Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Luck Is Where Preparation Meets Opportunity

A friend of mine told me recently that she didn’t think she’d ever have a “light-bulb moment” into happiness the way I did last month. She said she thought she’d have to work at it a long while before it happened for her. When she said it, she sounded a bit disappointed in that realization. It made me think about my situation and my light-bulb moment when I found the passion drummer.

After some reflection I came to the realization that my journey to happiness wasn’t overnight, but literally five years in the making. Happiness didn’t happen for me in a moment; although, the juxtaposition in my perspective did happen that way in my case.

Five years ago, I really thought I had it all. I was reasonably financially secure, had enjoyed academic and professional success, was respected by my peers, and had little difficulty in setting and achieving my goals. I felt fortunate and successful. Then I met Jason (who is now my partner.)

In our first conversations on Match.com, it was obvious to me that he viewed the world through a completely different set of glasses than I did. But opposites attract, and we had common interests that allowed us to connect on a few different levels.

I remember one of the first questions Jason asked me was: “What do you do for fun?”

I was like, “Fun? What do you mean? I work full-time as a database designer. I have a special needs child at home with around-the-clock nursing. I manage a staff of 18 nurses, hire, staff, train, schedule and deal with their personnel issues. I manage weekly inventories for medical supplies and pharmaceuticals. I coordinate occupational, physical, and speech outpatient therapies as well as home schooling. I take classes (as my son’s hospitalizations allow) at a local college toward an undergraduate degree that I started around the time my son was born and still maintain a 4.0 GPA. I maintain a beautiful home on 2-acres as any self-respecting DIY-er does. So you see, I really don’t have room for anything else.” What I was thinking in my head though was, “Fun isn’t important. It’s frivolous. It doesn’t get me anywhere. There are so many more productive things I can (and do) do with my time.”

Frankly, I’m surprised Jason didn’t hightail his butt out of my life after seeing how stark and driven my world was. I was the epitome of efficiency, productivity and seriousness. I had to be. That was my world. But he saw something of interest in me, and was able to overlook the seriously different modes of operation we prescribed to.

As I got to know him better, I learned how truly different his world was from mine. I learned how genuinely happy he was with life in almost every aspect. He had so little stress and few negative elements in his daily living. It seemed like he sort of just floated by in life while I struggled, tooth and nail, to make ends meet each day. And just weeks earlier, I thought I had it all.

Eventually, Jason and I moved in together. There is value in seeing someone that lives in the world of the passion drummer on a daily basis. I started to recognize the choices he made and the values he set and the way he evaluated things as different from mine at a basic level. I frequently asked how I could have a life like his. He would tell me what he thought, and I usually just discarded what he said because I felt it was too simplistic for my complicated life. But I did start setting goals for myself gradually that were a bit different. I started to focus on balance (work/play) and simplicity. I started spending less time with friends and family that were really negative to be around and gravitated toward people that were positive and authentic and who I felt good being around. I started taking time out to play and have fun. The more I did these things, the more I wanted to do them. It’s funny how “fun” works that way.

Each year, I moved closer to a world like Jason’s, but I wasn’t really completely conscious of this, although some of it took a huge amount of work and courage to do. It wasn’t easy. I was tied pretty tightly into the world I had made for myself so extricating myself was a slow and arduous process, a five-year process in fact.

I got out of the job that paid a great salary and gave me little self-fulfillment, and took a job that paid less but gave me more freedom. When I found myself in a situation without enough nursing coverage to bring my son home after a 7+ month hospitalization, it took time but eventually an ideal placement was found that is able to sustain the level and quality of nursing my son requires in a non-institutional setting (no easy feat with the national nursing crisis we’re experiencing) where he has other kids like him to share experiences with. He is so happy and his life is so much richer than I could have ever hoped to give him. And I now have a life again for myself too. That change was the single most difficult thing I’ve ever done and not everyone has agreed with the decisions I made and I’ve lost friends as a result. I did other things too. I sold that beautiful home that was too much work for me to maintain and that didn’t really suit my needs and that held me to a place that I wanted to leave. I took work on the other side of the country, in a warm climate, which is something I've wanted to do for decades. I committed to completing my undergraduate degree in 2009. Looking back, I was slowly but systematically closing a chapter in my life that was no longer working for me.

Today my life is irrecognizable to the life I had five years ago. Nearly every aspect has changed. I made room in my life for a new way of thinking, for a new set of values, for a new type of decision making. I simplified, and removed the negative, and acknowledged my own limitations and needs. I learned to focus on what I valued more instead of focusing on what others thought I should do or be. In actuality, I don’t think I was ready to hear the passion drummer before now. I don’t think I would have comprehended it, even if I had heard it. I had to make room. I had to prepare. I had to ready myself.

Everyone’s journey is different and special. We come from different places with different needs and passions. My journey only proves that it can be done. You can unhook yourself from a life you didn’t intend, or did intend but now realize isn’t what you want. If you’re not happy, you can be. It’s a choice. No, it may not be easy. Mine certainly wasn’t. But when I finally “got it” it seemed like the easiest thing in the world. I just forgot to acknowledge (for a time) the preparations I made that allowed me the personal capacity to hear the passion drummer’s beat that first time.

As the saying goes, luck is where preparation meets opportunity. I guess I just got lucky. See you on the other side.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

No More Road Rage

The other day, I was driving into work and the morning rush hour traffic was brutal. I've been told that I'm a good driver, but definitely on the "aggressive side." As I sped along in the "hammer lane" (the far left lane often referred to as the "passing lane"), invariably some moron going much slower pulled out in front of me without checking to see if faster traffic was coming, causing me to slam on my brakes far too hard for comfort, followed by a burst of choice expletives flowing forth from my mouth. The adrenalin begins to pump as this happens time after time as I try to navigate around these slowpokes interrupting the faster flow of traffic in my lane. It's going to be a long ride in this morning.

As I sat there at a red light, behind such a moron who just caused me to miss a perfectly good green light, I am fuming. Out of the blue, I asked myself: "Are you having fun?" The passion drummer's beat must have started playing on the radio for a moment. I thought "Hell, NO, I'm not having fun! Who can have fun with idiots like this getting in my way all the time!?!" I was hot. I was so "feeling the ugly." I wanted to get to work, and it wasn't happening fast enough for my tastes. Patience is not my strong suit.

But the question kept repeating in my head. "Are you having fun?"

At first I was pissed at myself for suggesting that I might find this experience fun in any sense of the word. But then, sitting at that light, an idea came into my head. Instead of getting upset at this anonymous person in front of me, why not have some fun with it? So I came up with the idea of a Moron Driver of the Day Award, and decided immediately that the best candidate for this award was the person directly in front of me looking innocently back at me from their rearview mirror. I was pleased with myself.

I start talking aloud to myself in my truck about this person. I wonder if this dude knows he drives like an idiot? I wonder if he'll ever have a lightbulb-moment when he says, "My goodness, I drive like an imbecile!" I wonder if his co-workers give him crap about his driving like a little old lady...I know I would!. I laugh at this, thinking of the poor soul that would drive like this and be in my lunch group. The heckling they would get from me! Ha!

As the light turns green, I see a pickup about 7 cars ahead of me, again in the passing lane, going way below the speed limit, but next to two lanes of 18-wheelers moving slowing up the hill as they move through their multitude of gears, thus effectively bottlenecking all 3 lanes of traffic. I exclaim with glee "No, wait! It's a two-way tie. The slow-poke in the hammer lane, and the semi that couldn't stay put behind the other semi. NICE! Look how effectively all three are going the exact same speed! It's like synchronized swimming!!" At this point, I'm certain if anyone peers into the cabin of my vehicle to see me talking to myself and bursting into fits of laughter, they are steering clear of my vehicle at this point and perhaps a bit concerned about my sanity.

As I laugh, the car pulls forward and pulls over infront of the semi in the middle lane. The hammer lane traffic floods forward. As each dummy pulls in front of me, I verbally jibe them with taunts of giving them my Moron Driver of the Day award. I'm sure some of them look back and see me laughing. Oddly enough, they all pull over in short order, and I get to work nearly a full fifteen minutes earlier than predicted.

As this happens, I'm thinking, come on now. This isn't happening. This can't be happening. It's not that easy. I just think happy thoughts and have "fun" and stuff works out? That's ridiculous. But that's what happened. It's scary that I have the conviction to even write this with the intent of sharing it with others. I'm sure I'm nuts at this point and that's how it will be viewed. But, hey, I'm happy so what do I care? It's definitely working for me.

See you on the other side! :)

Monday, November 2, 2009

Like Oil and Water, or, You Can Lead A Horse To Water But You Can't Make Them Drink.

As I've shared with others my new perspective on attaining sustained happiness, those already dancing to the passion drummer continue to reinforce that I'm truly on the path to sustained and long-term happiness. I've been interested to see how many people I've talked to have shared with me the communication struggles they have with people on the other side. A co-worked told me of his difficulties communicating with his teenage daughter. He was marching to the goal-oriented drummer and his daughter is dancing to the passion drummer. My hair stylist told me of her difficulties with an older sister who is definitely marching to the goal-oriented drummer, while my stylist dances to the passion drummer. The list goes on.

The common pattern I see is that the goal-oriented folks tend to feel "in the right" and many like to impose their goal-oriented success-driven value system onto others that don't listen to the goal-oriented drummer. I used to be one of those people so I can say this with some certainty, and I more easily see those same traits in others, now that I'm on the other side.

The unfortunate result is that those people dancing to the passion drummer, being imposed upon by often judgmental (sometimes brutally so) goal-oriented marchers, often will retreat from communications. Since they don't chose to seek interactions that feel negative, they will avoid those individuals and the communications between the two individuals continue to degrade. The harder the goal-oriented person pushes, the less likely the passion-oriented person wants to be around them, because it simply isn't compatible with the way they view the world.

Usually what you see if the goal-oriented person telling the passion-oriented person that they are irresponsible, unmotivated, undisciplined, unorganized, lacking focus, lacking goals, and the like. As they push the passion-oriented person away, telling them they need to be more goal driven, they retreat and the goal-oriented person believes the passion-oriented person is now introverted and anti-social. Of course none of this is true of the passion-oriented person.

On the flip side, passion-oriented people are absolutely fine living with goal-oriented folks, not imposing their values on the goal marching folks. They are focused on passion so they don't feel compelled to control anything or anyone else. Yes, they tend to gravitate toward those that also have a focus on passion and often similar passion, but they do not push away non-passion folks, they don't judge them, and they are able to co-exist with them without any discomfort. As long as the goal-oriented people in their lives don't try to convert them to a goal and success (in the traditional sense of the world) driven world, things work out just fine.

The dynamics here are all one sided from my observations, except of course for me. Since I've crossed over, I've tried to figure out a way to help others that are also looking for sustained happiness and personal fulfillment, both with my blog writing and in-depth conversations with nearly everyone I meet (call it a passion ;) ). As I describe the cycle of marching to the goal-oriented drummer (feeling the ugly, troubleshooting, setting goal, working toward goal, achieving goal, enjoying success and short-lived happiness, rinse and repeat), so many of the people I've talked to (that said they are trying to find their passion/dream job and felt trapped in an unfulfilling job) said they could really identify with that cycle. But, when I try to explain the change in focus required to dance with the passion drummer, most of them completely check out. It's like flipping a switch. They don't want to hear it. It doesn't compute. That, or they, like I used to think, believe that dancing to the goal oriented drummer is hippy-dippy, or new-age, or too risky and open to chance.

So just as those marching to the goal-oriented drummer can't get those listening to the passion drummer's beat to prescribe to the world as they view it, neither can the passion drummer dancers (mostly just me) get those listening to the goal-oriented drummer to see the other side as legitimate and of value, even if they say they are looking for the passion in their lives, their dream jobs, and the secret to sustained happiness.