that can fairly be described as bad — at least from our perspective. Basically, it means it’s hurtful to us. Or disadvantages us or others in a way that seems unfair to us. You’ll know it when you see it, Vera. And when you feel it. And I guarantee you, you will see and feel it in your life. Perhaps many times.

I’m writing about this because I haven’t been very good at dealing with bad behavior, at least not in my personal life. I’m better at it in my professional life, that is, when representing people or organizations as their lawyer. I suppose it’s easier in that context because it’s not personal with me and, therefore, I’m not emotionally invested. In one’s personal life, it’s hard not to react emotionally.

So what have I learned over the years about reacting to bad behavior? Continue reading

Moments Where You Feel Something

I lost the capacity to cry for about 10 years, between ages 34 and 44. Didn’t cry when I got divorced or when my mom died. Just forgot how, I think. I’m obsessed with business, am hugely stressed over it and wrap way too much of my identity and self-worth around professional success. But I’ve never cried because of business. And, trust me, there has been good reason several (hundred) times. However, since my mid-forties, something strange: I. Cry. All. The. Time.

Pretty sure it’s a good thing. Sorrowful crying is looking to the past with sadness, or to the future with dread. Crying as a result of happiness is a response to a moment as if it’s eternal; the person is frozen in a blissful, immortalized present. My tears lately (thankfully) have been the latter as I slow down and pursue moments. Moments with friends, moments trying to freeze time with my kids, and (mostly) feeling very in the moment watching movies and TV. At least a third of the episodes of Modern Family get me weepy, and something about being on a plane turns me into a chocolate mess. (Note: do not watch the movie Gleason on a plane.) I also choke up in class more often, in front of 120 kids in their late twenties. I used to feel embarrassed and tell myself I need to keep it together. But as we get older we become more like ourselves, and I’m getting more comfortable with raw emotions and the potential collateral damage. I’ve earned it.

As you get older, and begin to register the finite time we have, you want to freeze time, and have moments where you feel something. Depression isn’t feeling sad, but feeling nothing. Crying, especially in the company of, or thinking about loved ones, feels healthy and joyous. I well up just thinking about it.

Continue reading