#46 – About Luck and Personal Power

My question for today is #46:  Do you think you are lucky?  How does that affect the choices you make in life.

If I wanted to just answer this without any waffle-waffling, I’d say yes.  But really, I don’t believe in luck.  Here’s the definition of luck, according to Dictionary.com:

1.       the force that seems to operate for good or ill in a person’s life, as in shaping circumstances, events, or opportunities: With my luck I’ll probably get pneumonia.

2.       good fortune; advantage or success, considered as the result of chance: He had no luck finding work.

3.       a combination of circumstances, events, etc., operating by chance to bring good or ill to a person: She’s had nothing but bad luck all year.

4.       some object on which good fortune is supposed to depend: This rabbit’s foot is my luck.

All of these definitions appear to place the power and control for what happens in your life, outside of you, as though things just happen to you with no input from you at all.  But let’s look at each of the examples given and see just how much luck was involved in each of them.

Example 1, ‘with my luck I’ll probably get pneumonia’.  With the Law of Attraction at work and that gloomy prediction you probably will.  It’s called self-fulfilling prophecy.  Example 2, ‘he had no luck finding work’.  The fact that he had a poor resume, lousy interview skills, and applied for jobs that he wasn’t qualified for had nothing to do with it, I guess.  Example 3, ‘she’s had nothing but bad luck all year’.  Really?  Nothing but bad luck?  Did she keep a record?  I bet if she did she’d find that lots of good stuff happened but expecting and only recognizing the bad will definitely make it seem like it’s all bad.  What you focus on increases; focus on the negative, you get more negative.  And finally example 4, ‘the rabbit’s foot is my luck’.  That’s funny.  Not so lucky for the rabbit though, was it?

When you think that everything that happens to you is because of some force outside of yourself, it’s called an external locus of control.  People who have an external locus of control tend to believe strongly in luck and, usually, they don’t see it as being in their favour. There are certain groups of people who tend to be more likely to have an external locus of control, such as people who are on social assistance, gamblers, criminals, emotionally or physically abused people, people in extremely punitive and controlling religious groups, and conspiracy theorists.

Now before you jump all over me for sounding like I’m down on people who are on social assistance, let me tell you that I was a welfare recipient for years when I was a single mother, before I got my business going.  Some people on social assistance have an internal locus of control, where they believe that they have the primary influence over what happens in their lives, but the system certainly tries its best to bully it out of them.  The social welfare system, while necessary and helpful to many people, in some ways acts as a disincentive to really change your life.  In fact, the minute you do try to change your life, you are often ‘rewarded’ with dire consequences like being cut off with no income, having your income sharply reduced, or having to jump through many hoops to keep a roof over your head.  If you have a child, you may be willing to accept these limits and you might be worn down over time.

After I managed to pull myself up enough to get off of welfare, and I had started my business, I had a job teaching life skills and small business start-up to, you guessed it, people on welfare.  I got the job primarily because the people who operated the program thought I could be a role model.  It certainly wasn’t because I was qualified.  To be honest, I was feeling pretty uppity at the time and I also thought I could be a role model.  I think I thought I would be admired and respected because of how I had started a business and managed to create an income and a life for myself.  Silly me!  The reality was that most of the people in the group had an external locus of control and thought I was ‘lucky’.  And in fact, they were resentful of me because I had it so easy.  Okay, they might have also been a bit resentful because I had that ‘holier than thou’ attitude at the time.

I developed quite a program that I still use.  I introduced the idea of ‘spheres of influence’ and led groups in analyzing what they could and couldn’t control in their lives and then working out a plan to use their control when they could and when they couldn’t, exert more influence over the things they could only influence.  A key part of this is recognizing that if you accept that you have control over certain things, you also then have the responsibility for those things.

Ultimately we only have control over what we think, say and do, but if you think about it, that’s a lot of control.  You can’t blame someone else for you being fat, for example, unless someone is tying you down and force-feeding you.  You can’t go and sue McDonald’s because you’re fat when you are the one going through the drive through and scarfing down a Big Mac every day.

You can’t blame someone else for making you mad and making you smash a frying pan over their head when you’re the one who picks it up and swings it. If you are on the receiving end of a frying pan however, you may be willing to admit that you had some influence in having the pan hit you in the head.  Unless you were just innocently walking down the street when a stranger came up to you and smacked you in the head, you probably played a part in provoking the attack.  Not always, because I am well aware that some people are abusive and will set up a situation so that they get to play it out.  However, you still have the control over your action in the whole scene even if that includes staying in a situation where you are likely to be battered.  I absolutely know that it’s all very easy to say.  I deal with that extensively in discussion in the workshops.  It’s clear that sometimes a situation is complicated and you have to choose between a bad and a worse option. However, once a person recognizes that they are ultimately responsible for their own thoughts, words and actions, it is amazingly freeing.

In one program I was teaching, there was a woman who was pretty badly battered on a regular basis.  I have no background or experience or training in that area but I did what I could.  I brought in a speaker to talk about options.  I talked to her privately but she refused to discuss it or even admit that she was in a bad situation.  But the day after we finished dealing with the Spheres of Influence, she was gone.  She was one of the people who accepted the concept and once accepted, took responsibility and took action and left the bad situation.  I never saw her again but I truly hope that she was able to move ahead into a life where she was able to decide what she wanted and then do what she needed to do to make it happen.

But I digress.  This is something I obviously am very passionate about.  I wanted to address the whole issue of ‘luck’ and a self-managed life and I haven’t really commented on whether I think I am lucky and how it affects how I live my life.  I will answer the intent of the question tomorrow.  This is going to be a two part answer.

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#55 – About Playing Jazz, Taking Risks and Living an Adventure

Okay today my question is #55:  what one thing do you really want to do that you have never done? What’s holding you back?  I pulled it yesterday as I always do, so that I could think about it.

My first thought was, “Hmmm, nothing!” Pretty much every time I want to try something, I do.  Then I remembered that I used to want to jump out of a plane and I haven’t.  But the reality is, I don’t really want to.  I’m afraid of heights and I really, really don’t want to jump out of a plane.  In fact, once I signed up for a charity jumping out of a plane event, and collected all the pledges and then had to give them back because I changed my mind.  Now I have two new knees and I am not even allowed to parachute.  Whew!  Thank god!

Then I remembered my big dream.  My B.A.D., my BIG AUDACIOUS DREAM!  I grew this dream in 2000 when I was in Maui.  I loved Maui.  It was so touristy and everyone was transient and very friendly and welcoming.  I remember sitting on my balcony and coming up with a wonderful dream, my B.A.D.

I decided that I wanted to go to someplace kind of like Maui.  It would have to be warm, touristy, with lots of transient people.  But not as expensive as Maui.  Some place like the Keys in Florida, or maybe St. Croix.  Some place where people go to get away from their history.  Some place where people don’t ask questions.  Perhaps Spain or Portugal.  Or South America.  Or Cuba, I love Cuba.  Some place where they speak Spanish or Portugiese.  Some place safe and friendly.

I want to take a ‘time out’.  A time out from my real life and my job.  On my way from my real life to my new life—let’s call it Portugal for now because that’s my most likely place at the moment—I would stop and become a new person.  I would change my hair, my clothes and my name.  Not legally of course; I would just start calling myself something new like ‘Jazmin’ – Jazz for short.  Back in 2000 I thought I would get dreadlocks but not now.

I would go to my new life for anywhere from four to six months and become Jazz for short.  I would become a painter who paints large abstracts to music.  I would become a new person—outgoing, outrageous, fun, uninhibited.  I would become Jazz and I would meet new people and create a new—short—life.

I would spend my days painting and my evenings being a social butterfly, sitting in the town square, dancing, drinking, entertaining my new friends.  I would keep a journal of my new adventures.  It would be fun!  Scary! But fun.

Then at the end of my time, I would come home and become me again. I would publish my journal and call it ‘Playing Jazz’.

Of course that was before ‘Eat Pray Love’ and ‘Under a Tuscan Sun’ took my idea—kind of.

Now when I came up with this idea, I wasn’t a painter.  Now I am.  Now I paint great big abstracts, sometimes to music.  I’ve even gone to St. Pete’s in Florida and played this role for a few minutes at a time.  I guess I’m practising.

So why haven’t I done it?  I’m scared.  I think I’m too old.  My original story would have to change because of my advancing age.  And my son is very opposed.  He doesn’t understand why I need to take on the Jazz persona.  Why can’t I just go and have a vacation in Portugal?  He’s afraid that I will die over there and they won’t know who I am.  I’ve tried to reassure him that I’ll still be me; I will just be called Jazz.

This past spring, I was talking to someone about my Jazz idea and she was all excited and encouraging as people always are when I share it.  Her enthusiasm was contagious and when I got home I looked into a self-funded leave.  That would certainly be possible.  But now, things are changing at work and it probably isn’t possible.

Someday I may still go and play Jazz.  When I solve the questions:  where to go? What to live on? Where to live?  Am I too old?  What language should I learn in preparation?

Jazz isn’t dead yet.  She’s just hiding under a rock.

#83 – About Time Travel, Nagging Questions and Butch Cassidy


Butch Cassidy-before Bolivia

Today I am tackling question #83:  If time travel was possible, what time would you want to travel back to and who would you want to meet?  What would you want to ask that person?Well, I’ve given it a great deal of thought and I can’t make up my mind.  So here goes:

Robert Parker aka Butch Cassidy?
what do you think?

 

 

 

 

 

 

First, I would choose to visit Jesus.   According to The 100: A Ranking of the Most Influential Persons in History, a book by Michael H. Hart, Muhammed and Isaac Newton beat out Jesus.  But Jesus is my first choice.  I would want to go and meet him when he was about 31 and relatively new to his ministry.  I would ask him, “Where have you been?  You disappeared from age 12 to 30.  What were you doing?  Did you travel to India and China as some people claim?  What did you learn there?  Did you join the Gnostics?  Do you know what’s been happening since you’ve been gone?  Do you know what people do in your name?”   He might be a little upset when he finds out.

Now my second choice, just in case Jesus is not really an historical figure but rather a compilation of the various messiah myths that have been floating around since the dawn of time, is Amelia Earhart.  I’d like to meet her and ask her, “What the hell happened? How long did you and Noonan last alive on that island?  Was your plane washed away?  What happened in the end?”  I’d also offer her my condolences and express my hope that whatever happened it didn’t hurt too much.

On the off chance that I couldn’t meet Amelia Earhart because she is still alive and perhaps ruling as the strange white queen of some undiscovered island where people live to unbelievably advanced ages, I would want to meet Butch Cassidy.  I would ask him, “So what really happened, Bob.”  Yep, I would call him Bob instead of Butch.  I would want to know, “Did you really die in Bolivia?  Or did you live out a peaceful middle-class existence as Robert Parker, business owner, in Spokane, Washington?  And did you write your own autobiography?”  I might as well also ask about the Sundance Kid, since DNA evidence on the two who were buried in the supposed graves of the outlaws, were not found to match the DNA of the real bandits.

Who would you want to go and meet and what would you ask them?

#4 – About Age and Self-Perception

I’m liking this random picking of questions.  Most of the ones I’ve picked so far are ones that I would not pick by choice, so I am being coaxed to consider odd thoughts and ponder out of the box questions.  Today’s question is #4:  How old would you think you are if you didn’t know how old you are?

What an odd question.  I have to wonder first of all, why I wouldn’t know how old I am because I’m sure that would affect how old I would think I am.  Have I suddenly lost my memory and so have no idea how old I am?  Or do I just have no understanding of age and how it advances?

We judge a person’s age by so many different criteria:  appearance, health, how they behave, what they are doing in their lives, the people they seem to hang around with.  We don’t really have a reliable measure.  Look at the picture I’ve posted above.  How old would you think those women are?  Apparently they are the same approximate age but I would guess that one is in her 80s and the other in her 60s.  There is such a radical difference in their physical appearance.

Some people are young at heart no matter what their chronological age.  They are willing to take on new challenges and try new things.  They seem younger for it.  Other people become stuck in their ways and seem old before their time.  I hope I’m one of the young at heart.

They say that 60 is the new 40.  I agree that people of 50 and 60 seem far younger now than when I was young, and I don’t really think it’s only because now I’m up there myself.  When I was 21 I knew a woman named Edith who turned 50.  I remember on her birthday I said, “Wow, you’re half a century old.”  I was in awe.  But even now, thinking back, she seemed very old.  Of course, Edith is an old name and she probably seemed old when she was 15.

When I turned 60, someone told me that 60 was the new 40 and I said ‘Bullshit’.  When you hit 60, there’s no getting around it, you are getting up there.  Not very long ago, I told my boss that I had decided to start acting my age.  He was shocked and cautioned me.  He said, ‘Are you sure you want to do that?”  I was surprised by his response but it turned out that he thought I meant that I was going to take on some ‘older’ views and stereotypes and he thought I was making a mistake.  I assured him that wasn’t what I meant at all.  I just wanted to start acting more ladylike and quit swearing.  But I changed my mind anyway.

I remember when my son was about to turn 8, he was all excited that he was about to be EIGHT YEARS OLD!  I told him, ‘Hold on a minute!  You don’t think it’s automatic do you?”  He asked me what I meant and I told him that I had to send in a form to the government to prove that he was mature enough to turn 8.  From that day forward for about a month, every morning he would come downstairs and ask me if I had sent in the form.  I would always say ‘No, sorry I forgot’ or ‘No, I can’t find the form.’  I thought it was very funny.  Eventually I gave in and told him the truth.

I would have thought that it was just a funny practical joke but at his wedding in Cuba a few years go, when he was giving a little speech at the dinner time, he said, “You all think my mum’s so great.  You all feel sorry for her for having to raise me (because he’s so well known as a pratical joker), but you have no idea what she’s really like.”  And then he told that story and I felt really bad.  I had no idea that perhaps he was truly stressed about me thinking he wasn’t mature enough to turn 8 and not sending in the paperwork.

So if there was some criteria and we did actually have to send in the paper work before we moved up a notch in the age ladder, how old would I be.  Well knowing my propensity for putting things off, I’d probably still be about 29.  And that’s fine with me.  It’s about how old I feel anyway.

#92 – About Acceptance and Tolerance – and the lack thereof

Why do people think that their way is the only way?  How would life and the world be different if we accepted that there might be more than one right way?

Talking with the young woman who contributed this question, Danielle Chapdelaine, I gathered that she was primarily talking about culture and religion when she referred to ‘their way’.  But I suppose that it could be taken to mean any aspect of life that a person has a strong opinion about, from how to make tea to whether a child should be allowed to die rather than to have a blood transfusion.  People will argue just as strenuously about how to load the dishwasher as they will about whether there is life after death, but the mundane, such as tea and dishwashers, haven’t resulted in wars and been responsible for the death of millions of people over thousands of years.  Religion, on the other hand, has.

So why do people think that their way, their culture, their religion is the only way?  I think it’s because of fear.  We are brought up as part of a ‘tribe’ and as a result of that ‘tribe’ we learn what to believe and how to behave. Our place in our family, culture, or religion is a core part of our identity, who we are and where we feel we belong in the world.  Very few of us are willing to step outside of that safe place and venture into the wilderness alone.

Believe me, I understand this.  I grew up as part of a very cultish fundamental Christian religion.  This religion is highly skilled in separating its members from the rest of the world. If a member even expresses doubt or questions the doctrine or the leaders, they are excluded from the worldwide congregation and shunned.  Potentially they could lose all contact with their parents, siblings, and even their children.  They are banished as clearly as if they were tossed out of a walled city and left to wander in a literal wilderness.

Now how could people accept that as okay?  By brainwashing.  By being taught to believe that their way is the only way and that everyone else is BAD and EVIL.  By being taught that as long as they are members in good standing in the religion, they are protected by God and that they are God’s people.  By being taught that, sooner rather than later, everyone else is going to be killed when God finally does away with evil.  If you’ve been taught that from birth, cutting loose requires more than most people are willing to give.

I know people who, because they succumbed to the temptations of the ‘world’, were shunned like that and committed suicide.  Why not?  They were going to die anyway, right?  A close friend of mine went the other way, deciding that if he was ‘evil’ by their standards, he might as well be well and truly bad and he became a criminal, eventually spending time in a penitentiary.

Religion isn’t the only side of this.  In Canada recently we had a court case involving a Muslim honor killing.  Three young sisters and their father’s first wife were in a car that was pushed into the Rideau Canal.  The father, his wife and the brother of the three girls were found guilty and sentenced to life in prison.  The Muslim community condemned the so-called honor killings but you can’t deny the fact that the family, at the very least, thought that they had the right to judge and condemn those who had chosen not to follow their ‘way’.

There’s an appeal to being part of the ‘in crowd’, part of an exclusive religion, especially one with such clear-cut rules and requirements.  After all, you don’t have to think; you just behave yourself.  To some extent, it’s only difficult if you have the urge to think or to be yourself rather than a Stepford woman.  It’s no surprise that the most likely candidate for their recruitment efforts are those who are depressed, suffering, or not fitting in with the larger ‘tribe’.  Being ‘love-bombed’ and welcomed by other outsiders has a curious appeal.

So how would the world be if we all accepted that there was more than one way?  I would assume that it would be more inclusive and accepting.  People would be less judgemental.  There probably would be less depression and suicide.  There might be more programs that are supportive of those who have less or who are suffering in some way because we wouldn’t be judging them as ‘less than’ or ‘bad’.  But that’s just my daydream.

To some extent, I think we are going through an evolution towards that more accepting view.  Atheism is the fastest growing religion in the US.  Science is defeating the myths of religion.  Investigation is overruling revelation.  There is hope.

But really I think all it would mean is that the other cause of exclusivity and ‘better than thou’ attitudes—a need by some people for power and control—would take over as the leading cause of people thinking that their way is the only way.  Cynical?  Yeah I guess.

I remember when I was a hippie teenager, like every other hippie teenager, I decided that communism was obviously such a great idea that we should all jump on it.  My dad quoted Churchill to me.  It went something like, “If a man isn’t a communist when he’s 15 he has no heart; if he is a communist at 30, he has no brain.”

For the belief in a single truth is the root cause for all evil in the world…Max Born, physicist

#39 About Choices, Decisions and Fear

Question 39 is ‘Do you ever second guess yourself? Which one do you usually go with—the first or second thought? Does that usually turn out for the best or should you perhaps rethink your strategy?’

First or second?  How about third, fourth, fifth …and so on?  I’m a Libra.  That’s what Libras do.  I can argue all sides of an issue and still not make up my mind.

I used to work as part of a team made up of nothing but Libras.  Our team meetings were a hoot.  We would all start off with our own opinions and then argue loudly and heatedly and end up with everyone on the opposite side by the end of the meeting.  But we all loved each other and it was actually great fun…until we got a new boss who was a Taurus.  But that’s a whole different question.  I’m pretty sure I have one about worst bosses ever.

I have heard that, when doing a multiple choice quiz, you should always go with your first thought.  Sounds like a good rule and certainly one that would make test-taking easier.

But life isn’t always that simple and as a career coach I have seen people suffering from ‘paralysis by analysis’.  They cannot make up their minds and end up doing nothing.   Sometimes people are immobilized because they just see so many options.  Sometimes they can’t see all the options that are available to them.  But either way, making a decision is scary because people are so afraid of making the WRONG choice.

Well I have a solution.  Here we go:

1.  Remember, you cannot predict the future.  All you can do is make a decision based on what you know and the resources you have available right now.  You have to accept that ‘right now’ is a moment in time and that after you make the decision all kinds of things might change.  But if you made the best choice you could based on ‘right now’, let go and don’t beat yourself when things change.

2.  Do your research and then stop and make the frikken decision! Don’t research endlessly.  Do the best research you can and then make the decision based on what you know ‘right now’.  Over-researching is a sure route to ‘paralysis by analysis’.

3. Be open minded and list all the options you can think of.  Don’t limit yourself and the possibilities

4. Don’t bother with pros and cons.  Focus on the pros for each option.  People like to make lists of pros and cons.  I know I used to do it too.  The problem with pros and cons is that it sets up an expectation that there are good choices and bad choices.  When you don’t know what the future will bring, you are really just arbitrarily labelling and scaring yourself in the process.  Instead use a technique introduced by Susan Jeffers in her book, ‘Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway’.  I’ve used this for years in my career coaching practice and I have to attest that it does take away some of the fear associated with making a decision.  Here’s how it works:  list all the options across the top of the page and then list the good things about each option under that option.

5.  When you’ve come up with all your options and listed the good things about each one, count them up.  The option with the most pros—wins!

6.  Remember, you sometimes don’t have to choose just one.  Sometimes, you can see that one option is the most loved and has the most pros but it’s not possible right now.  Sometimes, you can see that one option is best ‘right now’ but that you can work towards the most-loved and best option so that you can pursue it at a later date.

Using this process has been a real help for me in making decisions.  Give it a try.

My basic philosophy is ‘lighten up’.  Life is an unfolding.  You allow one opportunity to unfold and then others that are completely out of sight suddenly appear and offer a whole new path for you to explore.

#29 – About Failure

I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work….Thomas Edison

Arrrrgh!

The quote by Thomas Edison is a great lead in to this next question:  #29–What was your single greatest personal failure?  Did it make you weaker or stronger?  What did you learn? How did you change?

I have to say, this question is one of those that, if I wasn’t pulling them out of a jar, I would probably put off answering.  Even though ‘failure’, like any other word,  is just a symbol representing a meaning that we have adopted as a tribe to apply to it, it carries so much baggage that it would be easy to come up with some blah-blah line that would get me off the hook.  I could say something like, “I don’t believe in failure.  Life is a series of experiments…some work and some don’t…blah blah blah.”  Or “The only failure is to give up trying…blah blah blah.”  Both of which are absolutely true and I could certainly write them with clear conscience.

However, the reality is also that when we try something and screw it up royally, as I, and probably you, have done, we do feel like we have ‘failed’.  We take on the baggage and we beat ourselves up, at least for a little while.  Then, hopefully, we pick ourselves up, dust ourselves off, and start over—lesson learned.  Or at least if we are smart, lesson learned.  And I believe it is true that the real failure is if you DON’T pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start over.

But I’m going to take this question as it was intended—what is one thing that I did royally screw up and how did it affect me going forward?  Am I weaker or stronger for it?  Did I learn from it?  Did I change?

Actually this question is particularly relevant right now.  What I would call my single greatest failure has to do with money and taking care of it.  Back in 2000, I made a whole boatload of money in one month.  It happened to be a month that came just after a large contract came to an end, and all the people I had working for me had moved on to other opportunities, including the person who did the bookkeeping.  Now I’m not really a detail person.  I’m an idea person.  In fact, I remember once, at the height of my business, Shantelle, one of the great team who worked for me, wanted me to look something over and sign it.  I was busy and I said, “Okay just leave it there and I’ll sign it in a minute,” pointing to the corner of my messy desk.  She said, “Nope, I’m going to stand here and hold it till you sign it.”  She knew me.

So when I made that boatload of money, I failed to keep good records.  I failed to take care of it and invest it wisely.  I gave people things and lent money to people who asked–and never got it back.  I took a bunch of really interesting courses that required travelling all over the country.  I didn’t invoice and follow up when I should have.  Worst of all, I didn’t pay my taxes when I should have.

It took me a while to spend it all but I worked hard at it until I did.  And then it took me a while to get it all sorted out and the taxes paid.  That was my greatest personal failure.

What did I learn from it?  Well I should have learned to keep better records and pay attention to the details but that would probably require a whole personality transplant.  So the other day, facing the same kind of situation potentially, I thought about it and decided that what I need to do is work from my strengths and let someone else take over what I’m lousy at.  I need a bookkeeper.  And I need the bookkeeper in advance of when I earn a whole boatload of money again so that I’m ready next time and don’t replay the same old movie.

Anyone know a great, cheap bookkeeper and virtual assistant in Canada?  Preferably in Ontario?

 Many of life’s failures are men who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up…Thomas Edison