Oh, what a tangled web we weave...

Sir Walter Scott was right when he said, “Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive.” How can we get so muddled in our thinking that we don’t know the first place to start to untangle the strands taking us  nowhere?  It’s a bit like a very messy room.  If we can’t get a handle on what to do, we do nothing.  And things don’t improve.  They further deteriorate. Tangled thinking, on the other hand,  is worse than a messy room.  With a messy room anything you clear away makes things better.  If you continue to clear away one pile after another on a regular basis, eventually you will see a dent in the mess and that alone is an incentive to clear up the big mess.  What is different with tangled thinking?  Tangled thinking is a web of truth and half truth, or complete fabrication.  So the first order of business  requires separating out the truth from the half truth and the half truth from the fabrication.  That takes insight.  It takes being brutally honest about what you know to be true and what you accept because it is second nature.

Untangling the web will only happen if living with the deception gets intolerable.  It all comes back to “You get what you accept.”

How do we identify that there is deception lurking in our internal messes?  Here’s one clue: we cannot make rational sense of where we are going with our thinking.  That calls for sorting out what we know for sure and what we are not sure about.  If there is the tiniest bit of light, go for it.  Stay close by it.  Let the light lead you.  Keep on that track.  Ask for more light.  The smallest candle can light a dark room.

What is your tolerance for living with deception which you may experience as disconnects in your life?  Do you want to resolve those disconnects?  Do you want to build your life on what is true?  It’s a decision only you can make.

When things are unclear, so unclear that you feel like you’ll never understand how you will ever get clarity, you are probably operating under one or more of three false assumptions.  Check this out.

What I dream about is what I want.

I can solve this in my head.

Getting what I want is a 50:50 proposition.

How many times have you let your mind wander and thought about how you’d like your life to be, knowing full well that it’s a pipe dream.  You’ve read about people who have a dream that drives them, but that itself seems like a fantasy.  So what’s the difference between a pipe dream and a dream that drives you?  In real life we all are driven by dreams, some bad dreams and some good, but in either case they are not pipe dreams.  The more real the dreams are the more they drive us.  Think about it.  When was the last time that you repeated a cycle of nonproductive behavior that you felt helpless to get out of?  What was driving you?  I’d call it a bad dream.  Now, think of a time when you were doing something you really enjoyed and felt you were doing superbly well.  What was driving you then?  Were you not connecting with something powerful inside you that moved you, drove you?

Unfortunately many of us do not have clarity about either the nightmares that drive us nor the dreams that we would like to have but don’t.  Why?  Because we put the brakes on, not wanting to be foolish by entertaining pipe dreams.  The result?  We do not really know what we want.  We never really get that far into the conversation with ourselves.

What can change all that?  What can get us to risk honestly asking the question, “What do I really want?”

It’s a step that many of us avoid like the plague.  It reminds me of what I had to do in elementary or high school.  Remember this?  Work the problem out on paper.  I remember thinking, why do that when I know the answer?  I don’t have to work it out on paper.

Well, here’s a news flash.  When your problem is big enough it can only be solved by taking a lot of  small steps.   Showing how the small steps add up gives hope.  And that showing part is what is hard to do in your head.  So, you need to put it on paper or on a spread sheet or something that you can see so that you can have any hope of getting what you want.   You might as well just get over the notion that you can do it in your head.  Like the story problem it needs to be worked out on paper — show your work.

OK, so I know what I want.  I see how the small steps add up to get me where I want to go.  Isn’t that enough?  Not quite.  There’s one more myth out there that might still trip you up.  It’s the notion that you  are only partially responsible for taking the steps.  The only steps you can be sure will be taken are steps that you take.  “If it is to be it is up to me.”  That means that what I really want I need to find a way to do myself.  I need to take the steps that I worked out on paper.

When I finished that conversation inside myself about what I didn’t want — the nightmare — and what I did want — the dream, and when I talked myself through the process of putting it down on paper, voila! I knew what I had to do.  And I knew that I would find a way to do it.

When I consider the options, I choose life, without any doubt.   But that means that I have to be prepared for the ups and the downs.  And clearly there are lots of both.  Let’s see.  In the last two weeks I have been to a 25 year wedding anniversary open house, a high school graduation party, a Memorial Day service and a funeral.  We helped our 24 year old son build a queen size bed with three bench shelves to save space in a new apartment where he has moved because his college roommate who has graduated is getting married this month.

Our air conditioner was out of commission on a couple of hot days and we spent a few days considering how we were going to pull together the price for a new air conditioning system.  Fortunately it didn’t come to that.  Turns out the thermostat had gone bad.  That being replaced we are good to go, better than ever.  Oh yes, one more.  We replaced our 25 year old dryer, a story all its own, to make taking care of our clothes ever so much easier.

Why run down these events, these happenings?  All of us have our own tales to tell, our own ups and downs.

Well, it’s because life happens, and we have a choice about how we are going to respond to it.  There is nothing we can do about much of it.  We only get to choose the attitude we have toward what happens.

And I choose to be grateful.

For starters, I’m grateful for life.  I’m grateful for memories, for smiles, for many small and large kindnesses.  I’m grateful for challenges to keep me alert, for strength to keep on going.  Most of all I’m grateful to God, the giver of life and every perfect gift.

There’s really no better way to express my gratefulness than to say, Thank You!

Remember me telling you about the post removal a couple weeks ago.  Well, this is the tool it took to get that post out.   Of course, what you see here is not the post.  It’s a large tree stump that Randy removed with his stone picker the same day he pulled out the post.    Sometimes what you have on hand is not enough.  Sometimes your ingenuity  is not enough.  Sometimes, you need something more.  Sometimes the “miracle” comes when you recognize that you don’t have what it takes.   You need help.

And that’s when some of us quit.

It really doesn’t matter how strong we are.  We all have limitations.  And we all need help at times.  And we definitely all need tools.

The questions is.  What kind of tools do you need?  And do you need help?  Are you willing to invest in tools?  Are you willing to ask for help?

I wonder why some of us don’t want to get the proper tools?

I wonder why we don’t readily ask for help?

Could it be that we think we ought to be completely self sufficient?

Could it be our pride?

Just wondering…

The right tool used by the skilled operator sure made a difference for us.

Are you passionate about what you are doing?

If your answer to that question is, “Say, what?”  I’ve got news for you.

You’ve got to start at the first step.  If you  haven’t figured out what you want to do with your life, you need to get that done.

That’s the only way to hook your future to your passion.

The alternative is to hope for a better tomorrow, or wish for something to change for the better.  I hate to tell you this, but it won’t.  It takes your informed consent.  No one else can tell you what you feel.  No one else can tell you what stirs your passion.  Only you.

Ben Hogan, the famous golfer, wrote something that I’ve found myself returning to frequently.  I’d like to pass it along to you.  Here it is.

  1. Find something you love.
  2. Give your whole heart to it.
  3. Don’t let anyone or anything come between you and your goal.

If you want to be a champion, it’s going to take passion.  It’s going to take investment.  Let me ask you a question.  Are you spending your life, or investing it?  Only you can answer that.

Courage happens when we keep on keeping on.  It’s almost a miracle.  I can’t tell you how many times I have looked at what seemed like a task or situation that was nigh impossible and decided that the only solution was to take the next step.  Sometimes the task is physical.  More often for me the task is mental, since that’s more me.  But since physical challenges are easier to picture, let me tell you about one that we worked on today.

Picture this.  My husband had erected a barrier fence to keep basketballs from rolling off the court and onto the street.   The fence was six feet tall and ran the width of the court.  Let’s say 24 feet.  End posts which had been dropped into four foot holes and embedded in concrete secured the fence.   Our task today was to remove the one remaining end post which was nestled under a fir tree that had grown up around it.

Backing away from this picture for a moment, let me rehearse some of what I was thinking as we tried one thing after the other to get the post to move just a little hoping that we’d soon see it coming out.  I was thinking, work from your strengths.  Working hard doesn’t do much good unless you are leveraging your strengths.  I was thinking, we need more power than either of us has individually.  My husband is a strong man.  I call him strong as an ox.  But in his physical strength alone there is no way he was going to budge that post.  We had already been using a long 4 x 6 with a chain wrapped around it and the post.  Then my husband brought out a car jack, some bricks, some blocks, different size wooden posts.  You’d have been impressed at his ingenuity.

So why do we take on tasks that are beyond our physical strength?  Why do we decide to keep on working on tasks that seem beyond our reach?

I think it is because when we keep on we gain more than simply beating the challenge.  We learn something about ourselves.  Tackling a challenge is satisfying when we find out that we have more reserves than we knew; we have more creativity than we had seen before; we have more stick-to-it-tiveness than we imagined.  We want something enough to keep at it believing that  success is inevitable, if we don’t quit.

I guess we’ll be back at that post project again tomorrow.

Life is a series of brain juggling exercises.  We consider all the variables that enter into an equation.  We try to determine how each variable affects the whole.  What would happen if…?   Like multiple choice tests, some answers simply don’t fit and are easy to discard.  Then you get to the more complex answers, the more nuanced answers.   And even more complicated, you get to the answers that require compromise.  What am I willing to compromise?  Hmmm.

That is a very good question.  And that is the subject of today’s blog.

Let me throw out two principles.  You tell me, are these negotiable?

  1. To be successful I need a direction.
  2. To be successful I need to move in that direction.

The clearer I am about the direction I’m heading the more likely it is that I will reach my destination.

The more I take steps in the direction I’ve chosen the sooner I will get there.

So now, what happens when I try to negotiate with myself about these two principles?  Who am I fooling when I come up with excuses for why I am not clarifying where I want to head?  Or who am I fooling when I rationalize not moving toward my chosen destination?

I guess it all boils down to how much I want to get to where I want to go.  It’s really not that complicated.  I might like to get stuck in the formula because that gives me an excuse.  But in fact it’s pretty simple.  If I want to get somewhere I need to identify some place on the map, look at a compass, and get going.   Bargaining will get me nowhere.

I know.  I’ve had it happen to me when I least expected it.  I loved what I was doing. I thought I was doing  just fine.  That’s what I’d been told.   And then out of left field, “You’re through.”   I was stunned.  In our economic times that story repeats over and over.  And it’s going to keep happening.  It’s what comes of not owning your life.

I ceded control of my life to a company, to an organization.  It felt more secure that way.  But it didn’t turn out that way.

As it turns out, the only life I really can control is my own.  Oh, I know, there are things that happen outside of my control.  But I’m not talking about the things I can’t control.  I’m talking about what I do have control over… like my attitude, my point of view.

I forgot that only I can be my own Self Executive Officer.  A company can let me go; but I’m all I got.  I think I’ll hang onto myself.  You see, I still have all the good stuff that was there yesterday.  And I’m guessing there’s a lot more I haven’t noticed yet.

I think I’ll get up and get going again.  But this time I’ll be smarter.  I’ll find a way to think like an owner.  I’ll get up, wipe the dust off myself, and look for options.  Where am I?  What do I want?  And what are my options?  I know one thing for sure.  I am going to be a winner, because I’m not quitting on myself.  I’m going to keep getting up, as many times as I fall, keep getting up over and over again.

I  know what happens.

You got pumped.   You could see yourself making the final turn to cross the finish line.  You could see yourself on stage to receive the award.   You could see the approval in the eyes of people you respected.  You could hear the music, the applause of genuine recognition.  You could feel the inner satisfaction of knowing that you overcame your fears to venture out of your comfort zone.

And then you woke up to where you are.  You remembered you weren’t there yet.  You remembered what still had to be done, the people that were driving you crazy, the situations that seemed daunting.  And you thought, why did I ever think…

And here’s where the good news comes in.  You get to choose what you’re going to pay attention to.

So how do you decide?  I’m so glad you asked.  Well, let’s try a couple ways to look at this.  If I were to have you fill in the blank, how would you complete this statement?  All I really want is  ……………..

Or, how about this?  Imagine yourself continuing on your present course in life.  You make no major adjustments to the patterns you have established.  Where will you end up?   What’s the best scenario?  What’s the worst scenario?

Now imagine yourself choosing to do something different, something really outrageous, something that you’ve not done before, something that calls for you to be a better person, something that calls for you to use more of your talent, something that requires more commitment.  What’s the worst scenario?  What’s the best scenario?

I’m here to tell you that what you pay attention to matters.

And the good news is that you get to choose.

I know that last week I said that I would keep on and not quit.   But if you only knew what happened this week, you would understand…  You see, just when things were looking  so promising…  Fill in the blanks.  We’ve all been there.  In fact, it should be no surprise because as Scott Peck said in The Road Less Traveled, “Life is difficult.”

The question is, I get to choose my attitude when I run into situations that do not please me.  How does that serenity prayer go?  Lord, help me to know what things I can change so that I can change them, which things I cannot change so that I can accept them, and help me to know the difference between the two.  I’m not talking about settling for what I can change.  I’m talking about discerning what  are roadblocks that I must go around and what are challenges that will make me a better person by taking them on.

What I think happens is that there is an internal struggle going on.  Part of me wants to keep on keeping on and part of me wants to lay down and quit.

Now, let me ask you a question.  Was what happened this week a roadblock that you need to go  around?  Or was  it a challenge to take on?

Don’t rush this answer because your answer will make a difference.  If you decide to tackle a roadblock, who is going to win?  But if you choose to tackle a challenge, who is going to win?

Here’s a free tip.  Your odds are a lot greater for winning if you are tackling a challenge.

Now, let’s say that you are facing a challenge, are you more likely to win if you look for options or if you focus on the formidable features of the challenge? You can choose to look at the assets you have in your hand.  Or you can choose to look at your formidable opponent.  What you see will depend upon what you are looking for.  You can choose to look for solutions; or you can choose to look for an escape.

What are you looking for?