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

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Changing your seasonal attitudes

 

Comfort and joy

It’s that time of year again! Is this a happy time for you or do you feel stressed emotionally, physically and financially? Do you have the true meaning of Christmas in your heart and spirit or do you feel like you’re just going through the motions and doing what is expected of you? I enjoy the trilogy of holidays now – Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year – in a way I didn’t for much of my adult life but it did take a long time to get here. As with so many things in my life, I spent a lot of time on the wrong path. I lost my belief in the true meaning of Christmas in my early teens and didn’t start to get it back for many, many years. For a long time I even doubted the existence of God so Christmas meant nothing to me but pressure to spend money I didn’t have, and pressure to “make the season bright” for my son and my parents. As a cash-strapped single parent I dreaded the annual letter to Santa Claus! I felt like I had to fulfill his every wish (the guilt monster again!) even though I knew I’d be paying my credit card off for the first three months of the New Year. On top of that it seemed like every holiday season was fraught with relationship troubles and, since I especially wanted to have a “special someone” in my life at the holidays, I was usually depressed and feeling sorry for myself when things weren’t going well in that department. The relentless commercialism of the season disgusted me and certainly didn’t help my mood. It seemed like every year I ended up with back spasms or bronchitis or both.

When I moved to Florida 20 years ago (two days after Christmas) I decided to change the way I observed the holidays. I wanted to have a completely different perspective. I started by drastically reducing my gift giving and card sending and, believe me; this didn’t go over well with everyone in my life. I didn’t care; I was on a quest to find authentic meaning. Since I didn’t know anyone in Florida, relocating was an opportunity to remove myself from the expectations of others and do things differently. That first New Year’s Eve I offered to staff the hotline office at the domestic violence shelter at which I had begun volunteering. I had no plans and, having worked in a shelter, I knew the regular staff would appreciate having the holiday off. I could have stayed home alone and felt sorry for myself because the man I was involved with was out of state, which is something I would have done before but, I decided to make myself useful and I was glad I did. As a result of spending less on gifts and cards I was able to start my own tradition of giving an annual donation to a few charities I like. When my parents moved to Florida a few years later I encouraged them to keep the gift giving to a minimum and I began another tradition of putting tickets to a show in their Christmas cards – the gift of time and shared memories instead of “stuff” they didn’t need. These simple changes in my perspective and habits paved the way to a better appreciation of the holidays – no more stress, no more pressure, no more unrealistic expectations.  

If you love the holidays and are perfectly happy with the way you observe them – carry on! On the other hand, if you are struggling to keep your spirits up I hope you’ll take some time to find authenticity and meaning. If you have children, do everything in your power to keep them from getting sucked into the empty void of materialism and greed that has enveloped Christmas. Teach them that it truly is more blessed to give than to receive. If you don’t have a lot of money to spend on gifts, just remember that Christmas is not about the number of gifts you give or the cost of them. It’s not about the lights, the decorations, the music, or the food. It’s not only about romantic love; it is about every kind of love. To be sure, those are all enjoyable trappings but it’s important to remember that they are actually symbolic rituals to remind us of deeper meanings. The gifts we give each other are symbolic of the gifts the three wise men brought to honor baby Jesus. The lights signify the return of “the light” to a darkened world. The evergreen trees and branches that we bring into our homes (even the artificial ones!) represent eternal life. Many of the decorations we hang on the tree are symbolic or representative of things that have importance in our lives. The food is a celebration of the abundant blessings provided to us from the harvest. The celebration of the birth of Jesus is a reminder of God’s gift to us of love, forgiveness, redemption, and new life. I didn’t think about the miracle and mystery of Christmas for a long time and, when it started coming back to me, I felt sadness for all the years I had been oblivious but, also joy for the return of belief. Even though I don’t fully comprehend the meaning of Christ, I recently began studying his life again and I have a new appreciation for the wisdom, simplicity, and truth of his teachings.

I’m glad I’m not the same person I once was and that I can be truly thankful on Thanksgiving for all the blessings in my life, feel the spiritual promise of Christmas, and look forward to the New Year with hope and optimism. This won’t be a surprise to anyone who regularly reads this blog but, I believe it all starts with self-love.

 Christmas Gift Suggestions

To your enemy; forgiveness.

To an opponent; tolerance.

To a friend; your heart.

To a customer; service.

To all; charity.

To every child; a good example.

To yourself; respect.  

~Oren Arnold

So ... who's the little fat guy in the red suit?

So … who’s the little fat guy in the red suit?

See more of my artwork at Lynda Linke Productions

Hidden Inspiration

ImaginationWow, three posts in a week … I must be doing a lot of thinking lately. I believe it’s important to always be on the lookout for inspiration, or at least stay open to it, because feeling inspired gives life more meaning and helps us stay in touch with our higher self. When you feel inspired your creativity flows freely, in fact, one of the definitions of inspiration is “the stimulation to do creative work” but, don’t think creativity is only for artistic people; it is an important element in everything we do. Creative thinking is needed to achieve any goal and to be a good parent, spouse, friend, employee or employee. Sometimes I have found inspiration in the most surprising and unlikely places, which is why I encourage you to keep an open mind because you never know where you may find it.

Last summer, in advance of the upcoming presidential election, I decided to start paying more attention to politics and current events and I began a self-directed education. For my entire adult life, I was apolitical and I still have no party affiliation – I have voted both Democrat and Republican. It doesn’t matter what your political views are. The important thing is that you try to be open to any opportunity for inspiration, no matter where it comes from. I started my education by listening to the news everyday from both a liberal and a conservative perspective – PBS Nightly Newshour and two programs on Glenn Beck’s internet radio and TV network, The Blaze. I expected to get a lot of new information from Glenn Beck but, I didn’t expect to be inspired by him and yet that is what happened. I bet even you “liberals” out there could be inspired by him!

Beck didn’t attend college, except for one class at Yale. He is a self-educated man who overcame a difficult childhood and addictions to alcohol and cocaine to become a self-made success. He is a creative thinker and a voracious reader on a wide range of topics. He is passionate about history and, since he believes that too much important history is being forgotten or revised, one of his many goals is to preserve historical artifacts and protect authentic history. The truth is of absolute importance to him and I respect that, especially from a man who is building a multi media company. Some of the documentaries his company has produced are among the best I have ever seen. His constant admonition of “Don’t take my word for it – do your own homework!” has often inspired me to do just that. He reawakened my interest in history and introduced me to many good books but he also inspired me on a more personal level because of his willingness to be honest about his struggles and to share how he continually works to overcome them. I recently read “The 7: Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life”, which he co-wrote with psychiatrist, Dr. Keith Ablow, and was once again moved and inspired by Beck’s honesty.

One of my favorite sayings is “When the student is ready, the teacher appears” and what I’m trying to get across here is that you shouldn’t let your prejudices or preconceived notions about someone stop you from hearing their message. You might actually be inspired!

Say what?

Say what?

 

See more of my art and books at www.lyndalinke.com

Christmas is coming … check out my greeting cards!

I’m not here to make you happy

Let your spirit danceThe only happiness for which I am responsible is my own. Does that sound selfish to you? That’s a knee-jerk reaction – stop and really think about it. It doesn’t mean I don’t care about other people or that I don’t try to help someone who is suffering in some way. It simply means that I know I can add happiness to someone’s life with acts of kindness and love, I can share happy occasions, I can show by example what happiness looks like but, I can’t make someone happy. The true revelation for me came when I understood what an important responsibility finding my own happiness was, not only to me but, to everyone around me. We are all walking the path of our lives alone and, even though we have companions along the way who can add happiness to our journey; it is up to each of us to figure out what is truly meaningful. When you are happy with yourself you can be a beacon of light to others who are searching for their own happiness. It is a gift you can share everyday.

Kindness, compassion, and charity are ways to add and share happiness. It feels great to make someone smile or lighten their burden but you shouldn’t try to solve their problems or “rescue” them from their life – that’s your ego at work, not your humanity. I learned a lot about this from working in social services for 22 years (plus several years of volunteer work) – when I first started I was trying to “fix” people by solving their problems for them and I became frustrated when they came back with the same problems again and again. Eventually, I came to understand that all I could do was to provide the tools and let them do the work themselves – or not. I accepted that everyone is on their own journey and has to learn their own life lessons. The outcome is up to them and I learned that, no matter what you do, some people just don’t want to take responsibility for their own lives. I also learned that trying to control another person is always more about my needs than theirs.

On the topic of making someone happy – when did parents start thinking they have to make their kids happy at all cost? Recently I shared a YouTube video on Facebook of comedian Louis C.K. His humor can be quite profane but, at times, it is also profound. In this particular video he is asked how he handles it when his kids ask for a Smart Phone and he answers that he just tells them they can’t have one. What a novel idea! He makes two statements that I really like – “I’m not here to make them happy” and “I’m not raising children, I’m raising the grown ups they’re going to be”. The reality is that it is not your job to fulfill every wish your child has. You’ll serve them better if you help them to understand that they won’t always get everything they want in life and teach them to control their natural instinct to be selfish and greedy. It is your job to teach them how to become an independent adult; not how to prolong their childhood indefinitely. Part of your job is to give them the tools they need to find their own happiness but, that will be impossible if you haven’t figured it out for yourself. If you’re still parenting I advise you to clean up your energy field and discover your happiness ASAP! It really is true that children learn best by example.

If you actually believe that you can make someone happy you probably should look in the mirror and figure out what need of your own you’re trying to fulfill. Are you acting out of guilt? Are you avoiding your own problems by trying to control another person’s life? Are you trying to force a relationship to be more than it ever could be? I’ve done all those things in the past but, after I learned how to be happy with myself, I never did them again.  No one can do that for you.

Simple but, not easy!

Stella adds to my happiness!

Stella adds to my happiness!

Christmas is coming soon!! – check out my latest Christmas greeting cards by visiting my online shop at Zazzle

Success?

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?

See more of my artwork and books at Lynda Linke Productions

 

The Meaning of Life

To thine own self be trueHa, ha! Made ya look! I bet you thought I was going to tell you the meaning of life – the eternally elusive answer to that question we have all asked ourselves at one time or another. Sorry, I can’t tell you because I have no idea what the correct answer is for you. I’ve had enough trouble figuring out what the answer is for me! I finally decided that, religious and philosophical debates aside, the answer for me is truth. I wrote about my basic truths in a simple little book titled Try Lots of Hats. Simple but not easy.

So, what is truth? Keats said “‘Beauty is truth, truth beauty,’ – that is all ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.” Truth is beautiful, painful, frightening, inspiring, uplifting, cruel, enlightening and freeing. The truth really will set you free but sometimes it hurts. Truth is that thing you don’t want to face because it is easier to continue fooling yourself. That reminds me of something else I believe is true – there is no freedom without personal responsibility. Many people believe that there is only one truth but I don’t agree. I think truth is any conviction or belief that feels real – in other words if you feel in your heart and mind, without doubt, that something is true then it is … for you … at that moment in time. The only indisputable, unchangeable truths are found in Natural Law.

Personal truths are a whole different story – there are things I passionately believed to be true 20, 30, 40 years ago that are no longer valid. When I was in my 20’s the meaning of a successful life was love, marriage, and creating a family. That was my truth. I was not an ambitious, career-oriented person. I just wanted to be happy and my idea of happiness at that point was to have a loving husband, a few kids, a nice house and a comfortable lifestyle. My marriage vows were my truth when I was 21 but, by the time I was 30, they were no longer true. By my 30’s I was divorced and the meaning of life became finding a career path and furthering my education so that I could support myself and my child independently. Throughout my 30’s and 40’s I was trying to find true love but that eluded me because I didn’t understand that I had to love and respect myself first. I didn’t realize it at the time but, I was searching for someone to fulfill my emotional needs and make me feel good about myself. During my 50’s I achieved success in my career but, more importantly, I finally learned to love myself. Interestingly, the more loving and accepting I felt toward myself the easier it was to recognize the important truths in my life. When you’re not being honest about who you really are it is easy to be fooled into believing something is true – because you are drifting around without an anchor, searching for meaning, and thinking someone or something can give it to you.

Now I’m in my ‘60’s and, so far, it is my best decade since childhood. Just like everyone else, I’ve been through some challenging and painful experiences in my life but, thankfully, they helped me figure out what my truth is. Do you know what your core truths are? Do you live by guiding principles that you believe in and not just something you accepted from someone else? Wherever you are in your life, regardless of anything you have done in the past, it’s never too late to figure out what your truth is and start aligning your thoughts and actions to it.

At the beach August 2013 002

See more of my art and books at www.lyndalinke.com