A Patently Incomplete Manual For Living

“I wanted the world, but you knew better. And that all we have is immortality.” ~U2

be_nice_spread_the_word_postcard-r049d89a720a84595b7ad70470c712e18_vgbaq_8byvr_324It’s tough, this thing called living, this invitation to a dance where sometimes we have partners and sometimes we go it alone. I see it every day, from the Facebook posts of those souls who feel that no one loves them, to the people around me who hunch their shoulders down as if preparing for a long, harsh winter. A real part of it is that there is really no manual for living. There are no hard and fast guidelines that everyone can follow to guarantee a quality existence, to guarantee friends, to guarantee the kind of life we all want but few of us ever seem to attain.

If I had carte blanche to write a manual for living, a firm guideline would be:

(1) Be nice to people.

It should honestly go without saying, but some of the harshest critics of others are the ones most vocal about having no friends, about having no life, about pretty much everything that’s going wrong in their own lives. When we judge others we seem to forget that we also have issues.

Of course, sometimes even when we are the nicest human beings to others there is no positive correlation for us. Sure, we can get the good feelings from being a good person, but that’s often not enough to sustain us. It’s a good start, though.

(2) Think twice before acting.

I can’t tell you the number of times (because I honestly can’t recall) when I’ve done something that I look back on with jaw agape, with no clue how I could have been so godawful stupid. By going with first instincts we can often lose the focus we need to make solid decisions. Most times a simple “time out” to think about whether or not we really want to take certain actions can be a godsend.

(3) Don’t let your self-worth be determined by others.

stop-letting-other-people-define-you-be-yourself-and-be-proud-of-it-quote-1You know those people who need to be loved by everyone, who derive their own value from what others think. Maybe you’re one of those people. It’s hard to shut down that part of ourselves that needs validation. That’s only more true now that we have social media where people can “like” what we say and how we look. But we are more than just the number of “likes” we generate. If you can’t be happy with yourself without the validation of others then it’s easy to lose your way.

(4) Do what you love.

Wow, if someone had told me this a long time ago the sinuous pattern of my life might have changed exponentially, but no one did. Instead, they told me that it’s okay to love things, but that I needed to be practical. Well, guess what? We can do both. Being practical can take care of monetary issues, but taking time out to also do what we love can take care of that space in our souls that needs to be filled. People often ask me how I write as often as I do, and I always defer to the quote that “We make time for the things that are important to us.” If you want to stand in the middle of a train station and sing, then do it. Life is too short.

(5) Draw solid lines.

This means simply that even though you’re nice to everyone, don’t let anyone else compromise your sense of who you are, or what your values are. It’s so important to find ourselves, and not to lose sight of who we are and what we stand for, as human beings, and as individuals. Too often people who masquerade as friends ask us to betray our values for them, who try to guilt us into doing what they want. Draw those lines, and don’t let yourself get dragged over them. If they don’t stay on your side of the lines, then they aren’t good for you. Move on, no matter how hard it might be for you.

(6) Make and maintain goals.

Too many people live from moment to moment, never planning for any kind of future because they don’t want to think that far. The problem is that the future comes when we aren’t looking, and we can influence that. So why not influence that? Goals range from minor ones to major ones, and often attaining those minor goals helps us achieve the major ones in time. It’s fascinating how that works. It means that ten years down the line, instead of being the same, and doing the same things, we’ve done more and are more personally fulfilled for the journey.

(7) Do things that stretch you as a person.

“A comfort zone is a beautiful place, but nothing ever grows there.” It’s so easy to let life take us along for a ride, but that’s not living. That’s passive acceptance of the passage of time and consequence. Being comfortable is a beautiful thing, but when it lulls us into a sense of passivity there’s something not quite right about it. Think about why so many rich people aren’t satisfied. It’s not about the acquiring of stuff. It’s about getting out there and doing things that scare us sometimes. We never know how far those things can take us. A friend of mine is exactly this way. She goes for what she wants, even if she’s not quite there yet, because it helps her figure out how far she needs to get to make it happen in the end.

(8) Keep an open mind.

Too often we close ourselves off to alternative positions to our own, even if we’ve held those positions for so long that we don’t even remember why we follow them anymore. Just because someone else does something different from you it doesn’t mean they’re wrong and you’re right. It is our own individual experience that makes us who we are, as individuals, and being around other people can help expand that experience. By closing ourselves off to other ways of seeing things we shut down our chances to grow and become more complete versions of ourselves.

(9) Don’t be fake with others.

You know we all are to an extent, when we’re at our jobs that we’d like to keep, when we’re around family friends who don’t inspire us, when we’re somewhere around a majority of people who aren’t like us in some way, shape, or form. It’s easy to be fake, to put on those Cheshire Cat grins and pretend everything is fine, or that we are just like the others around us. It might seem like a good thing to do, to keep the boat from rocking, but it takes a toll on us, this practice of being fake. I know, for me personally, the switch between being fake and letting everything out is so ingrained I don’t know who I am at any given point of time. It shouldn’t be like that.

(10) Be honest with yourself.

It’s easy to not just be fake with others, but to also fool ourselves into believing what we will about ourselves. We may not be the kind of people we hoped we would be growing up, but we are who we are. Covering that up doesn’t change anything except that it hampers our growth. We have to know where we’ve been, to accept all the parts that have gotten us to this point, in order to advance, to get somewhere, both mentally and emotionally.

What would be in your manual for living?

Sam

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Starting Over

“One who fears failure limits his activities. Failure is only the opportunity to more intelligently begin again.” ~Henry Ford

I’m 40 years old, and I’m starting over again. This is not the first time I’ve done something similar to this, but it is different than all the rest, because I’m different now. There’s something to be said for experience being a sure teacher, and yet it seems like my whole life all I’ve been doing is repeating mistakes. That won’t happen again, because of where I’ve been, and because of where I am now. This is my declaration, at 40 years old, with a wealth of fiery carnage in my path. I’m tired of being engulfed in flames.

It’s time for something new.

All this year I’ve been doing new things. I’ve been branching out, stretching past my comfort zone, waiting for exactly this moment — to start again. It’s always been fascinating to me watching the seasons change. They always change differently, at different times, and in different ways. While the actuality of them hardly changes (summer is hot, winter cold) the degrees and architecture of them shifts subtly from year to year, and sometimes even within themselves. I feel like I’ve become that now, worn and aged by time, but also a little unpredictable as I become this best version of myself. Well, as I become at least this better version of myself.

I just finished a novel manuscript last month that explores a whole new world I don’t think I could have envisioned before. The wealth of experiences, the starts and stops of my life, have made it possible. We are in our new house now, and I finally have the study I’ve always wanted. It is calming to me in a way I didn’t realize it would be, even when I dreamed it up as a boy in Southwest Philadelphia. But most importantly, I’ve grown closer to my wife, our shared disappointments and commitment to improving us just so much more focused.

It has all opened my eyes.

I’ll be 41 next week, and before I even approach the significance of what’s to come, I want to embrace being 40 in a sort of last hurrah, because this year has taught me to be patient, to be focused, to be more authentically myself than I’ve ever been before. I don’t make New Year’s Resolutions because my birthday is its own resolution, a chance to clarify who I am and where I’m going. This year I have even more reason to be grateful as opportunities have risen that I wouldn’t have dreamt of even a few years ago. The me I was then wouldn’t have even been ready for them.

Yet here I am, restless at night, but for good reasons, eyes wide open for joy, for blessings that I wouldn’t have imagined could come my way, not after all this time, after all this self-inflicted pain. I’m here, ready to start all over again, because life is short but not so short we can’t have several chapters. I’m ready to read the next one.

Sam

The Love We Think We Deserve

“We accept the love we think we deserve.” ~The Perks of Being a Wallflower

Why does she stay? That’s a question I ask myself so often when I read stories of women who have been consistently abused by husbands, boyfriends, or other men in their lives. And I honestly don’t think there’s one answer that stands up to scrutiny any more than the others. Every woman is an individual, and she has her own reasons for staying, but I can’t help but pose the question inside my own head anyway.

I saw this quote a while ago, and it resonated with me, about accepting the love we think we deserve. On some level it struck me as being brutally honest, for several reasons, but on another level it was an attempt at answering the question that keeps haunting me. Why does she stay? It’s quite possible she stays because she’s accepting whatever she thinks is the love he offers her, that she believes this IS love, even when he hurts her both emotionally and physically.

And I use the term “she” with a caveat, with a disclaimer that not all victims are women, but I come into contact with more of these issues involving women than anyone else. So I use the term, but I understand it’s not all-encompassing as it is. Nothing could be, though in this society we try to make everything fit. Regardless, these emotional and physical scars are everywhere, and those who inflict them often get off scot-free when it comes to getting a proper comeuppance, living to torture their victims another day. To think that victims believe this is love is beyond me, but it happens all the time, and it has happened over and over again.

These patterns are honestly depressing to see, but there is no end in sight. “We accept the love we think we deserve,” says more about our own feelings of self-loathing and poor self-esteem than they say about the other person. These other people manipulate us because they know they can, because they see in us these signs of low self-esteem and they prey on that. Shame on them. They say they love us, but they don’t know what love is. They only know how to pretend well enough to reel us in, and then they lower the boom, in more ways than one. Once we are caught in the web, it’s so incredibly difficult to extricate ourselves from it, because we become believers.

At least that’s how I see it. I could be completely wrong, but it’s what I see from those of my friends and acquaintances who have stayed, who have put themselves secondary to someone who is literally not worth it. The quote, to me, means that we, as human beings, can’t quite wrap our brains around the fact that we’re worth so much more than a punching bag, either emotionally or physically. When we have been neglected and cast aside it becomes easier to accept that any sign of interest on the part of someone else might be the only interest we will ever get in our lives. It becomes easier to accept it all, despite the warning signs, and throughout the relationship, even when the hard times come.

Why does she stay? She stays because she thinks he will change, even though she knows he won’t. He says he will change. He sometimes gets emotional and cries on her shoulder, and she thinks that’s a sign things are looking up, not the manipulative move it really is. Or maybe he honestly thinks he will change, but when faced with a similar situation in the future he simply goes back to his previous ways because they are hardwired into his brain. She stays because she believes in the goodness in him, despite the fact that he often shows her his negative side. She stays because she thinks she cannot find anything better, and she believes what he is giving her is what love looks like.

This is the love she thinks she deserves, and it makes sense. But it also makes me so utterly sad for her, for me, and for mankind, that this is what we think we amount to in the grand scheme of things, that too often we are belittled and taught to think we aren’t worth very much. We deserve so much more, every single one of us out here just wanting to be loved, to be appreciated, to be seen for who we are and embraced for it in a way we haven’t been before. It’s never enough just to settle, to give up essential parts of ourselves for people who don’t care, who just want to control us in a way we wouldn’t accept if it was anyone but us. But we often have blind spots when it comes to those who we believe we love, when it comes to those who have already broken our will, our self-esteem, and our emotional capacity.

She stays because she thinks there’s nothing better for her in this wide world. And that’s an absolute travesty.

Sam

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