Be the Bison

I’ve been teaching a course on Communication Skills. In the process I also took a course on teaching Communication Skills and was being mentored by a seasoned instructor.  It has been an extremely revealing experience and through the course for instructors, the experience with my mentor, and the process of actually delivering the course to my participants, I’ve learned a lot.  I’ve also learned some tactics for difficult conversations that, if I’d had a few years ago, may have changed the direction of my life.

One of the things that really struck me was the challenge to ‘Be the Bison.’

Have you ever noticed a group of cows standing together in the corner of a field?  Sometimes they’re so squished together it seems ridiculous.  I’ve wondered why this happened but never taken the time to figure it out.  What they’re doing is standing there, cowering in fear, trying to get away from something inevitable.  Even before a storm comes, they’ll gather together because they sense it. They’ll cower as far away from the storm as they think they can get (which, of course, doesn’t actually help them at all) and because they anticipate the storm and spend time fearing it, they end up experiencing the storm far longer than it even lasts.

This is how most of us are in our lives – be it with work, friends, family.  We know something uncomfortable, some storm, is going to happen or needs to happen and yet we essentially cower in a corner  – hoping it will go away. But it won’t just go away, and like the cows, we end up experiencing the stress of this problem far longer than necessary.  Maybe we stay up at night thinking about it, maybe we complain to our partner or friends but never actually face it and so we continually experience the stress and pain of this oncoming storm.

The Bison, however, experience the coming of a storm in a very different way. They also sense the storm but rather than cowering in fear, the Bison, knowing the storm is going to come no matter what, heads toward it.  Bison will march into the middle of a field, face the storm, get ready, and then walk right into it, because they know that if they’re standing up to the storm, walking toward it and not away, they’re going to be out of it quicker.  They get the feeling of fear over with. They not only make themselves ready for the inevitable, they invite it.

When I first heard this concept I definitely saw myself as a cow.  I could think of so many situations where I had some difficult conversation I should have had with someone and yet I put it off and put it off.  I stressed about it, I agonized over it, I talked to the people in my life about it until they became absolutely sick of the topic.  And that’s . . . well, it’s stupid, and pointless, and destructive.  It certainly didn’t solve any problems or help me get through a storm.  Really, in our lives that kind of behaviour tends to create more storms to deal with.

We need to be the bison and not cower away from the things that scare us or make us uncomfortable.  The storms of life will inevitably come, so why not face them?  And face them with strength, determination, and power.  Sure, it’ll feel uncomfortable at first, it may even be scary, but if we get comfortable with the feeling of being uncomfortable – that discomfort will begin to lessen.

This whole idea of being the bison can even apply to storms of our own making. Maybe we’ve determined there needs to be some change in our lives – a goal we’ve been wanting to conquer for a long time but just don’t take the steps needed, a habit or trait we know needs to be ripped out of our lives but we’re cowering in fear from the work that it will take and the emotional pain it may cause . . . maybe something we need to admit to or deal with, some scar from one of life’s previous storms.

So give it a try, BE THE BISON, and I will too.  If you happen to know me personally and see me cowering in a corner like a cow, I give you permission – give me a nudge and tell me to stand up straight, throw my shoulders back, and walk on out into the storm.

Image taken from Independent Lens “Facing the Storm: Story of the American Bison”, Colorado Public Television.”

Rolling out of bed

Brain scanning technology is quickly approachi...

 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The mind is a funny, funny thing.  So powerful, so intricate, and yet so very weak.  Strongly connected to that is this thing called resolve.  In theory, I have loads of resolve.  I have goals and dreams and things on my list of ‘to-do’s that are worthy and will improve my mind and my life.  In practice, most of the time I have squat.

Now . . . that’s not an entirely fair thing to say.  I do succeed in following through with resolve at times, but I fail far more often than I succeed. Some of that probably comes from setting pretty high expectations for myself. A lot of that failure also stems from small simple moments of defeat.  From letting the little things that disappoint me about myself morph into huge feelings of inadequacy, or get so mixed up that I can’t decide what thing needs to be done, are worth doing – are more worth doing than relaxing ’cause I just seem tired and drained and I deserve to relax, right?  I’m a busy woman.  So when I do relax it often makes me feel guilty, and that guilt means that when a justified period of relaxation is over I feel even less capable of tackling those worthy or necessary endeavors  and when I do tackle them (usually the necessary ones) I don’t have the clarity of mind and focus that is needed to make me feel proud of a job well done.  A vicious, pernicious cycle develops.

This cycle has also affected my ability to write – both here and in other realms.  Some heart wounding feedback regarding my creative work has left me feeling incapable and overwhelmed at the task to feel capable again, the hours it would require – because what if I put in all that time and energy and I still don’t have what it takes?

Now, I realize this is largely silly.  Very few acknowledged writers didn’t experience tons of rejection before they became acknowledged . . . but it still hurts.

And when all those other little ‘failures’ group up with the big failures and I’m tired, cranky, and disappointed that I snap at the person closest to me – words coming out of my mouth before I even know they’ve been spoken – it’s hard to hold onto resolve.  Sometimes though, really, resolve is all we have.

My fiance replied to a text where I admitted the bad day I was having and how I felt like a failure – his reply was “be happy (if you want!)” – A wise but risky reply.  It reminded me of something I read  the other day – “when you wake up in the morning you can roll out of bed into a miserable day or you can leap out into a wonderful one – the choice is yours.”

Maybe that’s true, and if it is true it should also be true half way through.  I may have rolled into this day but I can choose to leap through the rest of it.

And you know the thing I like most about that image?  It allows for those moments when my resolve weakens.  Sometimes my leap will last longer and reach further than other times, but I’m not superman, I’m fully human so it’s okay and expected that I’ll come down from that leap at times, and when I do I have the opportunity to make the choice to leap again rather than give up and roll through the rest of my day.

We all need a little encouragement now and then

It’s been an intense week.  An overwhelming week.  A stressful week. A week when I’ve felt like an impostor, like I’ve taken on more than I can handle, when my work has made me tired and burdened me with feeling inept.  I had moments when I wanted to cry, moments when I wanted to give up, moments when I ranted and railed (to myself and to my fella) about work, about expectations, about unclear guidelines.  This week has come on top of a month, although not nearly as busy, containing many moments of frustration and disillusionment. The majority of this week’s intensity and stress has come from a contract I’ve been working on, a project that, largely because of unclear expectations and delays, by the time it’s completed will probably have taken more than twice the time I anticipated, making my pay (by the hour) more than two times less. (And causing me to cancel a long weekend trip to visit my family.)

Last night, after putting in about 8 hours, after putting in about 13 hours the day before and who knows how many the days before that (actually, I do know – but I digress) I found myself sitting in front of my computer thinking “what am I doing! I should just get a normal job, 9-5 is where it’s at. I’m not cut out for this!”  For those of you who don’t know a little less than a year and a half ago I quit my job and decided to go into business for myself. It’s had its ups and its downs but I’ve survived, and even enjoyed it a lot of the time.  Yesterday though, it seemed like the whole endeavour was a failure . . . until I read a group email from a friend who has just launched her own blog, in preparation for a major life and career decision she’s on the road to making a reality.  At the end of this  email she sent a thank you and shout out to me – saying that my decision to step out by starting my own home business was the umph she needed to jump too.

Upon reading that I felt touched, and happy that my decision had helped her make hers – a decision I’m sure will lead her to not only success, but to making a positive impact on this world.  So I got to thinking, all jobs have hard days and though I’ve been coming across some projects that have their moments of misery I’ve also had some that I love and when doing them I basically feel like I’m getting paid for not even ‘working’.

I just have to stick it out, learn from some of the naive or misinformed choices I’ve made that have led to this kind of stress and make sure I let my interests and talents, more than a seemingly appealing pay cheque, determine the projects I take on in the future, trusting that eventually I’ll work up enough of a name for myself that I can primarily take the jobs I enjoy, the jobs that feel more like an extension of my interests, of myself, and not like labour.

Hopefully the next time I’m feeling overwhelmed I’ll remember this friend’s words and find inspiration from the choices she’s making in her life!

Value

I’ve been thinking a lot about value lately.  It’s so subjective, and that’s a frustrating and a beautiful thing.  It’s beautiful because it allows us to make choices that would otherwise be considered impractical, unwise, foolhardy, indulgent and feel justified.  It’s frustrating because it can cause us stress, guilt, confusion about the choices we make.

A lot of the time we think of value in regards to money.  Is this outfit worth it?  This cheese?  This vacation? This gift? At times, I’ve let value, in relation to money, rule my life.  I’ve missed out on experiences with friends, I’ve missed out on wonderful meals, I’ve scrimped and sacrificed and suffered moments of regret (both from spending the money, and from not spending it!).  I’ve always been much more willing to spend money on what I could unequivocally consider an experience than a material or fleeing moment investment.  Over $4000 backpacking South East Asia with one of my best friends – she twisted my arm a bit and I think we could have done it for less if we’d researched more – but yes please! Twelve dollars for that appetizer that looks super good and that I’d really like to have and that I wish I had while everyone else is eating their delicious appetizer – sorry, can’t justify it when I know the meal I’m ordering will physically satisfy me.  And I don’t necessarily think either of these choices is a bad one or a good one – it depends on the value.  It takes conscious thought to think about value, and to think of it outside of the monetary cost.  Sometimes I’m sure I made the right choice about a meal, other times I recognize that my frugality – on that particular night, for whatever reason, made me feel cheap and envious and dampened the overall experience.

And that’s what value comes down to – experience.  And this goes for value that reaches far beyond any monetary concern. It’s about assessing our priorities, our desires, what aids our contentment and joy. Should I feel guilty about spending time researching something online that brings me joy, that will bring a loved one joy (even when I don’t have to figure out a certain gift right now) when there are dishes to be washed or there is work to be done – maybe, maybe not.

What is more valuable: securing extra jobs so I’ll have more available money, money which I may be able to spend to bring more joy to my life, or which may be spent on things that really won’t make a difference, or accepting that the work I’ve secured for the moment will cover my bills and deciding to instead spend what time I have left over to invest in myself and the people around me, even if it’s as simple as taking a bath.  It’s not possible to give a definitive answer – at least generally.  I think I’m learning though, that for each situation there is an answer that is at least the better one. I think the trick is to take a moment and ask, what do I really value? – and make a decision from there. And when we realize we’ve been making choices that don’t affect our true values (or what we want  to be our true values) we need to reassess our decision making.

The land of peace

“For it is one thing to see the land of peace from a wooded ridge . . . and another to tread the road that leads to it.”

                                                  – C.S. Lewis

The above quote is taken from Lewis’ Surprised by Joy. Reading through the excerpts I’d copied out of the book years ago, I found myself again awed and challenged by this man’s thoughts and made uncomfortable by what they brought back to my mind – thoughts I often choose not to deal with.  There was fodder for any number of posts but most of them would require me to open with topics and in ways I’m not quite prepared to be open with on this forum . . . largely because there are people I know who read this! Perhaps that will be saved for a semi-autobiographical novel one day! 😉

Back to the words above – they struck me – yes, it’s definitely one thing to see the land of peace, and another thing entirely to tread the road that leads to it.  And even if we start that journey it’s, again, another thing entirely to allow ourselves to enjoy that land of peace rather than find/create stress or problems where we are and look ahead to what must really be the long desired land of peace.

I wonder if it’s a personality thing – I think it probably is.  There must be people out there who are generally satisfied and content with their lives, who feel that they are living in the land of peace, who can look at the problems, concerns, wrongs, offences, stresses, etc. in their lives and still stay in that land.  I seem incapable of it, at least consistently.  Now don’t get me wrong, there are certainly moments when I feel peace, but most of the time I’m in a semi-state of stress.  This may be heightened by the crazy amount of work (paid and otherwise) I have right now – which is great – but even in slow times I find I often find ways to push peace from my life.

I often find ways not to be as happy as I probably could be . . . Now in one sense that keeps me striving toward those things that I desire, but in another it wastes so many of the precious moments I have.  And of course . . . thinking of those wasted precious moments does what? Stresses me out! Prevents peace.

Now let’s see . . . what is peace anyway, perhaps I don’t really understand it.  My handy Oxford Dictionary says – quiet: tranquility, mental calm; serenity.  Yeah – I understand it, and although I have had real moments of mental calm and tranquility in my life (generally while in nature, during a tender moment with one of my nieces or nephews, or dancing in one of those states of ecstasy I sometimes get), for the most part a state of mental calmness is something non-existent for me.  I can’t seem to turn my mind off for a moment.  I’m analyzing  observing, assessing, critiquing, contemplating.

Meditation comes to mind – although I have a feeling I’d have major trouble with that too.  But, I suppose it’s probably something that improves with practice . . .

Okay – no great realizations, no answers, only the belief that if I could learn or figure out how to not only see that land but exist in it more I would do better justice to this gift of life I’ve been given.

Relatively speaking, I’m young.  From someone who perhaps has more experience than I do, from someone who has figured out how to let peace into their lives – any words of wisdom?

* I think it was actually Augustine‘s quote – which Lewis put in his book

* Another observation as I read through this . . . my moments of mental calmness seem to come when I’m fully engrossed in love – be it something or someone that allows my love of it to engulf me.

* And another addition! – I took the above picture on a walk home from staying at a friend’s house in Daegu, Korea – I was up all night hacking with a horrible cough and left as soon as it was light enough to not disturb her slumber any longer. (Although she was amazingly hospitable and didn’t show any signs of annoyance at the horrible noise I was making all night!) I was awed by the scene and the peace that flooded over me as I took the city’s morning beauty in.

Journey within

If you’re like me, you often have somewhere in the back of your mind (and often in the front) the desire to grow, to be a better person, to improve upon the person you once were and become the person you want to be. Over the years, you can look back at yourself, your ways of thinking and doing and being and realize, yeah – okay, I’m doing better. I am better. I’ve ‘matured’.  It’s not often though (at least for me) that the realization that I’ve grown and am not entirely the person I once was smacks me in the face . . . the type of smack that brings a smile.

The other day I had one of these moments. A person I don’t know very well, but who I’ve had generally positive, friendly interactions with was suddenly not so friendly. I interacted with this person a few times throughout the day.  The first time I was a little shocked and perturbed at her seeming rudeness, her apathetic attitude. The second and third times I was hurt and a little miffed at her blatant rudeness. My natural reactions were to wonder what I could have done to offend her, and finding nothing, to be annoyed and give her an aloof and equally rude response. Within seconds though, before I had the chance to respond, another, newer thought came to me. Maybe her attitude and rudeness had nothing to do with me. Maybe I should stop having the automatic assumption that a person’s behaviour toward me is necessarily based on our interactions or that when negative, it gives me any right to fling the negative back toward him or her. Maybe . . . just maybe this person’s attitude was about something completely different and I was only the recipient of emotions she had not yet had the time to process or overcome.

This was a light bulb moment.  Rather than succumbing to insecurities and narcissism, rather than adhering to old patterns, I took a moment to try to see the world from someone else’s perspective.  In that realization, I realized I had also come a long way. The Charlene of 10 years ago, heck, the Charlene of three years ago probably wouldn’t have had that thought, or at least not fast enough to change my response in the moment.

Now the thought that hit me – this may have nothing to do with you, she may not even realize she’s directing this at you – could have been wrong.  I could have unwittingly annoyed her and she could have been intentionally trying to take it out on me. I could have been justified in feeling slighted, and hurt, and in colouring my future interactions with this person by the wariness and scornfulness I could have let it provoke in me.

It turns out the new thought was probably right. The next time I saw her she was pleasant and friendly and we had a great little chat.  But whether I had been right or wrong the point is that I took the time, before I spoke, before I acted to consider my actions in the world from a broader perspective. I displayed growth I hadn’t even fully realized I’d developed.

I guess this work on myself is paying off. Slowly but surely. I guess I’m not quite the child I once was.  Here’s to us all not being the children we once were.

To Pitch or Not To Pitch?

The question my post title asks isn’t much of a question anymore.  I’ve signed up for Halifax’s Pitch the Publisher at The Word on the Street . . . and I’m scared.  Basically how this works is that each ‘pitcher’ pitches in front of a panel of three publishers and an audience (I wasn’t aware of the audience until after I signed up).

Our pitches should answer:  What is your idea for a book (Describe it in two sentences or less).  Why are you the right person to write this book? Why would people buy your book?

This must be answered in 2-3 minutes.  So yes, I’m scared.  So scared part of me wants to pull out.  How am I supposed to sum up a book I’ve spent 10 years (off and on) writing in two sentences, convincingly enough to make someone want to publish it?  What makes me the right person to tell this story besides the fact that I thought to tell it? – It certainly isn’t a story that represents my experience, as far as events are concerned.  And why would people buy my book?  Well, that one’s not so hard – because it’s about a person who’s struggling and lost and does her best to find her way back to a sense of self – a story all of us can relate to in some way.  So . . . all of this in 2-3 minutes!

I know I won’t pull out though, because nervousness aside and potential embarrassment aside if I stumble over my words and look like a crazy amateur compared to the other pitchers there are two main outcomes here, both of them good.  Dream outcome: one of the publishers loves my idea, reads my manuscript, and publishes one of my books.  Great outcome: none of the publishers are interested but I get some valuable feedback.  Even if the feedback is ‘this story isn’t worth publishing’, I’ll dig for the reasons why and either figure out how to adjust those reasons or figure out a different market, because I really do trust that it’s a story of worth.  Side outcome: I’ll have the experience of this experience, and of conquering fear and nervousness.

Has anyone reading this post ever done a similar pitch?  What was it like?  Do you have any suggestions or advice for me?

A peaceful memory I’ll try to take myself back to me when nervousness overwhelms me!