Where I grew up we didn’t…

You’ve no doubt heard conversations in which people define themselves, defend their positions and deride others with the statement “Where I grew up we didn’t…” What follows is usually some anecdote that serves to make a point which carries the weight of precedent and by extension, history.

While it is certainly true that you are defined in large measure by your childhood experiences, you needn’t let the days of your youth define the years of your adulthood. Every child has the opportunity to rise above the strictures of personal and familial precedent. The idea that you don’t, that is, that you have a station in life and that you are better off respecting the envelope of possibility you were born into is outdated, outmoded and utterly false.

Your life expression rightly emerges from the inside out and is radiant in nature. Just as you had your start in the confines of your mother’s womb, when you continue to cooperate with life rather than struggling against it you will go through successive periods of rebirth into a larger sphere of living and influence. Life’s inclination is to move upward and outward, not downward and inward.

Adolescence is one of those critical periods of rebirth. Teenagers, full of the spirit of life, are typically hellbent on defining themselves. The longing to know who they are and what they are here to do burns in their hearts and minds, but they typically lack the tools and discipline necessary to navigate the pressures of labor and birth present in this important phase of life. As such they need a doula or a team of advisors (typically other than their parents) to help keep them on the path to self-revelation.

Parents who do not allow the lives of their children to expand do a tremendous disservice to the child. They create an artificially self-limiting environment that is deficient in critical nutrients as no parent or parents are so complete in and of themselves that they can provide everything their children need. Most parents who do this to their children feel well-justified, typically on the argument that they don’t want to miss the child’s youth, which, dear readers, is fundamentally selfish reasoning that is ignorant of the process by which individuality is nourished into being.

In an imperfect world it is highly unlikely that any child will have a perfect childhood. There will be deficiencies, mistakes made and imbalances that become more obvious as the child grows older. You are wise, then, to recognize that your childhood experiences should not limit or define those of your children. This is not to say that your children will be “better” than you, neither does it mean that their purpose is to beat your records. True individual expression is not relative, it is absolute.

Parents would be wise to provide the safe and controlled growing room by means of which their children can see beyond the blinders imposed by immediate family, relatives, societal norms and cultural mores. Individuality loses its unique and original character whenever life expression is stuffed into a preformed box.

As you can imagine, there are implications for parenting, education, business organizational theory and more to this notion of personal development. We, in all of our human brilliance, have elected the familiarity and comfort that dribbles from the status quo over the newness and richness that flow abundantly from a more dynamic, organic approach to living. Life is never static. Neither should we be.

Charting your Course

You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.” ~ Abraham Lincoln

There comes a point in your life when it becomes clear that you are responsible for charting your own course. Circumstance may require that this comes sooner than ideal, but in most cases the moment is lost upon young men and women who are distracted by less important, but undoubtedly pressing issues.

When this time comes, you realize that the advice of your parents, friends, family and other elements of your support network is helpful, but not the final word. As you emerge out of your teen years and into the early years of adulthood, authority and control should rightly shift from being externally provided to being internally generated. This transition is rarely comfortable and for good reason. The former you is passing away while the new you is being born into the world for which you are responsible.

While we’re on the topic, I firmly believe that you are born with a great promise that is only yours to fulfill. No one can reveal the promise to you, for it is not an external thing pasted on, rather, it emerges from within each time you decide to think, speak or act with integrity, dignity and radiant blessing. Many never gain acquaintance with their great promise. They remain stymied by familial patterns as well as larger social constraints that impose unwritten yet deeply influential control over what you feel is or isn’t possible in and through you.

To reveal your promise you must find a way out of the restrictive patterns that form naturally around you, just as a bird must take flight out of the familiar and relatively safe confines of its nest. The key to doing this is to fill the limited situations you are in at any point in life to overflowing. Give everything you do your all. Don’t hold back. When you live this way, the apertures you need to move into a greater and wider revelation of your great promise appear naturally, graciously and in sequence.

Your Book of Life

Rosetti (self-portrait) Image by Wikipedia

Sudden Light by Dante Gabriel Rosetti

I have been here before,
But when or how I cannot tell:
I know the grass beyond the door,
The sweet keen smell,
The sighing sound, the lights around the shore.
You have been mine before,—

How long ago I may not know:
But just when at that swallow’s soar
Your neck turn’d so,
Some veil did fall,—I knew it all of yore.
Has this been thus before?
And shall not thus time’s eddying flight

Still with our lives our love restore
In death’s despite,
And day and night yield one delight once more?

You were born with an empty book before you. Your life quickly began filling its pages, the pages become chapters and before you knew it your little notebook transformed into a novel that told the tale of another of humanity’s grains of sand.

The chapters of life are a fascinating thing to me. While Rosetti was likely speaking of the death known as “physical death” (the kind that ends in a grave), I have to wonder if he wasn’t speaking to the chapters of life as well.

One life can be divided up in so many ways. Childhood and adulthood. Educational years, working years, retirement years. All can be seen as chapters in a book.

When you’ve moved from chapter to chapter in life, have you found some strings of continuity? Are there persistent themes that appear and reappear with comforting or at times alarming consistency, times where you say to yourself as Rosetti put it: “Has this been thus before?”

Threads of success as well as failure weave through life in a predictable fashion until the pattern is broken, one way or the other. You can succeed where you’ve failed in the past and you can fail where success was previously the norm. As such, it is important to take note when you do succeed and take heed when you fail. Both will offer important clues as to how to be a greater success in the next chapter of your life.

You cannot learn about who you are or what successes will be wrought through you from a book. There is no manual. You may glean bits and pieces of advice from here and there, but ultimately the story you tell has to emerge in and through you.

There is no doubt that we live in a tough world. It is not ideal. No one had an ideal upbringing. We’ve all had our bumps and bruises and we each have the scars – physical, mental and emotional – to show for it.

Just as you should never scratch a mosquito bite, you are wise not to dwell on the irritants in your life – past or present. Ask yourself instead, “What can I do – here and now, based on what I know and what resources I have at my command – to handle this situation successfully?” Doing anything else is not only a waste of time, it will likely result in further bloodshed and scarring.

Creative thinking and timely action is your lifeblood. Forego either or both and you will add sad stories to a subsequently less successful chapter in your life. There are far more tales of woe in the history of man than there are bright examples of success and victory.

What will it be for you?

Smile! (You are getting old)

A recently published Gallup poll of 340,000 people between the ages of 18 and 85 indicates that the happiness waxes, wanes then waxes again in the life cycle of the average American. Late teens note a high sense of satisfaction with life as do people over the age of fifty. What happens in between is another story.

Nicholas Bakalar summarizes the findings of this study in his New York Times article entitled “Happiness May Come With Age, Study Says” (http://tinyurl.com/2fxw3aq). Bakalar notes: “In measuring immediate well-being — yesterday’s emotional state — the researchers found that stress declines from age 22 onward, reaching its lowest point at 85. Worry stays fairly steady until 50, then sharply drops off. Anger decreases steadily from 18 on, and sadness rises to a peak at 50, declines to 73, then rises slightly again to 85. Enjoyment and happiness have similar curves: they both decrease gradually until we hit 50, rise steadily for the next 25 years, and then decline very slightly at the end, but they never again reach the low point of our early 50s.”

A fascinating set of results, don’t you think? Other studies show that happiness is not directly correlated to the amount of leisure time, so the fact of retirement is not likely driving the increased sense of happiness later in life. Whatever it is, according to this study, fear of the aging process, from the standpoint of happiness, is unfounded. In fact, we are wise to look forward to that time!

What about the no-man’s land that exists between our teen years and our late adult years? In many ways my thoughts for this blog have centered on developing an understanding of the tools necessary to enjoy life more fully in all phases of life. Given the results of this study, I wonder if this collection of ideas might be well-considered by each age group in different ways.

You are as young as you will ever be, right now. Tomorrow you’ll be a little older and hopefully a little wiser and a little happier. My father-in-law noted yesterday that he’s experienced a deeper sense of appreciation for the resource of time now versus when he was a young man. It is a precious resource. The question posed to everyone in life is this: what will you make of it?

I am convinced that happiness is not derived from material possessions, neither is it obtained by accumulating the perfect mix of friends and family and arranging them thus-and-so. There is no “perfect” set of factors or experiences, no red pill that magically makes happiness appear. In fact, happiness is an internal state that is internally driven. Happiness is something that you give to the world around you and that you can and must receive in return, through the attitude of appreciation.

Appreciation is obviously a key, as is an understanding of the principle of reciprocity. Most learn to share at a young age, but the sense of sharing often does not evolve beyond a simple sharing of material possessions. To be happy you must share of yourself, of your soul. To be happy you must learn to look beyond petty grievances, pet peeves, the little things. As you do, you find there is space in your heart and your mind to hold a higher vision for yourself and for those around you.

I look forward to hearing more about why things begin to change at the age of 50, for happiness is one of the elixirs of the fountain of youth. Thank you Mr. Bakalar for your article!