Great pair of shoesAmbition:  ardent desire for rank, fame or power

Aspiration: a strong desire to achieve something high or great

 It seems that certain characteristics that are distasteful to me often go hand in hand with an “ardent desire for rank, fame or power” – egotism, ruthlessness, insensitivity, greed. I certainly have had goals that were important to me and I recognize the need for an element of ambition to be present in any endeavor but, as I contemplate these two definitions, I think my goals were more aspirations than ambitions. Interestingly, other words included in the definition of aspire include ascend and soar, which leads me to believe that aspire is more aligned with spirit than ambition. I have gradually come to understand that inner peace and contentment come from thinking and acting from my highest self, not from striving to achieve anything strictly for material gain or ego gratification or to fulfill the expectations of other people, all of which I have done at one time or another. Experience has taught me that I am much happier when I strive to ascend and soar. There is a difference between ambition and aspiration and I think it lies in motivation. I have never been so driven by ambition to achieve something that I would do anything to get it, including hurting family and friends or abandoning my values, but I have seen others who were willing to do just that. Actually, I have been unpleasantly surprised sometimes at how little it takes for someone to betray another person’s trust.

Most of my “career” decisions were motivated by a desire to provide a secure, comfortable life for my son and to be independent of erratic child support payments but not by a feeling of ambition. I never had grandiose dreams of wealth or status; I just aspired to own my own home, be financially comfortable, and take care of my son. The story of my career is not one of climbing the ladder or moving from one position to another in order to “succeed” but more a case of just being in the right place at the right time and being fortunate enough to have supervisors who rewarded me for doing a good job. My motivation was simply to do the best job I could with the tools that were available to me and to treat others honestly and fairly. I’m content today because I attained my own modest definition of success which allowed me to achieve two important aspirations – providing my son with a comfortable, secure upbringing and providing myself with the ability to retire at a relatively young age and embark on a reinvention journey.

Recently, I was listening to Rabbi Daniel Lapin talk about his book “Thou Shalt Prosper” and I realized that, on some level, I have always understood that there should be a spiritual side to earning wealth and achieving success in order for it to be truly meaningful. Money itself is just paper but it actually has a spiritual value because it is exchanged for our labors, creative ideas and time. Before I ever read a book about management I instinctively knew that my success depended upon the success of those around me – peers and subordinates alike. Not being a particularly ambitious or competitive person I can’t relate to what that feels like as a driving force; I can only suggest that when ambition or the love of money rule you there are bound to be negative outcomes. Wealth and success are beneficial not only to the individual who earns them but to society as a whole – that is why communism never works – but it is important to recognize the WHY of everything you’re striving to achieve so that you don’t end up with a hollow victory. After all, it’s not money that is the root of all evil; it is the love of money.  Success has a different meaning for all of us and it’s good to figure out your own definition but, whatever it is, if you can reach it through honest effort and a “desire to achieve something high or great” you will always be in alignment with your highest self. At the same time, recognize the Law of Abundance and encourage and support others in their efforts to achieve their own definition of success.

Stella aspires to find the perfect balance between being squashed and feeling safe

Stella aspires to find the perfect balance between being squashed and feeling safe

I didn’t write last weekend because I got caught up in events related to the Boston Marathon bombing – on a personal level and as a citizen of this country. My son works in Boston just a short distance from the marathon finish line, in fact, he gets off the bus at Copley Square each morning and walks to his office. When I heard about the bombing on Monday I was concerned that he might have been in the vicinity of the finish line to watch the runners and had a couple of anxious hours until I heard from him. Fortunately, he was safe in his office. Then, when I got up on Friday morning I was alarmed to learn of the dramatic events occurring in Watertown, just a few blocks from where my son lives! Fortunately again, he was safe in his home. Strangely, he was working for a company in mid-town Manhattan on 9/11 and had jobs all over the city, often in the Wall St. area, so I had no idea where he was and couldn’t get through on the phone until almost 6 p.m.

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Let your freedom flag fly

Fredom FlagAlthough I haven’t given much thought to freedom for most of my life, it became a topic of great interest about 5 years ago when I began to plan for early retirement. I decided that retirement meant “freedom” to me because my job had become a prison. I looked forward to reinventing my lifestyle. So, after almost 2 years of retirement, does personal freedom have the same definition? One thing I know for sure is that, for me, independence is a big part of personal freedom but there is more to it than that and I’m going to share my definition here.

A new realization is that I can’t even begin to share  my definition of personal freedom without first acknowledging that the foundation of my personal freedom, as well as everyone who lives in the United States of America, rests on the fact that we live in a free democracy. I’m ashamed to admit that most of my life I took for granted the freedom and rights we Americans enjoy. So, part of the definition of my personal freedom has to include the Constitution of the United States and the Declaration of Independence. No other government document on Earth mentions “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” as rights endowed on its citizens by their Creator. If you haven’t read those documents in a while, I strongly encourage you to do it – they are inspirational! Recently I heard a Cuban immigrant, who has been a citizen of the US for 40 years, give an impassioned speech about freedom. He said we Americans don’t really understand what freedom means because we have never lost it. Amen.

The second important part of my definition of personal freedom is to be as independent and self-sufficient as possible. For me that means:

  • Be debt free
  • Be prepared for emergencies with food, water, and cash
  • Take good care of my overall health
  • Keep my life and my relationships as simple and uncomplicated as possible
  • Maintain a peaceful, clutter-free living environment (my rule of thumb – is it either beautiful, functional, or of deep sentimental value?)

Last but, certainly not least is emotional/mental freedom. Freedom cannot exist without responsibility. Take responsibility for your life beginning with the way you think. I admit that many times in my life I struggled with negative thoughts that affected my relationships and the choices I made. Dr. Wayne Dyer, echoing Abraham Maslow, said “It is crucial to remain independent of both the positive and negative opinions of other people. Regardless of whether they love or despise us, if we make their assessments more important than our own, we’ll be greatly afflicted.”  The opinions of other people often carried too much weight in my decision making and in how I viewed myself. These days my sense of personal freedom depends on striving to live independent of the opinions of others, eliminate negative thinking and be honest with myself. I’m not always successful but it is always my aim and I believe it is a goal that serves my best interests and higher purpose. I find that the closer I can get to that goal, the better I feel about myself and the relationships I have with other people. Speaking of relationships, this is a good time to repeat something I have stated several times on this blog – as much as possible, eliminate negative people from your life. If it isn’t possible because you have to work with them or because they are a family member, then work on changing how you react to them – don’t give your power away! For those who are in the helping professions or who volunteer for organizations that help others it is especially important to accept that you can only offer tools; you can’t fix somebody else’s life.

 Free yourself from counter-productive thinking:

  • Guilt (regret, misplaced sense of responsibility, doing things only from a feeling of obligation)
  • Anger (resentment, frustration, grudge-holding)
  • Fear (meaning the self-created variety, such as projecting into the future, anxiety, worry)
  • Self criticism (not to be confused with healthy, rational self-assessment)
  • Feelings of lack (focusing on what you don’t have)

 If all your decisions are made from guilt, anger, fear, self-criticism, and lack then I can guarantee that they will not serve your best interests. In fact, they will place you in more situations in which you feel exactly the same. One thing to remember is that most negative thinking comes from what has happened in the past or worrying about what you think might happen in the future. You can’t change what has already happened and the best you can do for the future is to identify your goals, develop a plan and then just take one step at a time – and keep your focus on the step you are on right now. Create thoughts in your present that are as positive as possible because they will lay the groundwork for your future.

Give some thought to your own definition of personal freedom – are you living it? Are there things you could do to get there? Eliminating negative thought patterns is a very freeing experience so that’s a good place to start!

April 2013 001

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Thank you, Dad

Our perfect companionsThis post is for animal lovers so; you can stop reading right now if that isn’t you! Ever since I was a little girl animals have given me so much love and happiness and I want to pay homage to my Dad for being such a great role model regarding the special relationship we can have only with our “four legged friends”.

First, a little background. Dad was born in a small town in northern England in 1923, the second of four children. His father made a living delivering coal on a residential route. In those days coal was the primary source of heat in England. My Grandad was only about 5’3” tall but was very strong as a result of shoveling and lifting heavy bags of coal. He was also responsible for collecting payment and taking orders; just like the milk man or the ice man. His “company vehicle” was a wagon and a Clydesdale horse. They belonged to the company but it was his responsibility to care for them so they were housed in a stable leased by his employer within walking distance of his house. My Grandad was also an animal lover and my Dad told me that he took great pride in grooming Daisy, the Clydesdale, just as if she were his own. Every Sunday he went to the stable and brushed her coat until she shone and combed the knots out of her mane and tail. He cleaned the leather harnesses and polished the brass. Sometimes my Dad would help him and he told me some great stories of times he spent with his father and the big, gentle horse that towered over him. There were a couple of cats living at the stable that Grandad adopted (or did they adopt him? You know how it goes with cats) and he gave them milk each morning for which they showed their appreciation by keeping the mouse population in the stable under control. My Dad said that as his father walked over a small stone bridge that led to the stable he would crack his whip and the cats would come running from their hiding places, knowing this was the signal that meant they were going to get their milk.

Growing up, my Dad’s family always had a dog and I think he felt that a house wasn’t really a home without a dog in it. My Mom likes dogs but wouldn’t have chosen to own them so this was something she had to accept when they got married because strays always seemed to find him. Even when he was stationed in India with the RAF during WWII he rescued a dog that had been savagely attacked by a monkey and nursed it back to health. Before we immigrated when I was 5 I had already had two canine companions and it wasn’t long after my parents moved into their own home in the US that Dad came home with a puppy that had been abandoned. He was a little black Cocker Spaniel named Skippy who was my companion from age 7 to 18, when he laid down in the sun on the patio for a nap and never woke up. As an only child, Skippy’s companionship was very special to me and I have happy memories of playing in the yard with him and how he good-naturedly let me put baby bonnets on his head. A few months after Skippy died Dad and I went to the mall to get a part for a TV he was fixing and came home with a Golden Retriever puppy – the first dog Dad ever paid for! – who we named Brandy. Brandy was Dad’s pride and joy and if I close my eyes I can still see them walking up the street together or Dad sitting on the back steps brushing her.

Congratulations on adopting a dog My Dad taught me that a relationship with an animal is one of responsibility because you are taking care of one of God’s creatures and they come to depend on you. He never said that to me in so many words; he just showed me by example how to treat them and care for them. He could never abide the ill-treatment of any animal and would get upset if he saw anyone hit a dog. My memories of my Dad are forever linked to the dogs we had. Right after he died I was meditating and had a clear vision of him and Brandy and I just knew their spirits were together, in fact, I’m sure all the dogs he loved have found him. I hadn’t owned a dog for many years until 2009 when I was volunteering to walk dogs at the local Humane Society and I met Stella. Just the way that happened I know my Dad’s spirit had a hand in it and the weird thing is that Stella has so many personality traits that remind me of him!

So, thank you Dad, for teaching me about loving and caring for our animal friends, for bringing the special friendship of a dog back into my life after so many years and for all the wonderful memories that I will cherish forever.


Thanksgiving 2012

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Gaining perspective

Happy birthday-wild rideHave you given much thought to all the things that have combined to make you the person you are today? The good, the bad, and the ugly? The nature, the nurture, the genes, the experiences, the culture that combined into the brew that is you. There might be some things you wish you could eliminate but, if any of the ingredients were different it would change the final product … notice I don’t say finished product because I don’t think we are ever finished. As long as we are alive, and probably even beyond what we call life, we are constantly evolving as we learn and have new experiences. In many ways the basic core of me, maybe that’s my soul, is exactly the same now as it was at age 10 but I can also see that many things have changed even in just the past few years. I have been through several reinventions during my adult life, some by “chance” and some by choice, and each one gave me a new prism with which to view life. Each reinvention provided me with new experiences and information that changed my attitude and behavior in different ways. Sometimes it has been a wild, white knuckled ride but, I’m still hanging on.

I was very lucky in the parent lottery and I had a happy, loving and secure childhood but I did go off the track (and into the ditch!) with some of the decisions I made as an adult, especially when it came to love and friendship. I know now that I did a great disservice to myself by making choices that were not always in my best interest and were certainly not from self-love. I’m sure I wallowed in self-pity and blaming others at times but, somewhere deep inside, I always understood that I was ultimately responsible for what happens in my life. Every action has a consequence, sometimes very unpleasant, and I learned from experience how to make better choices. I can remember looking forward with great excitement to the prospect of being a “grown up” and being free to do whatever I pleased but the lesson I had to learn was that with freedom comes responsibility. You can’t run to Mommy and Daddy anymore or blame them when you screw up, otherwise you’re not really free. I think it’s boring and sometimes even annoying to listen to adults who still blame their parents or other people for everything they don’t like about their lives – past or present. Gaining a healthy perspective is essential. Life is a learning experience every step of the way and it is our responsibility to figure out what our individual lessons are but, if you hold onto the past and blame everyone else for the decisions you made you won’t learn anything. You will spend your life with buried resentment and anger that resurfaces at the most inconvenient times and causes you to make the same mistakes again and again. In the case of an abusive or difficult childhood counseling might be needed but, in the end, the most important thing anyone can learn is that they can’t change the past and it is their responsibility to let it go and focus on creating the type of life they want in the present. Sometimes the best you can do is to forgive and forget.

Thankfully, this latest reinvention for me is mostly one of gratitude, peace, creativity, contentment and quiet contemplation and, although there is a lot about getting older that I don’t like, I realize one thing it has given me is perspective. When you are young without a lifetime of experience to provide perspective, every disappointment feels like the end of the world, every time your heart is broken you feel like you’ll never love again and every time you make a mistake it feels monumental. There were plenty of times when I was younger that I felt so broken I didn’t know what to do but the view looking up from the base of the mountain is so different from the view halfway up or at the summit. Things below look so small and insignificant and the larger view brings more understanding, or at least more acceptance. There are mysteries that you may never understand but it is nice to have the peace of mind that brings acceptance. It feels good to understand that “all things must pass” but I admit I’m still working on humor. I think if I can overcome my natural tendency toward serious thought I will be able to accept and embrace how ridiculous life really is!

I hope you’re enjoying your ride!

In the end, everything is a gag.

                        ~Charlie Chaplin

Perspective = Present perfect

Perspective = Present perfect

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