My father, Ernest Lewis, often would recite his favorite portion of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem, The Psalm of Life. I heard it many times as a youngster, a teenager and a young adult. Sadly, I didn’t fully understood its significance to him or to anyone who has seen both life and death and who is aware that there is much less time ahead than the time behind. I wish I had talked to him about it–one of those many regrets I have (and with which you may be familiar). One thing is certain: Now I understand.
I’ve especially thought about Dad’s favorite lines since the tragic events last week in Aurora, Colorado, where I live.
FROM THE PSALM OF LIFE
…Art is long and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.
There are many things about life and death that we can’t choose. However, we can choose whether our march is purposeful and cheerful or indecisive and sluggish–and whether we are still achieving and pursuing right up to the end of our journey in this earthly life or still dragging our feet and complaining. What tempo is the beat of your muffled drum?
We tend to treat the beginning of a new year as though on January 1st, something magical happens that allows us a brand new start on life,work, health, finances and relationships. This year I’ve heard a lot of people express thoughts along the line of “Good riddance to 2011!” As though the twelve months of 2011 had it in for them. If years could talk, maybe 2011 would say to us, “Good riddance to you, you whining, ungrateful, weak-willed human, with your helpless, hopeless attitude!”
Sometimes life and circumstances bring stress, anger, disappointment, heartache and grief. As a result, a day, a week, a month or a year will always have unpleasant memories. We don’t have to be such Pollyannas that we look for reasons to be glad for the truly bad and sad things that have happened. We also don’t need to beat ourselves up unmercifully and take the blame for all of it. But, we will feel better and more able to deal with the future if we purposefully look for the aspects of even sad situations that can give us reasons to be happy or at least, less unhappy.
We can also benefit by seeing how some of our own behaviors and responses created the problems, added to the problems or kept us from responding to the problems effectively–and how we can do differently in the future.
One thing is for sure–if you’re going into the new year with the same old you to deal with all of it you probably won’t get a trouble-free year, no matter how much magical thinking you do.
*If you had habits that caused you problems last year and you haven’t replaced them with new ones, it won’t be the fault of 2012 if your life is no different when 2013 starts.
*If you won’t allow yourself to see even small increments of improvement in whatever it is that has bothered you in 2011, you will see the flaws rather than the good things in 2012.
*If you put the blame on someone else for every upset in your life or work in 2011, you probably will still be griping in 2012. The griping part is bad enough, but what’s worse is that most of us gripe instead of doing even little things to make life better for ourselves.
This is the first week of the new year. If it helps you to think of it as a cosmic event that erases the past and gives you a new chance, think that way. However, you will be better off if you don’t put so much pressure on 2012 and put more pressure on yourself to be the catalyst for good things all year long. Happy New You!
When Your Thoughts
Are In Turmoil
When your mind is whirling, twisting and knotted up with worry, fear, anger, doubt, shock or sorrow, the most difficult thing to do–but the thing that will help the most–is to be calm. Not the concept of be calm and carry on, only be calm.
Peace, Calm and Tranquility
In the past I’ve written several articles about seeking peace of mind and holding onto it when you find it. A recent post, on the anniversary of the events of September 11th , was a reminder to think of peace in every sense, work toward peace and let peace be our focus in life and work.
I heard from many people about habits they were trying to stop or start, after the post on Control, Alt, Delete. I also received a lot of emails about the post on lessening the negative influence of the Itchy Socks in our lives. On a more postive note, many people liked the post on faith and holding on, in spite of adversity.
But the post that received the most remarks by phone, email and online, was the one about dedicating time. A special one was from a woman who emailed me to report that around the time she read that article she had reached what she thought was the worst time of her life–a darkly threatening wall that she couldn’t get over or around. She decided to dedicate a day to her son in the military, to see if it helped her get through a work day. She found it so helpful that she started dedicating days to many in her circle of friends and later telling them what she accomplished in their names!
She told me, “I started every day with a moment of prayer to ask for guidance and peace. Then, I dedicated the day to someone. After that, there just didn’t seem to be room for the worry and sadness that used to go round and round in my head all the time.” That was in 2009 and she is still moving forward and being effective and positive.
Get Calm and Stay Calm
There are many ways to gain peace and calm: Through spiritual faith and prayer, while exercising or regaining health and fitness, through quiet time and meditation, by cleaning house or decluttering, through walks, music, reading or a hobby, by becoming closer to a loved one or by eliminating a harmful element in your life. One thing is for sure–trying any or all of those things won’t hurt!
The idea is to stop mental clamor, agitation and disturbance and allow your mind and spirit to level out and be calm. Then, appreciate how good it feels. You can do something worthwhile soon, but for a little while let yourself feel the calm. Do that with purpose every day and you’ll learn to recreate the calm no matter where you are or what you’re doing.
When you hear about, read about and think about things that have the potential to bring grief, anxiety, sorrow or the other negative emotions that gather and grow, stop. Picture yourself turning those off and flooding your mind and heart with peace and calm so you are better prepared to do the things that must be done. That process can add years to your life, joy to your work and other activties and happiness to your relationships.
Give yourself that gift during this Holiday Season, 2011.
I often hear people who work non-traditional schedules say, with elation, ”Today is my Friday!” Or, with despair, “Today is my Monday.” I sometimes wonder if their days off are such unalloyed pleasure and their work is so unpleasant as to make the time away such a marvelous experience!
Of course, there are reasons to like time away from work: Sleeping later, being able to have an unstructured day, spending more time with family and friends, going out on a date, staying in on a date, sports and recreation, and just getting a break from unpleasant interactions with coworkers, bosses and customers.
However, it often seems that Monday morning is filled with conversations about the work and hassles of the weekend, not the joys. If a favorite team lost, even Sunday afternoon sports on TV doesn’t stir up fun conversation.
I’ve written before about the names my daughter, Shannon, and I had for the days of the week when she was young. With the holidays approaching and people getting restless at work–and kids getting restless at school–it might be good to remember them, Pollyanna though they might sound.
- Marvelous Monday!! Shannon and I now and then had a special breakfast on Monday to celebrate getting to see friends and talk with them about the fun things we did over the weekend.
- Terrific Tuesday!! With Monday out of the way we could really get busy at school and work. An amazing concept, huh?
- Wonderful Wednesday!! The weekend was coming up, but we could spend two more days turning in good work–and in Shannon’s case, wearing cute clothes!
- Tremendous Thursday!! This was a big day, because we knew everyone else was getting worn down, so we could be the most energized of anyone. Yaaaaay!!!!!!!
- Fabulous Friday!! We made a point of getting up early (for us, anyway) on Friday, so we could go to school, and to work, feeling ready to do well and end the week on a high note.
- Super Saturday and Sacred Sunday: We seemed to always have a good time on weekends, but on Sunday evening we talked about how much fun it would be to get back to school the next day. We were ready for Marvelous Monday!!
There are millions of people who are unemployed (or jobless, as the new euphemism puts it). Most of those people don’t just wish they had a job, they desperately need a job. There are likely millions of people who just as desperately wish they had fulfilling jobs where they are treated decently. Many hundreds of thousands of people are disabled to the point that they will never be able to work at all or to work again as they would like. Many more people are retired and live each day wishing they could be active and useful back at their former jobs.
If you are employed and find fulfillment in that employment in some way; if you have friends at work and a workplace that is tolerable; if you are making enough money that with good money management you can pay your bills and have at least a bit left over, be very, very grateful. Make each workday a day of thanks for your good fortune.
Shannon and I were thrilled to be able to come home, relax and have fun on the weekends, even though often my “weekend” was not a Saturday and Sunday. However, we made a purposeful decision and commitment to not live for only two days a week, while dreading the other five. Every day is a good day. Have a good day at work and school this week!
“Gadhafi is history” a Libyan official said, when announcing on October 20th, 2011, that Muammar Muhammad Abu Minyar al-Gaddafi (commonly known as Moammar Gadhafi) had been killed by Libyan rebels. It is the end of a cruel, violent and utterly repressive dictatorship that started in 1969 with a military coup that was, at the time, welcomed by many.
Several years ago I wrote about Ozymandias of Egypt, one of Percy Bysshe Shelley’s most well-known works. That poem speaks poignantly of how most of what we think of as impressive in our lives and the lives of others is taken away by time, until finally nothing much remains. It is a reminder to us to touch as many lives as possible in a positive way every day, as our small way to ensure that some part of our spirit remains forever. I don’t think that is a selfish goal–and it will help us stayed focused on what really matters. In Shelley’s poem he describes Ozymandias as having a ”…heart that fed.” Ozymandias had a heart that consumed rather than contributed. You and I want to be contributors.
Moammar Gadhafi, so it has been said, often referred to himself as “The King of Kings.” I think the title was taken already, so that makes it even a bit more presumptious of him! However, during his lifetime there were many who lined the streets when he drove past and shouted his praises as if he deserved them. (A lesson for us there, as well!)
With Gadhafi’s self-given royal title in mind, I was particularly anxious to re-read Shelley’s poem. Take the time to read it, almost as if it is standard text, so you can fully appreciate the message.
Ozymandias of Egypt
I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
`My name is Ozymandias, King of Kings:
Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!’
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
At some point, all of us are history. We have no control over that. But we can control a good part of the present and in so doing make a difference in how we are remembered and how much we will have enriched the lives of our loved ones, friends and even chance acquaintances.
Stop for a moment and listen to the sound of the wind whistling around the fallen statue of Ozymandias. Watch as the sand swirls and shifts from there to the death site of Moammar Gadhafi. Then, do something very, very good with your life today!
Summer is over for many and Winter isn’t here yet. September and October is often a Limbo time. It’s too soon for major holiday planning but you can feel the approach of the end of the calendar year. Summer vacations are over but there seems to be a slow return to what will be a hectic pace to make up for it all. I’ve been sensing some lethargy in people who usually are high energy! (Maybe me, too!)
This would be a good week to make the time–schedule it-and tidy your office or work space, organize your work for the next few days and get some projects off your mind.
1. Take everything off your desk top and dust or wash items. Don’t just shuffle things around, make it look better and different when you put the items back–and don’t put all the items back. Stuff can be very distracting, both to you and to others.
2. Make a priority list of three items only. Three. Preferably three you’ve been stalling on. Do them as quickly as you can and get them out of the way. They might not be three Vital tasks or Crucial tasks, to use that concept. They could just be three tasks that you don’t want to think about anymore. Do them quickly.
3. List all of the remaining projects you must do and when they must be done; tasks you think would be good to do and when you’d like to have them started; things you really would like to get involved with and will if you possibly can sometime. The idea is to see what is hanging over your head with a vengance and what is just self-created pressure. If they’re on a list, you at least won’t forget about them completely, but you can let them rest. You may never do some of them, but you might adapt the thoughts some way.
One way to get focused is to make sure that you are being dependable for those who are expecting you to keep promises about work. After the three quick tasks, those are the tasks that need your attention.
4. Take a moment to do some introspective thinking about what is frustrating you right now that you have some control over. What are some things you can do to move yourself past that frustration? Think hopeful thoughts about the rest of this month and into the Fall and Winter. Let some anger or irritation go. Give yourself some peace of mind.
5. Survey your kingdom–or at least your cubicle, locker, patrol car, work space, or wherever you spend most of your time–and let yourself feel refreshed and recharged about it.
A man who seems very put-together told me last week that about once a month he has to stop for a moment, get things re-organized and say to himself, with a pleased sigh, “OK, that’s better. Carry on.” Make this week your time for that kind of emotionally and mentally healthy activity, then let me know how it makes you feel. Best wishes!
We distinguish the excellent man from the common man by saying that the former is the one who makes great demands upon himself, and the latter is one who makes no demands on himself.
Most of us want to be thought of as excellent–in our work, in our example, in our efforts and ethics, in our health and appearance and in our outlook on life. We want to be excellent parents, excellent friends, excellent employees, supervisors, managers or leaders. We don’t want to be common in the sense it was used in this thought, as unexceptional, mediocre and unimpressive. (The examples we see of that condition are enough to motivate us!)
Señor Ortega y Gasset was correct: Achieving excellence (or improving substantially) requires making demands on ourselves–perhaps asking of ourselves actions that are difficult or uncomfortable mentally or physically, or that require time and effort. It’s rarely easy. Most of us have to say, ”OK, Mind, Body and Spirit. I want this from you! I know you can give it to me and I won’t settle for less, so do it!”
What do you want to demand of yourself today, this week or in the coming weeks and months? It doesn’t have to be a dramatic accomplishment to be worthy of demanding more. Maybe you need to more consistently fulfill the requirements of your work role. Maybe you need to focus on a new or renewed good habit; or stopping one thing and starting something else; or, being your best self even when you are tempted to be otherwise. It’s all worth the effort, and all of it will give you a wonderful sense of achievement.
Remember, you can’t hint or hope, even to yourself, and expect to achieve. You will have to command, insist and refuse to accept anything less than what you want. That is the ultimate self-discipline that leads to excellence. Be demanding!
I watched back-to-back Tron the other night–the 1982 original and the new, Tron: Legacy. I have strong memories of being very impressed with every aspect of the original and thought it would be fun to see “Part Two”. What a revelation to compare them!
It’s not surprising that the original Tron was much less technically sophisticated–29 years will do that. (It almost looked like a 1950s space invader set, in spite of how advanced we thought it was then.)
The big surprise was the tremendous improvement in the appearance, stage presence and performance of Bruce Boxleitner and Jeff Bridges. (Both who had already established themselves as excellent actors.)
At first I thought the difference might have been because of the director or simply the script. However, David Warner did his usual superb job, so it couldn’t have been that completely. I’m also quick to say that I don’t watch many movies (as opposed to cinema, film or talkies), so I’m only an audience member, not a critic that counts. However, I am capable of comparison and there was an obvious difference.
I recall reading that Harrison Ford won’t watch Star Wars because he doesn’t want to see his looks and acting then. I read an interview in which someone asked Cary Grant what he thought when he watched himself in his classic performances and he said he never did, to avoid embarrassment about the way he delivered lines in his younger acting days. I guess we all can spot our imperfections–and actors are likely more aware of them and sensitive to them than most.
It’s a shame you don’t have video of yourself doing routine work over a period of several days, five, ten, fifteen, twenty or thirty years ago. I wish you did, because you would see how much you have improved and in how many ways. You look older now and maybe less fit or more wrinkled. You may have looked more energized then. Nevertheless, I’ll bet that now you have many more insights and much more confidence, knowledge and skills. If you are still young you may think back a fewer number of years, but you may notice an even more dramatic difference in your approach to work and life.
No matter how far back you are thinking, situations that seemed very challenging to you then would seem easy to deal with now. Things that were confusing, frightening, stressful or angering then, would seem like minor issues now, because you know the background and you know how to respond. If you could see yourself at work years ago you would probably cringe at your youthful poor judgment, your inexperienced errors and your ill-informed perspectives. You’ve grown, matured and improved. Good for you!
Now, use that awareness to give you patience and empathy for newer employees. Talk to older or more-tenured employees and encourage them to relive some of their glory days and what they remember as good times for the organization. Smile at the reality that if you’re still around, you’ll be even better in five more years or ten years. Seriously, you will keep getting better as long as you are mentally and emotionally active and wanting to improve.
I’ll be anxious to see how much more impressive Bruce Boxleitner and Jeff Bridges are in Tron: To The Tenth Power.
I’ve noticed that many people, upon learning about almost any calamity, have a tendency to point out how sufferer was at least partly to blame. (I’ve done the same thing.) Fire, flood, illness, cancer, divorce, conflict, mechanical failure, burglary, broken pencil, you name it–many of us can quickly see how it could have been prevented. The implication being that it wouldn’t have happened to us, wise, cautious and savvy people that we are.
We may be right, but such an approach tends to block other responses that reflect a more caring nature. Recently I heard someone say, about a home accident, ”How tragic! I’ve done the same thing myself and never thought anything bad would happen. I’m going to let this be a lesson to me so I don’t have to go through what they’re dealing with.” It sounded refreshingly empathetic and completely devoid of sanctimonious blame!
Try it sometime soon: When someone tells you about a problem they have had, an illness they are going through or a situation that frustrates them, focus your thinking on understanding, rather than mentally shaking your head at how they brought it all upon themselves. You might not be completely successful, but it will be good self-discipline.
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