Alone making stationery gave me a lot of time to think last night and for some reason I had a good long laugh at the many things I’ve tried and failed over the years. There are some minor things, some major. But the common thread is that I’ve failed them all. This is the point where I should probably start talking about trying again and dusting yourself off to get back in the game. The truth is, though, I believe there are some things that you just chalk up to a failure and let it be. I’m comfortable with the fact that I’m never going to be a roller skater. I tried for nearly a year. Every afternoon I laced the fancy skates my grandmother bought me, get my training poles and clumsily rolled up and down my sidewalk. When I tried to bring my “skills” to an actual rink, I fell so hard and so embarrassingly that I crawled to the changing area, put my sneakers back on and cheered on my friends from the sidelines. I was done. I never put those skates on again. Do I feel like a quitter, a failure? No. I failed at learning to be a good skater. I don’t want to skate. My grandmother thought I should learn to skate. I’m cool with being a non-skater. I’m also cool with knowing I tried. I tried and I failed. The whole mantra of keep trying at everything gives a false sense that we should be good at everything or that we should keep trying at everything. We are defined equally by our successes and our failures. Sometimes the failure is just a roadblock saying, “this is not the right path for you.” Our life’s roadmap is isn’t at all straight. We have to take twists and turns and have adventures. Failures just mean don’t go that way. Try another path. Pick your battles. Carve your own road. I’ll never be a roller skating champion. I failed. Oh well. At least I have a really funny memory of that time I tried.
At this time of year, especially, we are all bombarded with messages to commit “random acts of kindness.” The more I think of it, the more I don’t like that message. Random acts of kindness as a mantra makes it appear that behaving and acting kindly isn’t the norm. That somehow, we must go out of our way for this random act. I ask you today to focus on kindness as an intention. If I do something nice, I intended to do it and I live my life seeking ways to be nice. Nice is the norm. It’s not random. The same extends to kindness. It should be the norm, not random acts at special times of the year. We cannot build a society that respects all people and includes all people if we don’t live and act with the intention to respect and to include. We get there by acting with a purpose. Practice today. Tell yourself that you intend to be kind and the world will give you ample opportunities to prove it. We build a kind world with intention. It is not haphazard. It is not random. The world we have now is built on the intentions of the past and if we want a new one, a better one, then we must set that intention and work towards it everyday. Seeing a shooting star is random. Being kind to your fellow man should be as predictable as the sunrise.
In my home, I have outlawed the word ‘cheap.’ I cannot stand it. The word, in and of itself, isn’t offensive to me but what it stands for is. I believe we have gotten to a place in our culture where we’ve fallen in love with cheap. If something is cheap, why not buy 50 flimsily constructed ones than one quality piece? Our landfills are overflowing with cheap. We don’t value cheap. And if we don’t value our things, eventually everything becomes disposable, including people. I long for the days when, if someone wanted a quality item, they had to save for it and when they finally bought it, they took care of it. When it broke, they fixed it. There’s nothing wrong with inexpensive. Bargain shopping or finding the best price available for an item you want is smart and it’s how a free market is supposed to work. But to worship items simply because they are cheap creates a culture where nothing is permanent and nothing is valued. Nobody is going to cherish their great-grandmother’s Ikea Lack table. Don’t get me wrong, I love Ikea but their items aren’t necessarily designed to become family heirlooms. Let me be abundantly clear, I’m not saying that things that cost more are always better. I’m saying that we have to begin to recognize again what is a quality made item versus one that was slapped together with poor materials and poor construction. Widely-known brands don’t always mean quality either. We must learn to discern. Cheap is killing us. We have so much stuff. Tons of stuff that we think will make us feel better, appear richer, or carry favor, when all it does is weigh us down. Focus on quality. Save a little longer and spend a little extra to get the one good piece that you love and that will last a lifetime rather than buying multiple cheap ones. Focus on bringing quality items in your home. It may mean you have fewer things. But wouldn’t you rather have one amazingly crafted piece than 100 cheap ones cluttering your space? Surround yourself with quality and your life will rise to the occasion.
How many times have you known inside yourself that you should make a certain decision or leave a situation or leave someone alone and you ignored it only for it to get larger and more difficult to maneuver? Me too. There are things in my life that I choose to ignore despite knowing better. But what I know to be true is that our instincts speak to us. And they keep talking until we listen. Oprah says that “God always hits you with a few pebbles before he knocks you over the head with a brick!” My friend Christy and have used that line for years because when we feel the pebbles of intuition, we often say to each other that we’re going to fix them because we’re afraid of what the brick might be. And it can be anything you avoid that gets bigger. If you hear water dripping but never investigate it even though you have a feeling something is wrong, then you feel knocked over the head with a brick when the bill for the water damage comes. Our intuition is a beautiful spiritual muscle and like physical muscles, the more you use them, the stronger they become. Intuition becomes stronger when you trust it, trust yourself, and act accordingly. Pay attention to the pebbles so you can avoid the path of the bricks.
Yesterday while playing with blocks with my two year old niece, I had a chat with her that she’ll never remember but I hope somewhere inside of her, it’s stored for later. Every time we’d stack the blocks, she’d say, “We built a castle!” Then I’d respond, “That’s right! Build your own castle!” As I looked at this gorgeous child, I just had to tell her that she doesn’t have to ever wait for her prince to come to start living her life. No prince has to save her. She can save herself. If she wants a castle, she can build it herself. She has the right and the talent and the intellect to create the life she wants and then, if she so chooses, she can find a suitable prince to be her partner in life. So many women I know have the “Someday my prince will come” mentality. They believe that life will not truly begin until a glass slipper is placed on their foot and they are whisked away to happily ever after. That is a fallacy. Live your life. Be who you are. Develop your own sensibilities, culture, tastes. Become an interesting person! If you do nothing but wait on the prince, what will he find when he arrives? What do you bring to the table? Save yourself. Buy your own glass slipper if that’s the kind of shoe you like. Send yourself flowers. Treat yourself the way you want to be treated by your partner. Enjoy your living. Build your own castle. Then, when you choose to become someone’s princess, you come as a whole woman needing a whole man, not as a little girl waiting for someone to turn on the light switch of her life.
We all know someone who, when faced with a major obstacle or a minor inconvenience, will complain with equal vigor and intensity. It seems as though no accommodation will suffice. Nothing fixes the problem. They are addicted to complaining. Oh and then somehow, some way, when nothing gets accomplished, it’s everyone’s fault but theirs. They have not realized that complaining is not a strategy. I admitted weeks ago that when things go south, I need 15 minutes to freak out and then get to work. That’s how I operate: get all the negative feelings out first and then just fix it. Chronic complainers never get to fixing because they get stuck in the drama of the perceived transgression. Complaining is not a plan, not a course of action, not a strategy. Complaining can bring awareness to an injustice, but it also needs to communicate a solution. When I was in college, I worked in the campus dining hall and part of my job was to read comment cards to relay to the cooking staff. I cannot tell you how many times I had to explain that “this food sucks” was not constructive. The complaint did nothing and was a waste of my time and the author’s. Instead had she written, “the sauce is too salty,” I could have solved this problem. Complaints are nothing if they aren’t accompanied by a roadmap to the solution. Complaining that your city’s streets are horrible does nothing. A list of specific potholes in your neighborhood accompanied by a petition of homeowners will get noticed. So while complaining might feel good in the moment because you’re letting off steam, long-term chronic complaining just makes you a bitter person. You can no longer see the good in the world because nothing is ever perfect enough. Complaining is not a strategy.
Nearly everyday, I make a cup of coffee and write a thought of the day post seeking to reach out to others (and I’m so happy many of you love them). Most days, however, they’re also a pep talk to myself. Over the years, my life has become consumed with stationery and running a business. It seems I’ve forgotten what taking a break means sometimes. Yesterday, I was invited to Thanksgiving dinner by a family whom I adore but I seriously contemplated not going because I figured I could get in a few hours of work. Then, I decided to follow my own advice. I didn’t want to be a hypocrite. I didn’t want to be the person writing everyday that we should seek connections and celebrate our friends and enjoy life, if I didn’t do it myself. So I went. And I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I laughed and shared stories and played with the kids and it was wonderful. And I wouldn’t change it. Work will be there. Yes it’s scary to work at building a business and a brand alone. But it’s even scarier to think I’ve turned into the person who would turn down the opportunity to be with loved ones in order to fold an envelope by myself. So, I thank you all. Thank you for welcoming these posts into your day and thank you for giving me the encouragement to follow my own advice.
On Monday, my “Respect your Elders” post generated a lot of wonderful conversation, most about the deterioration of basic manners in our society, but one lone voice also said, “but we can’t discount the wisdom of the young” and I agreed. So here we are. Don’t discount the wisdom of the young. Becoming an adult is a process I’ve fully embraced and I do believe that I have gained wisdom over the years. I know though, that the lens through which I view the world has been bent and molded by my experiences. Sometimes as adults, we forget that our view isn’t as clear as we think it is. We’ve got wonky lenses. And that fact is why we must cultivate young people who aren’t afraid to use their voices to tell us when they see what’s wrong or misguided. They aren’t jaded and world weary. Their lens isn’t bent yet. They believe in the future we’ve told them is possible. Change does not trickle down. Change bubbles up with young people who, with each succeeding generation, move us one notch further to creating a perfect union. Young people are not stupid. They see society as it is, not as we tell them it is and sometimes that fact is sobering and sometimes it’s empowering. But it’s always beautiful. Movements begun by young people that were reviled in their time are now looked upon with reverence. We’ve got to step aside and let the young people lead sometimes. They’ve got to use their brand new lens to make us all see a little more clearly.
When I was a child, there were many protocols of interacting with adults, the very basic of which was to never address them by just their first name, always Miss So&So or Mr. Whomever outside the family or Aunt Martha or Uncle John within. When answering a question, the reply had to be punctuated with m’am or sir. A big rule in my house was that children did not join in conversations when adults were speaking unless directly spoken to. It was clear in my home that adults and children were not equals. Now, as an adult, I’m flabbergasted at children who are never taught to respect their elders which directly results in their having no respect for authority. I may be old-fashioned but I’m fine with that. I believe we must teach kids how to speak and act respectfully to adults and amongst their peers. It’s easy to disrespect your teacher when you call her Pam instead of Ms. Smith. Pam is a friend. Ms. Smith is an authority-figure. We’re all so youth obsessed that we’ve forgotten that it’s pretty cool being an adult too. Our job is to guide and to impart wisdom and to protect. It is not to compete with the young for being young. I don’t believe in silencing children. It is imperative to encourage them to develop their own voice and become confident in speaking their truth. However, we cannot teach children to treat adults as their equals and then act surprised when they don’t respect authority.
My mother is on the bereavement committee at church so anytime someone passes away, there’s a phone call and a long discussion about the person’s life and arrangements and protocols of Catholic burials and lots of “I’m sorry for your loss.” When one of these conversations is going on, I find myself wondering if the deceased lived their dreams. Did they follow their passion and see it through or is this another unrealized dream littering the graveyard? Give life to your dreams. It’s been said that there’s nothing sadder than wasted potential. Don’t waste yours. What I learned in creating Write Robinson is that I had a right to live my dreams just as much as the next person. And so do you. We all have the right to at least try. If it doesn’t work out, you can choose to leave it alone or learn from why it didn’t work and try again. At least you did something. And who cares if it doesn’t work? It’s okay. It’s all good. Worst case scenario is that for the rest of your life, you’ll have a story to tell about that time you threw caution to the wind and dared to be awesome. Holding your dreams inside doesn’t serve you or the world. When I go, I want the world to know I gave my dreams my best shot. Bring none of them unattempted to the grave because it is only then will we truly rest in peace.