It’s Great to be Good…

I was sitting in bed drinking coffee with my girlfriend this morning (whoops!  Did I just admit to something?)

Anyway, I was drinking coffee with my girlfriend this morning, and she said that she had heard someone say that the secret to happiness was to find one thing you’re good at, and be great.

Wow.  What a great observation.  No pun intended.

It does sound pretty simple, doesn’t it?  I participated in a study at work a few years ago about employee satisfaction and retention, and we ranked the top 10 reasons employees were happy in their jobs.   Number one was recognition.  People feel good when they are appreciated for what they do.  They want to be great.  Imagine how good that feels.  Just for fun, number two was feeling like they were being heard by management, and three was making a difference.   Pay was number nine.

But now, that’s really hard.

The workplace has changed a great deal in the last 10 years or so.   It used to be that you were hired to do one job, and were allowed, even encouraged to be excellent in that job.  Now we’re expected to do the work of two, three, or even more people.  Companies are running lean, and the job market is tight, so they can just keep forcing you to do more and more with less and less.  I’m really good at my job.   I’m reasonably successful at the other job I’m doing.   And I’m definitely adequate at the third.   But when you put them all together, I’m basically getting by.  The work is getting done, but it’s far from great.

Seems like now the goal is to find three or four things you are adequate with, and try not to royally fuck up.

Being great outside the job is difficult too.  I’m a pretty good musician.  Not only do I feel accomplished, I’ve been asked to play at weddings and have done some gigs playing dinner music at a restaurant.   I used to be very successful with photography; I’ve won some shows and participated in exhibits.  I’m very mechanically inclined.  When I was a lot younger I completely restored a 1966 ½ Ford Mustang.  Any of these attributes have the potential for greatness.

Like I have time for that.

When you work 10+ hours a day (There’s the job thing again), add in a 45 minute commute, take the dog to the park, cook dinner and clean up, not only is there not enough time left in the day to pursue anything else, there’s no energy left.  And when the weekend rolls around, assuming you don’t have to do any work, there’s a house to take care of, yardwork to be done, laundry, and all the other things that are needed but can’t be gotten to during the week.   When I do manage to organize a little time to myself, I want to be out on the water in my boat.   That’s good, but there is nothing that could be called great.

Unless you are fortunate enough to be extraordinary from the beginning, and can be given the life choice early to concentrate on just one thing, it’s damned near impossible to find that one thing.   Athletes generally find their skill early, and the really good ones start developing that skill at a young age.   When’s the last time you heard of a pro football player that didn’t get into the sport until their late teens or early twenties.   Nope.   They’ve been at it since adolescence or before.   Great musicians are the same.   Look at Joe Bonamassa.   By 10 years old he was playing the blues professionally   He didn’t just pick up the guitar after work and find he’s a master bluesman.  And even if there is a greatness developed later in life, it’s because you have the independent means to live so you have the time to dedicate to focus on their joy.

So I got to thinking.  What can I be great at?  There has to be some way to find excellence.  Something a little more non-tangible.

I can be a great father!  In fact, I like to think that I am.  But that is fleeting.   The time for greatness is when your kids are in the formative years when they get the basis to build on as they grow.   In fact, I don’t like to claim too much credit for my kids.   They’ve grown into their successes on their own.   I don’t want to take away from their accomplishments.  Not to mention, they are grown and gone so fast.  If you have older kids, you know.   It’s impossible to believe that those little babies are driving, or in college, or married with their own kids.  When did that happen?   And if you have small children?  Hold on!   You had better start planning that wedding, because it will be here before you know it.  So I might have been a great father, but that time is past.   I could be a great Papaw to my grandkids.   Hm.   That might be one to hold onto.

I could be a great husband!   Wait a minute… Been there, done that.   And I’ve failed, and more than once.  You can bet your bottom dollar that I won’t have the opportunity for that again.   I’m a slow learner, but I can be taught.  And think about it.  How many couples do you know that have been great in their marriage?  Not only do 50% or more marriages end in divorce, but the ones that don’t end generally fall into mediocrity.  Nothing great happening there.   I only personally know one couple that seem to have that kind of marriage.   But that’s in public.  Who knows how it is out of sight from everyone.

I could be someone’s bestest friend ever!  Definitely satisfying, but for me at least hardly qualifies as a measure of greatness.   That’s a very limited audience (one), and isn’t part of the gratification being recognized for your accomplishments?  Likewise, being a great neighbor.   Good goal, hardly a basis for happiness.  I’m running out of ideas here.

I’ve decided that the key to being happy isn’t finding the greatness.   For me, the key is being the best that I can be as an individual.   I may not be a guitar virtuoso, but I damn sure get a lot of joy when I play.   Creating show quality car restorations?  I’m thrilled when I can do my own brakes.   I can appreciate the beauty of a photo I’ve captured without winning awards.  All of which is a part of life’s satisfaction.   But really, .what I want to be is a good person.  Like a doctor, first do no harm.  Treat everyone with respect.   Lend a helpful hand when needed.  Support those who are struggling.  Give without reservation.   Practice forgiveness.  And allow yourself to not be perfect.     Not that I want to wait until the end to realize this by any means.   But I’ll consider my life well lived if my eulogy is…

What a great guy.

Awesome

 

Offensensitivity

I heard a great quote the other day…

Having to hear someone else’s opinion is not oppression.
Not being able to express an opinion in fear of offending someone is.

That’s a bit paraphrased, and I don’t remember where I heard it, so I can’t reference it properly.   But it makes sense to me.

If you don’t like what I say; don’t listen.   But let me say it.

I don’t think that it is the fear of offending one individual that is creating the problem.  Often times what’s being expressed isn’t really bad at all, it’s just something that has been labeled as inappropriate or hateful, so it gets clumped into the bucked of offense.

Here’s an example.

I don’t see a problem with complementing a woman at work on a particular outfit, or hairstyle, or even in general.   Just telling a woman “you always dress nicely”, or “I like your new haircut”, or “That’s a nice top you’re wearing” doesn’t mean I’m even thinking about it as a sex object.    You might like the fabric, or color or style, without a thought of what’s underneath.  In today’s environment, it’s just as likely to end up in HR as it is to get a “Thank you”.    Now, there are pigs out there that are being sexist and vulgar… I’m not talking about that.   Just us average Joe’s who try to be nice.

Okay, that’s a little bit of a stretch, but you get the point.

History is a big issue these days.  There’s a wave of events directed at statues and monuments that suggest oppression and racism.    The Civil War era is particularly targeted.  “We should not honor General Robert E. Lee, because he led the fight to protect slavery!”

Read a book people.

General Lee was against both Slavery, and the war between the states.  He resigned his commission in the US Army when it became apparent that he would have to lead an attack on his own homeland.  Given the choice, he had to defend his home from invasion.   He wasn’t even brought on to lead the army, just as a stagiest.  He only took over when it became absolutely necessary.  How does that make him racist?  Oh… It’s what the war represents.   The demon South was killing all those Northerners so they could keep having slaves to beat.  Truth time.   The war was more about States rights than slavery.

But the truth is, why does it matter?

History is history.  Right or wrong, it is what happened.  Don’t be offended for crying out loud.   Teach it, learn from it, and remember it, and if it’s bad, don’t repeat it.

Another fact for consideration.  The ‘norms’ of the day are a part of it too.   Women (and some men) use the Alienation of affection law to punish the ‘guilty’ spouse, and for financial gain.   But the purpose of this law at the time was a way for a man to protect his property.   Yes, I said property.  A mans wife belonged to him, just like a horse, real estate, or (dare I say) a slave.  A wife had no rights, she was just a piece of property.  So if some other man stole her away, he had to pay for her.   And that’s not offensive?      That’s no different than the slavery that so many people are screaming about these days.   Why isn’t everyone screaming about that too?   All wives were subjected to it then, are they not offended by that?  Nope.   They’ve turned the tables and using it to their own advantage now.    Not so much as before, but it’s still being done.

I don’t see any marches, or statues being torn down.

Remember the huge scandal when Colin Kapernick refused to stand for the National Anthem?    Oh My GOD!  What horror!  People on both sides of this one were outraged.  Fans swore off watching any games until the NFL forced compliance.  On the other hand, there were those who defended it as freedom of speech.

Wait… a… minute.

Isn’t protesting a protest entitled to the same freedom of speech?   So Kapernick decided to make a statement.   (Personally, I think it was a silly statement, but that’s not important) Where it went haywire is when protesters started protesting the protesters who were using the rights they were protesting against.  (Follow all that?)

Com’on people.  Use some common sense.

But when is the last time you saw anything about this in the headlines?  Or Black, Blue, or Red Lives Matter?  In fact, you rarely even see anything about statue protests these days.

It’s the crisis de jure.

I think that the real purpose of protesting, is the protest itself, not the issue.  And the end result is that people are afraid of everything.  If something is determined to be offensive, they can be the target of a witch hunt, with devastating consequences.   People have lost jobs, careers, their families and fortunes.   Some have even lost their very freedom, landing in jail because someone decides their behavior is (Or was in the past) offensive.  I for one wouldn’t dare say anything to a woman at work that referenced anything but work-related subjects.   And I’d better be damn careful about that too.   Imply that someone isn’t up to a task, and that person is in a ‘protected group’.  “Are you saying I can’t do this job because I’m black?” (Or a woman, or handicapped, or left handed; whatever).  No, I’m saying you can’t do the job because you’re not qualified, or just a downright idiot.  Color, race, gender, sexual orientation, hairstyle or choice of clothing have nothing to do with it.  But that better not be said out loud!

As an American, I have the right to say, or believe whatever I want to.  If you don’t like the fact that I stand for our anthem and salute our flag, then keep sitting there.  You don’t like my political beliefs, or who I support?   Then support your own.  If my language offends you, then don’t listen.   Just carry on, and let me be me, and I’ll let you be you.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to stop by HR.

Silent sam

 

True Colors

You think you’re a pretty nice person, don’t you?   I think I am.  In fact, by and large I would wager that we all see ourselves as decent folks.

Then get behind the wheel of a car.

I drive about 20 miles each way commuting to work every day.   I go in early, so the traffic isn’t stupid heavy, but it’s still fairly crowded.   And it’s amazing how many of us nice people become total demon.  Every day is a fight to the finish to see who can go the fastest.   Or, the slowest.

Okay, obviously this is a pet peeve of mine.

I just don’t get it.   Common sense seems to disappear faster than beer at a frat party.  The left lane is intended to be the fast lane.  Or it’s the passing lane in some states, not to be used to cruise, but only to get around someone slower in the middle lanes.  A highway patrolman referred it to me once as the ‘Hammer Lane’.    For the most part, that’s what happens.  The line of cars may not be busting along as fast as everyone wants to go, but it’s moving faster than the lane next to them.   But that’s not good enough.   Some ass wipe feels they have to go faster, and weaves in and out trying to get ahead.  They cut you off (or try to) to get over to the left.    Then tailgate the car in front, hugging the bumper and flashing their lights to move the hell out of the way. And slamming on their brakes when the guy behind him gets too close.  Never mind that there are 40 cars in front of you, all doing the same speed.  And 40 cars in the lane next to you so you couldn’t even move over if you wanted to.   Where the hell are you supposed to go?

The funny thing is, no matter how fast you manage to go, it only makes a few minutes difference when you get where you’re going.  I see it all the time.  Someone barrels ahead of you, and you end up sitting next beside them at the next stoplight.  Or I’ve had co-workers pass going hammers from hell, then I pull into the parking lot just as they’re leaving the car.   What’s the point?

The slow drivers are just as bad, just in a different way.   I was taking a defensive driving class a few years ago (Yeah, I’ve had my own issues.  In the past of course) and the instructor asked to describe the person driving slower than the speed limit and backing up traffic.  And he got the expected answers… Jerk, asshole, inconsiderate bastards, and so on.   We were wrong.  They are aggressive drivers.  An aggressive driver is one who is trying to control the movement of others by the way they handle their car.   In their own way, someone poking along is just as aggressive as the speed demon.  Consciously or not, they are affecting the flow of traffic.

But we’re good people!

I remember a story about an older woman who gets pulled over by the police.   The officer jumps out of the car, jerks her door open, yanks her out of the car, slams her to the ground cuffs her.   But she’s just a little old lady that looks just like your grandmother!  She asks the officer why?   What on earth could she had done?  The officer looks at her and says, “Ma’am, you have all kinds of stickers on your car about peace, Jesus and church.   But I saw you weaving in and out of traffic, flipping the bird, yelling and generally being a bitch.  So I assumed that the car was stolen.”

To a small degree I do understand one aspect.  When I need to take an exit I get lane anxiety.  I have to get over in time to get off the highway.  I don’t wait until the last minute, but usually about a mile ahead I start working over.   When the traffic is heavy, I start getting nervous about making it.   That’s when I might try to blow ahead of you, or force my way into the line next to me, even slowing way down until a spot opens up.   Just being a total jerk in other words.  All of which affects the traffic around me.  If I wait too long I miss my exit, and if I get over too soon, I get stuck behind the slowpoke in the far right lane.   That brings its own aggravation.   So it has to be timed just right.

There’s a whole other observation about the type of car defining the driver.  Each class of car has some generalization that can be applied to the expected driving style.  Getting into that can get very offensive in a hurry.   I’m not afraid of being offensive, but that’s a story for another day.

In a nutshell, it boils down to three types of drivers.    The slow guy in front of you is a jerk.  The guy tailgating you is an asshole.  And the perfect driver?

He’s the aging, white haired man with a goatee driving a 2007 Toyota SUV.

Now get the fuck out of my way.

Driver

 

 

Sympathy with empathy

No one’s pain is greater than their own.

It’s all relative you see.   Empathy and sympathy are fine, but it’s still no possible to truly feel what someone else does.   Sympathy?  Okay, you can tell someone is hurting and care about their feelings and respect their right to have them.  Empathy is a little misleading.   By definition, empathy is vicariously feeling the same thing as someone else is feeling.  The problem with that is, it’s impossible to really understand and feel someone else’s pain.  Even if we’ve been through similar circumstances, how it affects us, and the emotions it elicits is going to be totally unique to every individual.

My forth divorce (Yes, four.  Glutton for punishment) was a horrible affair.  It was a fight to the finish, with no regard to how much money the lawyers were taking or whoever else was affected.  I was even arrested and charged with something I didn’t do.   She knew I didn’t do it, but was being vindictive and cruel.    And boy, was I mad.  I’m not a violent person, but if I’d run into her on the street when I was released from jail, I can’t say I wouldn’t have tried to kill her.  (That moment passed, thankfully).  Years later, my girlfriend was also going through a nasty divorce.  It was also a wicked fight, with thousands and thousands of dollars to the attorneys and total rage against each other.  It was horrible.   Just like mine, right?  After all, I had been through the same thing, so I knew exactly what she was going through.

Wrong.

I had been divorced three times already (I believe I mentioned that).   In spite of the viciousness and hatred, I knew what to expect.  And I was at least partially responsible for what precipitated the breakup.  She on the other hand had been married to the same guy for 35 years.  She gave up a career to raise their kids, went back to work so her ex could go to school and move into a new one.  She helped him start a business, and worked for nothing while he pulled company funds out for his personal use, and lived like a king.  And then she dealt with the IRS and Dept of Revenue to clean up the mess when he got caught.   And then she caught him having a torrid affair.   He was caught red handed, dead to rights.    The feeling of emotional betrayal were huge.    And the fact that he had money to fight and she had nothing was overwhelming.  It was a nasty divorce.   Mine was a nasty divorce.   And I could no more feel what she was feeling than I could fly to the moon.   Sympathy?  Sure.  While I don’t know how she really felt, I could appreciate that divorces were hard in ways someone who had never been divorced could understand.

But it’s still her pain, and her pain alone.

I don’t really like my job.   Well, the job itself isn’t bad, but it comes with a tremendous amount of stress and can easily be overwhelming.    One co-worker in the same position loves his work.   He’s always positive, and rolls with whatever punches get thrown.  Yet another co-worker is absolutely miserable.   We all do the same thing, but it’s a matter of where we each sit with it.   But there again, there’s more to that story.    The guy who loves his job is by nature one of the calmest person I’ve ever met.   He studies some type of Indian meditation and Gandhi-like approach to life.    You never see him agitated by anything.   His kids are grown and gone, and living their own good lives.   My wretched mate has all kinds of issues going on outside of work.   He’s suffering through some marriage strife, he has three small kids that are always either sick or in trouble.  His own health isn’t the greatest either.  So it’s no wonder that his attitude is so horrible.   So we all have the same job, but our experiences are totally different.  How can I empathize with either?

It’s still their pain, and their joy.  Not mine.

So this seems pretty obvious, right?  My experiences and your experiences are going to be based on everything that has happened, and is happening to us individually.  Everything that has happened in our lives has led us up to this exact point, and no one’s path is the same.  And the point we’re at is going to affect the feeling and reactions to any event, even if the event is the same.

So, riddle me this.

Why are we so quick to judge others for their actions?  That guy driving slow in front of you is an idiot, right?   Well, maybe this idiot was in a horrific wreck before, and this is his first time on the road since it happened.  Or a thousand other reasons to explain what’s happening.  Not so idiotic to me.  Of course, he may just be an idiot, but that’s not up to anyone to decide.   The fat person next to you on the airplane may have developed an eating disorder after being brutally abused as a child (That is not unusual for abuse cases).   So keep your fat ass off the plane.  It’s ridiculous for you to me inconvenienced just because they want to see their mother before she dies, and to be there when she’s buried.  Or, she may just be a fat pig with no self-control.    Even the beast that abused the young child can have their own horrible experience that drove them to that.  That is an unforgivable act, and regardless of the motivation cannot be allowed.   But we have a system to make that judgement.   Theoretically those judgments are based on careful evaluation of facts, and deliberation by twelve honest people.  Okay, that system is broken, but it still doesn’t give us the right to make our own judgements.  What does it say?  Judge the sin, not the sinner.

But really I’m just talking about everyday life.  All the daily aggravations and how we respond to them and to others.   We have a choice.  We can hold everyone to the same standards and opinions we have, or acknowledge that everyone has your unique experience or temperament.  There is no way to control what happens to us.   Past history that influences who we are cannot be changed. What can be controlled is how we react to ourselves, and to others.   There is no sympathy, or empathy involved.

There’s just acceptance.

Well, Hello there!

Blogging seems to be all the rage these days, doesn’t it?  Everyone from million dollar moguls to just the average Joe seems to feel the need to share their personal feelings, broad experience and sage wisdom with the masses.    And we’re all convinced that people care!  I mean, what I had for breakfast has to be of interest to someone, right?

Side story…

My mom (Bless her heart) was a little bit out there.   She was very smart, had a successful career, and obviously raised brilliant children, but at the same time she had a bit of delusions of grandeur.   It was harmless, but she always felt that she was just a little more important than she was.   When she got old, I was over helping her clean out some old papers, and came across a box FULL of 3”x4” spiral notebooks.  She had recorded every time she purchased gas for the car.    Starting mileage, number of gallons purchased, ending mileage and average miles per gallon.   EVERY time for over 40 years.   I might also mention that my father didn’t drive (Long story), so this was all the gas for the family over all those years.  When I asked her about it, she said that “I always figured that someday I’d be famous and people would want to know.”

Maybe she should have had a blog.

This isn’t my first foray into the world of blogging.   I started back in 2013 with one about dealing with mental health.  There’s a lot of it in my family, and we’ve all had to deal with many issues over the years, so I figured I should share my personal feelings, broad experience and sage advice about it.   I have to say it was reasonably successful.   I was getting thousands of hits per day and had tens of thousands of followers.  A major mental health publication named it in the top 10 blogs for 2014.   I’ve even been approached about putting it together into a book.  (Hmmm… delusions of grandeur?)

So anyway.   That topic has run its course, and I have no more sage advice to share there.   But I can’t stop writing.   Even though therapy isn’t needed (anymore), I find it very therapeutic to spend a little time each morning to ponder a little, and focus on something other than the chaos I live in.

I will say too, that my style of writing is stream of consciousness.   I’ll start with a thought, and see where it takes me.   Most of the time, I end up somewhere totally different from what I intended. In fact, I’m kind of impressed with myself that I’ve managed to stay on topic here.    But what can I say?  I love a surprise ending!

And here I am.

Hopefully, I’ll gain some traction and build a bit of a following.   Part of the enjoyment is knowing that at least someone appreciates my thoughts.   Or laughs at my pitiful attempts.   Whatever.  As long as those numbers keep climbing!

So that’s my introduction.   Stay tuned and see just how good it is.   I’m sure you care.

Oh, and I had sausage for breakfast.