Inventory

Taking inventory; I hate that expression. All of the implications, regardless of context, infer exhaustive examination in hopes of finding a problem. At least that’s how I used to look at it. I would build up scenarios in my mind to avoid the process of inventory because frankly, who wants to be reminded of their shortcomings? More over, who wants to perform an extremely labor some task, and have the payoff be pain or embarrassment?

Truth be told, I have some previous experience with store inventory. One of my teenage jobs was working for the Kmart Corporation, in the toy department…DURING CHRISTMAS! As if working in that department during the biggest kid/toy holiday of the year wasn’t enough, a week after it was over we would start the New Year by, you guessed it, doing inventory. However, I know that personal and merchandise inventory are not exactly the same. Plus I, like everyone else, would like to think that I have no serious flaws. I mean the problems of the world are the fault, and cause of other peoples bad inventory, right? I, on a profoundly deeper level, have a better understanding of the human condition, and the problems that lie therein. I am indeed special. It was hard to type those last two sentences without laughing.

In all seriousness though, what scenarios request of us to take inventory? I think when our life is no longer working for us; a long string of dead end jobs, fragmented relationships, depression, and disconnect are just some of the more serious reasons. Death, marriage, having a child, and a job change are common stressors that often make us pop our head up from routine, and take stock. For myself, I suffered from constant anxiety, depression, and had difficulty maintaining meaningful friendships.

However, one thing I have found for certain is that there is no one way of going about it. Therapy, spiritual counseling, meditation, a financial advisor, and even vision boards can sometimes help people take stock. I like to include all of the aforementioned tools in my arsenal, but approach it like a business would. In a business if you have useless overstock or damaged goods you do away with them as quickly as possible, and without regret. Sometimes relationships, friendships, and/or jobs can reach their shelf life. Holding onto them will only result in an unhealthy, rotten mess later. So the only healthy option is to move forward.

There is practically limitless advice out there on the subject. It’s important to find what works for you, but here are some things that worked for me:

One technique that I really like is to categorize my life on paper: Health (physical, mental, emotional), Relationships, Friendships, Career, and Finances should be some of the items on the list. Taking a real, but not overly critical, look at how these aspects of your life are working can provide a great jumping off point. Sometimes it’s hard to even get a clear overview simply because depression has taken away your ability to look at anything objectively. That was my case. If that’s an issue, step one should be getting help; whatever that may mean for you.

Goal setting meetings are popular. Essentially you assemble a group of individuals whom you trust to give you honest, but encouraging feed back/advice and meet with them once a month. Keep the group at eight maximum. This keeps the meetings from getting to long, and from becoming a therapy session. While some of that will come into play, you want to stay on task allowing equal time for each person. Track your own, and each other’s goals so that you can revisit them monthly, quarterly, etc… to keep tabs on progress. It is in this process that you will clearly see what is, and isn’t working.

As you work through this there is some really good news; most certainly good things will come from this work. In my own inventory process I had certain expectations. Some came to fruition while others were still shrouded in ambiguity, and remained elusive, but the biggest reward was unexpected. I became more in touch with my authentic self.

I was suddenly more compassionate to myself, and others. My heart can break for even complete strangers. I can even feel sympathy for the transgressors in situations, and am extremely sensitive to certain types of suffering. It’s imperative to protect myself from too much exposure to the news, certain types of media, and even certain people. I used to deny that part of myself. Reasoning that if I just grew up, and relaxed about it, these things wouldn’t bother me, but they do. Honoring, for the first time, who I am is liberating.

I’ve had to end some relationships, even familial ones.  It’s an extremely hard decision, to be sure, but one that is necessary should you want to be a healthy, autonomous person. I don’t have to be liked or even understood. If I lead with kindness, and integrity, I’ve lived the day well. The biggie for me is that I am much more at ease with uncertainty. This one is my achilles heal. I still work on trusting that God, the universe, or whatever suites your belief system will rise up to meet me in my uncertainty. I am ok with it most days now. It has helped so much to ease anxiety, and worry. These are some of my experiences with “inventory.” Go out there, and have yours. Come back here, and tell me about it!

Remember, the only real rules are to be tenacious, thorough, and honest. Lest not forget the most important rule, BE KIND TO YOURSELF! This is a difficult process that many people will spend their entire lives avoiding. Pat yourself on back simply for your willingness to tackle this big bully.

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I will not champion mediocrity…..

Author Donald Miller posted the following in his blog, “Many people spend their lives trying to be somebody they aren’t, but real power comes from accepting who you are and running with it to the best of your ability.” This was taken from a week long series of life coaching. He also asked a question that basically asked, “Would the people around you know what you stand for?” Both of these ideas hit home for me, and hard!

I honestly have never really watched reality shows like Jersey Shore or “fill in the blank” but I understand them. Looking deep into ourselves can be deeply unnerving and scary. It is best to point to some other “reality” and reassure ourselves that we are better than those poor souls on Jerry Springer. We live in a society that only champions perfection, and/or winners. A humorous nod to this was given in the movie Talladega Nights when Ricky Bobby’s dad’s advice was, “If you’re not first, you’re last!” People laughed about this while scoffing at the stupidity of it, but how far off is it from our real lives? Watch any game show or televised competition and you will see that second place is garbage to these people. I saw a man playing the final puzzle on Wheel of Fortune, and he was seriously angry about missing the puzzle. The host said, “You should be happy as you are leaving here with $18,000” but the man mentioned that it could have been $48,000 as he hung his head. This man did 30 minutes worth of “work”, making what some people wont make in a year, yet he was sad about being first but not winning the final puzzle. Really?! I watch this play out daily with families. Parent’s who push their kids to “be the best!” Well I have news for you, if the best is first place the bulk of society will be sorely disappointed in their children and themselves.

This belief is strongly juxtaposed to EVERYBODY gets a trophy, but that’s an issue we will discuss in a later blog.

Where did we verve off course? I am not that old, and I remember a time not long ago when people by and large did a good job because it was the right thing to do. There wasn’t massive celebrity worship, and people had real, honest integrity, along with a deep value system. I’m not remembering some false version of the good old days because these are values that I, and many of my peers have.

Now more than ever we are able to give other people these perfect snapshots of our lives, putting on this façade of completion, giving the illusion that we have it all figured out. What’s hidden below the surface of a snapshot is reality.

So what if we were all more honest? Honest with ourselves, with what we struggle with, and help each other to look inward by showing our reality? Wouldn’t these moments of candor make yourself and the reader look deeper? Wouldn’t it make all of us think about what our life stands for, and relieve a mountain of pressure to be perfect?

It has only been through real face to face conversations, and contact when I have had the most intimate connections; they were completely watershed moments for both parties.  I have heard friends who are deeply spiritual say, “sometimes I’m afraid to talk to God in fear that God won’t listen to me or simply won’t be there.” YES! People are lying if they say that they’ve never had a doubt about faith but mostly what we see are vacation photos and pictures of 5 star dinners. Why? Because these interactions can only happen when there is safety, and support. This is something deeply lacking in our brave new digital world. However, I think it is possible through sincerity and honesty to make better connections virtually; to restore our integrity, and give honest validation to people living their lives the best that they can.

However, take it a step further. Make it a point to spend quality face to face time with friends and family. Reconnect, recharge, and give others your most valued gift, your time.

God ransacked my living room

Recently my life has been like a specific scene in many of the great suspense/thriller movies. The camera pans into the living room as the homeowners are unlocking the door only to be greeted with the visual of their life turned upside down. The camera sweeps slowly across the overturned furniture, smashed family photos, and strewn about chotchkies.  Their intimately crafted life has just been violated; their sense of familiarity is all but gone. Oh, but wait!! Pray tell, what is this? It’s the local police detective coming in to tell them that while their life has been completely dismantled, it was for a good reason, “you see, we got word that there was a bomb in your house that was about to explode, so we rushed in here as fast as we could. We’re sorry about grandma’s ashes on the floor but that urn looked highly suspect.” The good folks at the police station did you a favor! While you are grateful, looking around at the mess, and the sense of deep violation in your safe haven certainly does not feel like a favor.

Here is the place in this “metaphor” of a story that I say something like, “Sometimes one cannot see the forest for the trees” or some other nonsense but this isn’t a general story, but the current narrative of my life. You see at the beginning of 2013 I made a deal with myself. I started January 1st with a 5 by 7 note card in my pocket that simply read, “Be your authentic self.” That was my goal for not only the year but for the rest of my life. I had spent the last several years in therapy along with reading copious amounts of self help, and inspirational books so I felt that I was ready to leave the nest. I had a tool box chocked full of learning, and skills. At the dawn of the New Year I was a full time small business owner, and a part-time writer. I was reaching the homestretch of my third book. It was a biography I wrote for a friend of mine, Nob, and his health was quickly declining. I was steadily beginning to loathe going into work. It seemed without my knowledge or consent, my life was reaching a crossroads. My business was a private music instruction facility, I myself am a musician, and my business was causing me to hate playing. I couldn’t stand another second of dealing with any level of music after I left work for the day. I knew I needed change, but I wasn’t sure that my pride, or moreover, my ego could take such a hit. How could I have been so wrong about starting a business?

I quickly realized that I couldn’t focus on the question, but needed to put all my energy into the next steps, or the solution. After seeking advice from a few close friends, I made the (at the time) painful decision to close by the end of summer. It was mid June at the time. I kept thinking of the advice people often give on how to remove an adhesive bandage, and the response is always, “quickly rip it right off.” While that is a more humorous way of seeing the situation, it really was the best way. I swallowed my pride, and on Monday morning began telling all of my staff, along with our clients, that I will be closing. Our closing was met with a variety of responses ranging from indifference to genuine sadness. I was pretty crushed until the day I closed. That day I was overcome by an emotion I couldn’t foresee, relief.

I had about a week to explore free time, and unpack some head space, when I received a phone call informing me that Nob was going to be entering hospice. I shifted my focus from myself to him, and his family.

While it was difficult, and exhausting to watch someone you love struggle, it was rewarding beyond measure. He was in skilled/hospice care for roughly a month. All but the last week he was in great spirits, eating like a horse, and fully coherent. He laughed, and joked with all of those who visited him. He was sharp, engaged, and never missed a Detroit Tigers game. His health took a sudden decline, and he died a few days later. I began to grieve intensely for having so much loss in my life as of late. I grappled with helping to plan the funeral, wake, and continue to consolidate my business. The day after the funeral I woke up to, well, nothing. I was alone in my house without a thing to do, no appointments, deadlines, work to go to, or things to check off the list. Moreover, I was sad, but I was going to fight it. I should be happy, right? I no longer have to go into a business that sucked the life out of me, there was no one to take care of except for myself, and I wasn’t in dire need for a job. It may be worth mentioning that during this time frame my husband also started a new job. Literally nothing in my life looked the same. My life had indeed been ransacked! I thought to myself, “How did I get here?!?!” I was thunderstruck.

For the next month or so I walked around consumed with sadness. To my wounded heart and mind, this wasn’t acceptable. I need to move on, and quickly. There were so many things I wanted to do, and now was my chance. My life was a circle of questions with seemingly no answer. I was stuck. This feeling resonated in many different ways; I gained 7 pounds, had severe insomnia, and couldn’t write or play music to save my life. This was becoming very real, and in my mind, very serious until I spoke with a friend. She didn’t offer advice, but merely said the following, “I have never seen a more appropriate response to all of the loss you’ve experienced. Grief seems about right, and you can’t rush the time frame. It will leave you when it’s good and ready.” A light bulb went off in my head! Throughout the entire day that same line replayed over and over. I finally realized the problem; I hadn’t allowed myself to grieve. As if all of these life changing events would happen and I would be unscathed. That I would be above the fray, living in some exalted realm of reality. I would be remised if I didn’t share that in my pray life the message I kept receiving was, “with great vulnerability, there will be great freedom.” God was teaching me to trust, and to be patient. Not bitterly patient or complaining, and patient, but to be ok with life, exactly the way that it is in that moment.

The very next morning I awoke to peace. Suddenly, I was renewed, born again! Everything was unblocked. I could write, play music, and sleep, not to mention, I was 100 percent ok with being sad. With giving myself permission to grieve I was able to unlock so many other things that were bottled up. It was like all of the ugliness of the year just melted away. This was a lesson that I spent 42 years trying to learn, how to allow myself to be human, and grieve.

So here I am, it is 2014, and I have been offered several wonderful opportunities. My personal, professional, and spiritual life is falling into place. For the first time ever, regardless of life’s circumstances, I feel like everything will be alright.

I wish the same for all of you…..

SM

What makes us whole?

I have pondered this question in the past but have always come up with something simplistic. Something that is frankly pedestrian and easy. Let me start from the beginning of my thought process.

Many people share the similar experience of either caring for someone who is quickly approaching the end of their time here or have witnessed it. While I am not short changing the witnessing experience, the caring garners the bulk of my attention these days. Many people describe it as a brutal and exhausting experience. Even people who are “right with God” or are “very well adjusted” can be dismantled by this experience. So, this left me wondering….why?

I (like the majority of the population) spend my days occupied with stuff. Don’t get me wrong, we have honest and true obligations that must be met in order to eat, live, etc…but it seems that the remaining hours are spent in willful distraction. Television, internet, social media, celebrity worship, fame seeking, sex, money, and the wanting to be special are the lion’s share of our waking lives. I am no exception so this isn’t about judgment, just mere observation.

Besides breathing, death is the most assured and natural part of life. So why the big shake up to watch someone slowly make the transition, what’s the root of the problem here? I can’t speak for everyone but for me it seems to be this… OH, one more thing first. For those of you who don’t know me well I am somewhat of a Liberal Christian, so my belief system (like yours) is always at the center of my observations and with that being said, here is my take.

I think when we are in these pure moments of caring for someone who is passing; we are so close to the creator. Just as God lends us to this world, we are meant to eventually leave and to be so close to somebody making that journey to whatever is next is a glimpse into the other side, if you will. We slow down and get in touch with what really matters; life, death, and the creator of all things. To be in the presence of death is as awe inspiring as witnessing a birth because it is a way to see a miracle of the process of life and watch the work of a higher being. For those who don’t pray or believe that God hears their prayers, this is also a way to seemingly be in the very presence of the life force or cycle.

Now what makes it so difficult is that as we care for someone we also have to exist in the world and try to go on with our lives the best that we can. THIS is where I feel the conflict arises. We are by design amazing creations. Just the idea of the fever managing infection, eyes, the way the heart works, etc…Throw in a soul and conscious to complete one heck of a package! WOW! We are made of the elements that we can tangibly see and ones that we can’t. Our very design is a freaking miracle and once we can get in touch with that, once we honor that acknowledgement with a birth or a death, we get how beautiful and valuable we are. However, the world says that we have no value innately and we must earn it through works, beauty, money, fame, etc… THIS is the rub; it’s the very moment where our intrinsic soul and the world violently collide with one another creating this explosion within us that translates into anger, pain, confusion and sorrow.

 I don’t want to dismiss the obvious things. For instance that caring for a loved one is HARD work along with carrying on with your life and the mere thought of them leaving us and missing them is real, no doubt about it but the thing that shakes our very soul is the sudden awareness that we are not living a whole life, that like marionettes, we cave daily to the expectations of the world. It seems to me that these situations bring to light how much we are of the world and not just living in it. At least, it is for me.

 

Thanks for listening to my ramblings and feel free to leave you input as well in the comments below. I always love to hear them!

S

The heart of the matter.

Image

So the sweet boy in the photo is Nob. He is the subject of my last book, and will be 85 in a few months. He is now in an assisted living facility, in the Hospice wing. He is still pretty sharp, witty, and funny but his heart is failing. He is of sound mind but his body is not going along with the program. I have sat with him day after day chatting, watching him sleep, eat, interacting with family and friends. It has been a life changing experience for me. Not that I plan to run out and scale a mountain or save the world but it gives me a keen sense of mortality…..in a good way. No pity or worry but gratitude. I am suddenly much more appreciative of my health, body, and mind. I have a new focus and responsibility to care for my body and mind because it really is such a precious gift that we ALL take for granted at some point. This is a man who is smart and good spirited, but his body is failing as all of ours will. Get up, go for a walk, go to the gym, learn a new language, travel, drink in life by the cup full. It’s the least we can do to tell God, “thank you for this amazing creation. Thank you for my soul, sound mind, and functioning body.” Amen.

The Future….

As I age I realize that there is a fine line between facing the future and forcing it. In times of transition I think we often times have to embrace the inevitable changes with some amount of grace and dignity as we realize that kicking and screaming wont help. That was my tiny stab at humoring a moment we all find uncomfortable. However, maybe it isn’t everyone. Maybe its just a certain sect of people that fret of it. I, by design, am often hyper in my thinking, movement, delivery, and expectations. I need things to not only move at lightening speed but I need to know the how and why. I labor day in and day out with the why of EVERYTHING! My husband often times snaps me out of those moments by bring up a scene from the movie, Rain Man. When Dustin Hoffman’s character Raymond repeats the famous ‘who’s on first’ scene from Abbott and Costello, his movie brother, Charlie Babbitt figures out that its a riddle he is trying to solve because he doesn’t really understand humor. So Charlie finally says to Raymond, “It’s not a riddle, its a joke. You will never solve it.” My husband will occasionally use that line to bring me back to earth when I’m caught up in the cause of the human condition, of change, and the uncertainty of the future. With all the changes going on in my life as of late I am only left to assume that God has one hilarious sense of humor.