Don’t complain, don’t explain

Complaint department is closedDon’t complain, don’t explain. I read this many years ago in a book by the late, great Dr. Wayne Dyer and it stuck with me because it felt true – I admit I still sometimes complain or explain but, at least I catch myself before I get on a roll! As with most mottos, it’s a bit simplistic. It’s really just meant to be a quick reminder to yourself that you’re not thinking or acting in your own best interest. How is this not in your best interest? Because they both reflect a weakness of character – in one you’re a victim, in the other you’re lacking confidence.

Don’t complainAre you proactive about your own happiness or do you expect others to make you happy? Is it easy for someone or something to ruin your whole day? Complaining is one the most pointless, wasteful, counterproductive things you can do with your time and energy especially if you’re complaining about something you can’t even change. Complaining let’s you be the victim because it’s a “poor me” mentality. It’s a way to get sympathy and attention but, chronic complaining wears on people and eventually they become bored or annoyed with you. They’ll probably start to avoid you. Everybody complains sometimes but, the chronic complainer takes it to a different level – it actually becomes part of their identity and creates a self perpetuating unhappiness. I don’t think I was ever a chronic complainer but, I’ve done my share of what I used to call “bitchin’ and moanin'”. Dr. Dyer and my late friend, Carol, helped me realize that you don’t have to actually complain out loud to have a victim mentality. If your thoughts tend to be a constant stream of complaints then you are allowing yourself to be victimized by your situation, the people in your life, and the things you don’t like about yourself. Complaining, even to yourself, is a form of resisting reality and an unwillingness to change the things over which you have control. (By the way, constantly criticizing yourself falls into the category of complaining) Sometimes the only thing you can change about a situation is how you think about it but that alone can make a huge difference. I want to be clear about the difference between complaining and sharing concerns with someone. We all have problems and fears and talking about them with a friend can help us find ways to overcome them. I believe the old maxim “A problem shared is a problem halved” has a lot of truth to it. On the other hand, complaining is when you just keep talking about the same problems over and over but never actually do anything to change them.

Don’t explain. Do you have a constant need to justify everything you do? Do you have trouble giving a brief and simple explanation for your decisions? I used to be like that far too often and I think it stems from shaky self-esteem and confidence. It was important that everyone understood me and I thought if I explained my thoughts or actions well enough, they would agree with me. I wanted to be approved of and liked and I took it personally when someone didn’t agree with me. Of course, I still want to be liked and agreed with, I no longer need it – at least, not from everyone. Reality is that as long as you’re not breaking the law or hurting anyone, you don’t have to explain yourself. When you have the strength of your convictions and confidence in your ability to make good decisions, you will do whatever you think is right and won’t need to justify your actions. You’re able to accept that not everyone in your life will understand or agree with you and you’ll be comfortable with that.

Complaining not only ruins everybody else’s day, it ruins the complainers day, too. The more we complain, the more unhappy we get.    ~Dennis Prager

New toys for Christmas-2015

Liberty refuses to explain her actions!

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I might be mistaken

Great pair of shoesWe all make mistakes and I’m no exception. Now, as a mature woman, I can look back over the years and clearly see where I “went wrong” but, I also see that everything I did brought me to the place I am now, which is a darn good place if I do say so myself. The ramifications from some of the mistakes I made were minor surface ripples and others went deep and affected the course of my life but, getting older has given me the blessing of perspective and I can see how much I have learned and grown as a result of my mistakes.

When my son was younger his impulsive nature led him into many bad situations. In some ways, he was his own worst enemy because he often repeated the same dumb mistakes. I would tell him (after I finished lecturing him) that we are all mere humans and we make mistakes but, the worst mistake of all is to repeat the same ones over and over without learning anything from them (we all know that famous definition of insanity). Mistakes aren’t just difficult and painful experiences that we have to suffer through; they are opportunities to grow as individuals and learn valuable lessons. This isn’t about instant gratification; sometimes it takes us years to recognize what we learned from a particular mistake. Of course, sometimes the most important thing you learn from a mistake is simply that you don’t ever want to do that again!

I used to beat myself up over some of my bigger mistakes and, if you don’t love yourself, it is easy to fall into the old pattern of guilt, shame, and even anger. Sometimes I felt sorry for myself and tried to blame someone else for the choice I made (of my own free will!) – if not out loud, then certainly in my own head. I think a lot of mistakes occur as a result of not knowing yourself or lacking self-respect but – and here’s something to ponder – dealing intelligently with the mess you got yourself into actually shows you what you’re made of and builds self-respect. This is the silver lining of making a mistake – it helps to develop good judgment.

One of my biggest mistakes as a parent, which was an offshoot of my own guilt, was to rescue my son from the results of his poor choices. Children have to feel the consequences of their decisions and their behavior and when you rescue them you’re not doing them any favors. As difficult as it is to just stand back and watch them flounder around, learning how to deal with the results of a mistake actually builds character and encourages emotional maturity. When I finally overcame my feelings of guilt about my son’s “broken home” I also stopped feeling as if I had to save him from his mistakes. I’m sharing this example from my life to demonstrate how the mistakes you make because you don’t love and respect yourself can affect those you love.

Yes, it is true that even if you love and respect yourself you’ll make mistakes (you are still a flawed human being) but, they won’t be disastrous and they won’t be as frequent! They’ll be small and manageable and you’ll learn something from them without derailing yourself or hurting anyone. I’m amazed at how I always end up talking about self-love and respect, even if it is not my intent when I start writing – everything leads back to being true to yourself. One of those things I learned the hard way, through many mistakes, is that getting your emotional house in order has a profound effect on every aspect of your life – every single relationship you have, every endeavor you undertake, your enjoyment of life – even the mistakes you make and how you deal with them. Start by forgiving yourself for your mistakes and then think about all you have learned from them.

Words of wisdom from a man who made some whoppers but always picked himself up and “carried on”:

If we look back on our past life we shall see that one of its most usual experiences is that we have been helped by our mistakes …
~Winston Churchill


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August 2014

Good judgment



Greetings from my alter ego, Smartypants, who knows everything and gives the best advice, which, let’s face it, you are just stupid if you don’t follow.

Today’s topic is judging; as in forming a judgment. Recently I was having lunch with a friend and, during our conversation, I told her that I start out every morning with the intention of trying to be a better person and, of course, I usually fall short. I said that I “try not to judge anyone”. Later I realized that wasn’t really an accurate statement because, in fact, I judge people all the time. A more accurate statement would be that I judge people but try not to condemn them (obviously, there are behaviors we should all condemn – hopefully, I don’t need to list them here). A better way to describe my thought process would be to say that I make judgments about people and their behavior based on my life experiences, what I have learned, and what feels true to me but, I try to add kindness and compassion to my judgment. I try to judge people by their character and actions, not by their circumstance or appearance. There have been times when my judgment has told me “this is not a situation I want to be in” or “this is not a person I want in my life” and sometimes I ignored that. I honestly believe that my worst decisions were made when I ignored or second guessed what my judgment was telling me – usually because I thought I was being unfair. Being unfair to others was such a big deal to me that I didn’t recognize when I was being unfair to myself! Yes, as usual, everything leads me back to self-love and self-respect.

I think our ability to judge is one of our God-given gifts, actually one of our survival tools, but most of us need some experience and maturity before we can fully trust it. If you’re uncomfortable with the word “judgment” replace it with “assessment” and you’ll realize how essential it is to have the ability to intelligently assess situations and people. After all, in its most fundamental form, doesn’t your assessment protect you from danger? It took a long time but, I finally stopped second guessing my judgment when I understood that it is closely linked to my conscience and instinct. If I listen to the voice of my conscience and honor that feeling in my gut I know I’m well on the way to forming a judgment I can trust. Judgment can be looked at as the foundation of good decision-making so, if your judgment is based solely on the opinions and thoughts of others, your decisions won’t align with your own inner compass. I know because it has happened to me more than once. The good news is that, with some self-awareness and effort, you can correct your course.

I know some of you will disagree but, I don’t think judging makes you a bad person. The word discernment comes to mind. My judgment helps me decide who I will trust, who I will allow into my life, and which actions will best serve me but I know it is not infallible so, I rely upon my humanity to prevent me from misusing it. I don’t think of my ability to judge as a way to indict others or something that is carved in stone but merely a guide as I navigate through life.

Good judgment comes from experience. Sometimes experience comes from bad judgment. ~Rita Mae Brown

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I'll get back to you on that

I’ll get back to you on that

Flying Solo

Bon voyageI’ve been thinking a lot lately about turning points. I’m not talking about the gradual changes we all go through as we mature and have more life experiences; often without even noticing them. I’m talking about what some people call “aha! moments” that result in an immediate change in thought or action or both. Sometimes we didn’t have any intention of changing but events occur in our lives that force us to change.

One turning point for me was learning to do things alone. That might not sound like a big deal but it was for me and I’ve noticed that a lot of women find it difficult to go out and do things alone. I have a friend who even thinks that other people look at her as some kind of a “loser” if she goes for a walk alone.  I think most women believe that they will have a partner in their life or, at the very least, the company of friends or family will be available to them so it can be difficult when things don’t always go as expected.  I can relate to that because it is exactly what I believed. I can remember exactly when I had the aha! moment about going out and doing things alone. I never had to think about doing things alone until, at the age of 43, I moved to St. Augustine, Florida from New Jersey and didn’t know anyone in my new home. I wasn’t employed and it took me six months to find a position in my field so I didn’t even have a work place in which to meet people. I realized it could be quite awhile before I had a social life and I didn’t want to sit in my apartment everyday just because I felt awkward and self-conscious about going out alone.

I devised a plan to overcome my self-consciousness that involved taking small steps. I explored the beautiful old city of St. Augustine by visiting historic sites and museums. I had never eaten alone in a restaurant and, for a long time, that was the most difficult activity for me. I learned tricks that made it less intimidating – lunch rather than dinner, choosing a casual outdoor restaurant and taking a book so I could read if I felt uncomfortable. I went to the beach alone for the first time in my life. If there was a movie playing that I wanted to see, I went to a matinee rather than an evening show when I knew there would be people on dates or with friends. Very gradually I became more comfortable doing things alone and I got over the feeling that people were looking at me and perhaps even – oh no! – thinking there was something wrong with me!

I have always been interested in travel and didn’t have the money for most of my adult life to explore that interest but, when I finally did have the funds to at least enjoy some modest vacations, I found myself without a travel companion. My effort, beginning several years earlier when I moved to Florida, to overcome my self-consciousness about doing things alone paid off. I remember asking myself “What if you never again have someone to travel with? Does that mean you’ll never go anywhere?” I decided to dip my toe into the water of solo travel by going to a place I had been wanting to visit on the west coast of Florida. It was just a 3 1/2 hour drive from my home and I only went for 3 nights but, it felt like a major accomplishment to me. I remember feeling nervous at first but then gradually realizing that I was actually enjoying myself. In the following years I made solo, or partially solo, trips to Arizona, California, and the North Carolina mountains. I have taken vacations with other people and, as much as I enjoyed their company, I have learned that there are many benefits to traveling solo and, in fact, now I often prefer it. (BTW, business trips don’t count!)

I hope to someday travel all over the country in an RV and I’ll probably be doing that with only my dog, Liberty, for company. At one time I wouldn’t even have considered that but I have overcome most of my self-consciousness about doing things alone. I was inspired by the travel blog of one 63 year old woman and discovered that there are lots of independent women like her who are traveling around the country in their RV’s. There are also many women who travel solo internationally. Many are women in their 50’s, 60’s and 70’s, who, when confronted with the unanticipated life changing events of divorce or widowhood, experienced the same turning point I did – they realized that just because they didn’t have a companion didn’t mean they couldn’t enjoy life!

Obviously, I’m not writing this for strong, confident and independent women who never had a problem flying solo! I’m writing this as encouragement for women like me who, as younger women, always felt self-conscious about doing things alone or believed there was something “wrong” with them if they didn’t have a companion. If you’re denying yourself the pleasure of a vacation you’ve always wanted to take or even a movie, concert, or meal in a favorite restaurant just because you have no one to accompany you, it is you I am encouraging to venture forth. You don’t have to jump right into a tour of Europe or a solo cross country road trip – take small steps like I did and each step will add to your confidence. If you need more encouragement, there are many resources on the Internet for women traveling solo. One of the first things I read (many years ago) is a book called “Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips” by Lea Lane and I recently discovered “RVing Solo Across America .. Without a Cat, Dog, Man or Gun” by Lois Requist, Lura Dymond, Linda Foley, and Carrie Requist. There is even an online RVing Club for Women, and some great travel sites for women.

I guarantee that you will be pleasantly surprised and will discover things about yourself that you never knew.
“Not all who wander are lost”
from The Lord of the Rings

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Liberty 5-2-14

Other People’s Lives

A Star to DiscoverRemember that old saying “the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence”? I guess this is a human failing that has been with us for a long time because even one of the Ten Commandments addresses “coveting”. Have you compared yourself to other people and thought they were more successful than you, had more money, more advantages, happier relationships, were better looking, better parents, smarter, more creative, more confident, etc., etc.? Did you “covet” what they had? I think envying what other people have (or your perception of what they have) leads to thoughts and behavior that can only diminish your self-respect. I admit that I’ve wasted a fair amount of time and energy on that type of counterproductive thinking. For a long time I didn’t understand that success has to be defined by each individual – no one has the right to tell you what success means. It’s also important to understand the distinction between admiring someone and finding inspiration from the way they live their life and comparing yourself unfavorably or envying them. I believe that until you make peace with who you are you’ll never be content with what you have.

Here’s a news flash – everyone has their insecurities, doubts, and fears. Everyone has burdens they have to carry and, as an outside observer of their life, you can’t know what they are. No life is “perfect” or free of sorrow and pain – no matter how great it may look from the outside. A divorced friend of mine once told me that she always felt so lonely and like a failure when she observed all the “happy” couples and families in church. I told her that she should not compare her life to what she perceives other lives to be because that is all it is – her perception. Anyone who had observed her in church with her husband before they were divorced would have had no idea how unhappy she was. There is no way to know what is going on in someone else’s marriage based on outward appearances. As a divorced person, I was often envious of friends who seemed to be happily married but, many of those friends are now divorced, proving again that it is a mistake to compare your life to anyone else’s life.

I once had a conversation with a happily married friend who told me that she was envious of me because I was single and could do whatever I wanted without discussing it or compromising with anyone. She said she loved her husband but was envious of my “personal freedom”. That eye-opening conversation occurred when I was in my mid 40’s, a period of great personal growth for me, and the timing was perfect because it helped me to see that each of us truly has a unique life and our own path to travel. It is our responsibility to use the opportunities and abilities to create a happy, meaningful life. Can we have every single thing we desire? Probably not. If we get to the other side of the fence is the grass actually greener? Probably not. An important part of my own journey has been learning to be grateful for the many gifts I have been given and the life I have created. Adopting an attitude of gratitude allowed me to feel genuine happiness for someone else’s success without envying them or comparing myself to them.

I recently read something that was written by a hospice nurse who noted that the most common regret she heard from patients with a short time to live was that they wished they had the courage to live a life that was true to themselves, not the life others expected of them. It does take courage to live a life in which you are true to yourself but a good place to start is to stop comparing yourself to others. Instead, compare yourself to the person you were yesterday and try to be closer to your true self today. Remember, personal responsibility is implicit in our God-given right to the “pursuit of happiness”. Did you think that meant you have the right to be happy? Sorry to break it to you but, it simply means we have the right and the free will to pursue happiness – and don’t delude yourself into thinking that having equal rights means everyone is entitled to the same level of happiness or success. Equal rights are merely a starting point, not a guarantee of outcomes. Our own choices, actions, and thoughts, along with how we play the hand we’re dealt, will determine our happiness.

Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony. ~Mahatma Gandhi


Relaxing dayHave you thought much about your definition of success? I didn’t get to this for a long, long time. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized the definition of success is individual and has to be developed from your own experiences and desires. Prior to that I accepted the typical definition of success without thinking  – education, good job, family, home, and financial security, but it still took me a long time to achieve that. I dropped out of college after 2 years and didn’t go back to complete my degree until 20 years later, I didn’t have a “good” job until I was well into my 30’s, I got divorced, I didn’t own a house until I was almost 40, and I didn’t have any sense of financial security until I was in my 50’s so, for most of my adult life, I didn’t meet the standard definition of success. In fact, I often felt like a failure because I compared myself to other people I knew and thought they were better than me. I finally learned that it is a big mistake to compare yourself to others because things can look good from the outside but none of us really knows what is going on inside someone else’s life. I’ll never forget the first time that really hit home with me. I was friendly with a couple whose marriage I had always admired and envied and then the wife confided that she was having an affair – and it wasn’t the first time. Another lesson about comparing myself to someone occurred when a man I knew professionally for years was charged with embezzling funds from the non-profit for which he was the CEO. He was a few years younger than me and I had envied his quick rise to “success”.

No one else can tell you if you are a success or not. Even if you followed the prescribed path to success and you’re making a lot of money and getting awards and accolades, you can still feel empty inside. Why is that? I think it goes back to self-love and following your inner compass. You have to figure out what has meaning to you and what makes you happy, regardless of what anyone else says. Recently it has occurred to me that the definition of success, like so many things, can change over the course of a lifetime. My decision to retire at 60 and take a decreased retirement income may not be considered a smart move by some people but it gave me personal freedom, which had become part of my new definition of success.

Surprisingly, one of the biggest challenges in reinventing my life has been redefining success. When I retired I had no plan and knew only three things for sure. I knew I wanted to draw and write. I knew I wanted to keep my mind open to opportunities and experiences that would be meaningful to me and through which I could learn new things about myself and the world in which I live. I knew I wanted to take more time to just enjoy simple things like watching birds from my porch, walking with my dog, having the time to try new recipes, being able to lie on the sofa all afternoon reading a good book without the pressure of a schedule. It was difficult for me to stop thinking in terms of accomplishments and goals. I realized recently that even after 2 years I was still operating under some of the old standards of success by pressuring myself to be “productive” and feeling guilty if I didn’t do “enough” in a day. By whose definition?

My new definition of success is much smaller in scope than my old one – now it is defined only by the quality of each day. When I go to bed at night can I look back on the day and feel that I enjoyed whatever I did? Did I treat everyone with kindness (including myself)? Did I remember to be grateful for all the good in my life? If I can answer yes to those questions then I have had a successful day. I think this new definition will serve me well for the rest of my life. The truth is, no matter what phase of life you are in, you never have to meet any definition of success other than your own. If you have worked hard to achieve what you thought was success but you don’t feel happy and fulfilled, don’t lose heart because it’s never too late to reevaluate and make some changes. Maybe asking yourself my questions every night would be a good place to start.

I enjoyed everything I did today. I was kind to everyone I met ... um, what was the other question?

I enjoyed everything I did today. I was kind to everyone I met … um, what was the other question?

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Parenting 101

A drawing I did from an old photo of me and my son

A drawing I did from an old photo of me and my son

Remaining true to my contrary nature I’m going to start right off by saying that, despite the title of this blog, I can’t tell you much about parenting and I don’t think I was very good at it. Also being true to a common theme on this blog, I have to say that my lack of success as a parent, as in so many things, stems from a lack of self-love (yes, everything leads me back there). When I got divorced I didn’t really know myself and, unfortunately, that carried over into being a single parent. A lot of the good things I learned about parenting from my own upbringing went out the window when I was confronted with the reality of raising a child alone. Nothing in my knowledge or previous experience had prepared me for that kind of nail-biting stress, worry, fear, and loneliness. Being a single parent turned out to be the hardest job I ever had and, to be honest, I know now that my own lack of self-love made it even harder.

 Looking back I can clearly see where I went wrong; I became infected by a very, very bad five letter word – GUILT. I felt guilty when my son was hurt by his father’s absence or disappointed by a canceled visit and that guilt began to affect the way I parented him. He was smart and strong-willed and he learned at an early age how to manipulate me by using my guilt but my own insecurities and lack of self-love made it easy for him. I understand now that I was trying to overcompensate for the fact that he didn’t have his father in his life – as if all the blame for the divorce was mine – and I was inconsistent with discipline and probably gave him conflicting messages because I felt conflicted about so many things. Through his teen years and 20’s he had what I can only describe as a love-hate relationship with me. If I said yes and did whatever he wanted he loved me, if I said no he hated me. I usually did whatever he asked, even when I knew it was a mistake, because I wanted him to love me. (Hint – this doesn’t work any better with your kids than it does in relationships with anybody else!) Ultimately, all I did was allow him to extend his adolescence. Don’t worry, it’s a happy ending – he grew up to be a very nice man, in spite of everything.

 My son is 36 now and things have been calmer between us for the past few years; partly because he finally started to grow up and partly because I did. I started loving myself and taking care of my own needs. I learned how to say no to him and mean it. I forgave myself for whatever mistakes I had made as a parent and, most importantly, I stopped trying to “win” his love. I know he loves me but he doesn’t communicate very often in between our infrequent visits and doesn’t share much about his life with me. When I drop him off at the airport I never know how long it will be before I hear from him again. (Maybe he actually works for the CIA.)

Anyway, for those of you who are still parenting a dependent child – or even an adult child who still acts like one – my best and only piece of parenting advice is to love yourself. If you don’t show yourself love and respect then you can’t expect it from anyone else, including your children. One of my mother’s favorite sayings is “start out as you intend to go on” and it is beautiful in it’s simplicity because it works no matter what new situation you are entering – marriage, job, school, friendship, parenthood – it is simply telling you that if you’re true to yourself from the start, you won’t go wrong. Here’s what I learned about guilt – if you remain true to yourself in all situations, you will never have reason to feel guilty.

I like to be babied ... but this is ridiculous! (Stella has " issues" sometimes :-) )

I like to be babied … but this is ridiculous!
(Stella has ” issues” sometimes 🙂 )

Speaking of parenting, have you read my book “Velvet Ropes: The Ties That Bind Mothers and Daughters” ? 20 true personal mother/daughter stories – a great gift!

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