Dealing With Overwhelm

We get overwhelmed, not because we don’t know what to do, but because we have recently learned exactly what we need to do and we can’t yet see the best way to do it.

We feel the weight, the sharp edges cutting into us, and it interrupts our decision-making.

So we don’t do anything.

The thing to remember in this situation is that you must give up your own thought cycle and go find someone else’s.

Go to someone with your pile of puzzle pieces, your shards of broken glass, and ask them to arrange the picture for you.

They’re not better than you. They’re not smarter. They just don’t feel the weight. And, because of this, they have no fear of cutting their hands.


Satan’s Greatest Trick

The greatest trick the devil ever played was convincing people that he could come up from the depths of hell and climb inside our enemies, fill them completely, take them over so that there is nothing left that is good.

When we consider someone to be evil, (i.e. full of satan, ignorance, hate, greed, all those things we prefer to see in everyone but ourselves), we take them off the Earth, we ban them from the Heavens. They become distilled down to a handful of actions, a series of events.

As they are discarded so are their gifts. As they are discarded, so are their loved ones.

The genius in Satan’s ruse is its contagion. So easy to hate, to take, to destroy, to strangle, to discard, at great scale, as long as the thing that is discarded is first despised.

We, the good ones, diligently avoid evil. We believe we cannot be both; no one can touch evil without being consumed by it. This is why we’re so quick to judge: because we need to separate ourselves, immediately and completely, from all forms of it.

We pull back from those we deem infected. We quarantine them into a category, discard them frivolously under the false belief that we don’t need them, forgetting that every illness, every disease ever cured, was injected first.


The Myth About the Fountain of Youth

The real myth about the Fountain of Youth is that it is NOT a fountain.

It is a river.

The secret to vitality couldn’t possibly exist in still waters. It’s not something you can damn up and keep for yourself.

No, it’s stronger than that. It’s wild. It has a current, it takes you without permission.

That’s why you feel young again when it overtakes you: because you’ve rediscovered the invigorating reward of not knowing where you’re headed.

Alas, with time , as we settle into our valleys, meaning well with our homesteads, the roar of the river fades. We forget how to get back.

No matter.

There is an easy way.

Don’t search for the river.

Look for the puddles. Notice the drops of dew falling out of the trees, the intermittent drops of rain out of the sky, right there in front of you, there all the time, waiting to be appreciated.

Drip drip splash splash.
Drip drip splash splash.

A curious thing, those falling drops, that network of puddles, so tiny and quiet, so hidden in plain sight, yet, without fail, delivering on their promise.

They tickle your cheeks, they kiss your eyelids.

That can be enough to revive you.

But there is more. To those who stand still and let the water seep into their shoes, to those that stop to feel the caress of a single droplet of rain, a great reward shall come.

Keep looking up, stay in the stillness of a single moment and you’ll notice many more that come after it, just like the rain.

It starts with a few drops, until suddenly you’re standing in a downpour. And the longer you notice, the heavier the rain gets as if it needs to be appreciated to show itself.

Before you know it, the puddles swell, the valley fills, and a steady current forms. A river is manifested. The river grows wild, picks you off the ground and carries you in its wildness.

At first it’s worry, not elation, that fills you up. The homestead. The crops. What will come of them?

But then you realize you have something more important, something that comes before the home and the crops.

You are awake. You are alive. You are young again.


The Race

I was helping my daughter put together her pinewood derby car for Girl Scouts. We were laying on our stomachs lining up the nail to go through the tire at the exact right angle. As I was explaining why it was important to make sure the tire doesn’t rub the wood she surprised me with this:

“Daddy, relax. This isn’t a winning car.”

Wait. What?

Why make a pinewood derby car and race a pinewood derby race if you’re not planning on winning the pinewood derby race?

We’ve gone to these races 2 years in a row and Evaline finished somewhere in the back of the pack both times. Still, she makes us go. She cheers. She gets excited.

I thought about her cars in years past: Mr. Pickle and Mr. Pickle 2 – green bulky things with dots painted on for pickle bumps. They barely rolled straight.

And now, Mrs. Squeakers, a grey wedge with wire whiskers that loop up and out, in the most un-aerodynamic way possible, a tail curling up that was supposed to hold a chunk of felted cheese but we had to opt out of that one because it went against the rules.

I was deep in thought, holding the nail. She, with the hammer, reading my mind, She sat up, held Mrs. Squeakers in the palm of her hand, and spoke with the unshakably confident vernacular of Beyonce:

“She so pretty. She so fine.”

And then it clicked.

Her awards the last 2 years: most creative and most jazzy (or something like that). I thought they were consolation prizes, made-up certificates to ensure that everybody wins and no one cries.

Awards that don’t count.

But who decides? And who wears the crown?

Our tire went in crooked. When it spun, it rubbed the wood. Mrs. Squeakers was destined to be slow.

But my daughter held it up, big smile, then a quizzical look as she wiggled a whisker.

“I need some more hot glue.

And off to her room.

Queen Evaline.

… reminding me that the best victories come when we set our own benchmarks.

And the real winners are the ones who can cheer for their creations and cross their own finish lines in ways that others don’t understand.


Dreams And What They Do

I have a dream.

All the greats said that.

I think dreams get a bad rap. They’re usually portrayed as wispy clouds in the sky, nothing you can hold onto, a thing to revere from a distance.

But don’t be fooled by the floating. If you examine a cloud closely, you’ll see that it is, quite surprisingly, holding a shit-ton of water.

Dreams, like clouds, carry more weight than you think. Dreams aren’t light and airy; they’re rich, full, and substantive. They’re everything.

And you’re not a fool for running toward one.

You! You’re also great, sitting there alone, with your focus and your beliefs and your fistful of seeds.

If you run, though it may seem silly, I promise you, you’ll become less and less skeptical that a wispy looking thing from the sky can do anything for you on the ground. You’ll start to feel the rustle of the roots underfoot, sharing their secret, reminiscing of the time before they became trees.

And as you run, you’ll notice that your dream is meeting you halfway. Your dream is coming to the earth, for you, that wispy thing. You arrive out of breath, hands on hips, and it places itself down before you, and you know what to do.

You, the believer. You, the next great thing. You reach your arms around your dream and squeeze, out of love, out of desperation, out of instinct. And the hidden gift comes out: droplets of the clearest, coldest water trickle down your arms, tickle you into aliveness as they fall off your elbows.

You’re so elated you almost forget about the seeds.

You can open your fists now, you’ve earned it. You’ve come all this way to kneel in the puddled soil, so far from the sky, to empty your hands, to take your place in line with the greats as you watch your dream, that wispy thing, spread and thin and become the air we breathe.


Happy Martin Luther King Day. Be great. Run to your dreams.


Spider in the Shower

I was taking one of those long showers when no one is home and I can use all the hot water without even thinking about it, and I don’t have to worry about a knock on the door. I was getting really lost.

Then he showed up. The spider.

(Even just a few years ago, I would have jumped out of the tub, half-scared, half-angry, grabbed a huge wad of toilet paper and squashed the thing.)

But my daughter changed all that. She loves anything that breathes, that creates, that moves by itself, however slowly or creepily. And she wouldn’t let me kill spiders any more. Eventually, my fear of them went away.

So, seeing a spider in the shower didn’t make me jump. I stared, more fascinated than frightened, watching him scurry and climb and slide, in that order, and to no avail. Watching it all, an indifferent onlooker. I twisted at the hips to and fro to allow the water to splash off the tops of my shoulders in such a precise arc as to the spray the spider around the base of the tub.

Splash slide scurry. Splash slide scurry. Splash slide scurry.

And then nothing. The spider stopped. He huddled in a corner, curled in his legs, and bent himself into a jumbled mess of kinked black wire. He looked dead, was seeking death.

There is nothing so pathetic (and so compelling) as when a life gives up its quest.

I turned the nozzle into the wall, grabbed a loofa, and gingerly placed it next to the black scribble. It didn’t take long for him to unscramble himself and climb aboard. Like Huck Finn, he stepped onto his untrustworthy raft, less worried about destiny than survival.

The first time I lifted the raft, we both panicked. He went for my fingers, I threw the loofa, and he jumped back into the tub.

The second time, there was a bit more trust or a bit more fear – I’m not sure which – but he didn’t move, and I didn’t move and I got him out of the tub, away from the mean ol’ Mississippi and onto the shore of a fluffy white bath mat.

We went back to getting lost in our separate worlds. He, in the spider world and me, in the person world, our appreciation for each other already fading in the same way hot water cools down as you get used to it, and silence starts off wonderful but eventually makes you feel lonely.

I was careful when I stepped onto the mat and pleased when I saw him clinging to the bottom of the curtain, the two of us, filling the house. And I’m not sure if it was out of fear or out of trust, but he didn’t move a single, wiry leg while I dried off.


Happy 2020, or Whatever

My Psychology teacher ignored the beginning and endings of chapters when he was lecturing. As soon as he finished preaching Chapter 1, he’d move right into Chapter 2, even if there were just 5 minutes left of class.

“What?!” he’d reply, with fake incredulousness, to the collective groan of the class. “We have 4 and a half minutes left. Let’s use them.”

People love demarcations. We love hard endings and new beginnings and we often put a lot of faith in them to change our lives:

This year will be different.
2020 is our year y’all.
Okay, next year, I’m going to do this for reals.

Great. If that’s what it takes to move you to action — dancing on a line that someone else created — then go for it.

But stop giving so much credit to the calendar.

Wedding anniversaries aren’t the only day to celebrate togetherness, Valentine’s day isn’t the only day to celebrate love, and birthdays aren’t the only day to celebrate life.

When we place so much emphasis on one square of the grid, when we color it in and draw little hearts around it, we’re in jeopardy of rendering the other squares blank, which is a tragedy since so much can happen on those days too.

Life-changing decisions can (and should!) be made every day of our lives. Celebrations can happen from minute to minute, not just during a 20-second countdown once a year.

In the classroom and in the world, we forget that we’re the ones authoring the rule book. We create our own time. We decide when to start and when to finish. And when to dance.

In committing to those precious moments of learning and transformation, it’s the content that matters, not the clock.


Crying, Adults & Kids

My daughter twisted her ankle walking up our steps. She’s 13 which means the agony of it shone on her face but no tears were allowed to come out.

I know her well. I could see the tears start to come and then I watched as she swallowed them up and reverted to other things – anger, explanation, rubbing, slapping the pavement with both hands.

Somewhere along the way, we decide that tears don’t solve anything. They’re not practical. Indeed, they’re embarrassing. Children cry. Adults don’t, and that goes for teens and tweens too, trying so desperately to be like adults.

Tears may not solve problems but they allow us to focus on them.

It’s like the body telling the mind: “Hold up a second. I got something here.” It’s a declaration to zone in, to accept the pain that’s happening.

Ain’t nothing embarrassing about it. Crying gets the sadness out. It works every time.

I avoided crying for the better part of my life. My dad watched me swallow up my tears one day and I didn’t let them out again until I was in my mid-twenties. A rainstorm of tears poured out into my girlfriend’s lap. An hour at least, no kidding. We actually had a laugh about it afterward because it was so time-consuming.

It’s like the hurt hadn’t gone anywhere, like those tears of 2 decades pooled in my stomach all this time, in my guts, my throat, behind my eyes, waiting for my heart to open and my mind to give in.

It’s best to take care of your tears when they show up in the first place, because they’re going to come out, somehow, maybe not as tears, but they’ll do their thing in one way or another and you’ll feel it when they do. You’ll feel the whole earth tremble and wonder if it’s you that’s making it tremble.

Yeah, best to take care of things right away. You don’t have to do anything special. Just let it play out. It will suck at first but the release is glorious. And then the laughter, that dry cracked skin feeling on your cheeks, the beautiful emptiness in your guts, and all those hands waiting to pull you up and help you along… yeah, they’ll be there too.

People will stop what they’re doing for your tears. The ones that matter will come closer. Your heart, radiating the truest of signals, will draw them in.

I promise you that.


An Overlooked Opportunity for Goodwill

There’s a place we all forget to look when we’re trying to spread our good vibes:

Customer Service.

Yeah, I said it. We’ve all expressed the many other emotions that go with being on hold and not getting what we want, but how often have we stopped to compliment great service?

Keep in mind that your compliments directly equate to a better quality of life for the Customer Service reps out there. It’s our voice that gets them promoted, that gets them bonuses, that gets them raises, that keeps them going.

So, be vocal about your joy. People are listening.

And take it a step further…

When that inconvenient post-call quality survey comes along, open it up and share your positive experience. If you really want to have a lasting impact, leave a positive review after you don’t get what you want. Yeah, that’s right. Break the cycle instead of reinforcing it.

It’s one of those rare opportunities where you get to change a life with just a few keystrokes.

Actually, you change three lives – theirs, yours, and the next person who calls in.

You’re that powerful.


The Accomplishments Loop-Hole

Accomplishments are food for us humans.

That’s why we cheer out loud when a baby walks or when our friend crosses the finish line. It’s why we pass around videos of special needs adults beating their best time on a treadmill.

We do it for them but we also do it for us. It’s energizing to watch someone do something they couldn’t do before, to see their fists go up and their eyes widen. It reminds us that most barriers aren’t real and that it’s not usually our hands, our feet, nor our lungs that are holding us back.

Sometimes when you’re down, it’s helpful to watch another person go up. For some reason, it’s often easier for us to rejoice in others’ achievements, especially if they’re chipping away at something we’ve already mucked our way through.

But, you know what? When we root for someone else, we still reap the rewards ourselves. It’s a loop-hole.

Why do you think coaches and trainers and mentors are so happy and energized all the time? They get to witness progress regularly, to watch barriers get demolished by the hands that put them there. That’s where the optimism comes from. They have proof. They have thousands of case studies stacked up behind them like a great stone pillar with a big sign on it that says “You can fucking do this.”

We focus so much on the things we’re not able to do, we forget that we are in that pile of inspiring success stories too. We’ve got stones in that pillar.

If you’re feeling stuck, you may be focusing too much on yourself, and in particular, on what you’re not doing.

Seeing the glory in someone else’s eyes can help you put our own foot forward. And, no matter how far down you feel or how far ahead you’re looking, that’s the only thing you ever really need to do.