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Ever do such a good job of looking on the bright side people mistake you for having only sunshine in your life? They respond to you with jealousy for happiness they’re sure is unearned -- as if they have any idea what you’ve been through or still endure.

Once in a while I’ve become friends with people whose first impression of me was, “She got more than her share of good things.” Often that’s because as they get to know me they wouldn’t swap lives with me after all. Not in a million.

I don’t blame them -- but I’m not railing against my challenges, either. I can’t think of a single thing I cherish that isn’t the direct result of suffering -- and years of humiliation -- as I kept finding new ways to mess up.

I’m willing to suffer, though.

Not eager. Willing.

You?

A guy I went to college with knew -- before our freshman year was up -- I was only there to finish what I’d started. I was majoring in civil engineering, supposedly -- but mostly I majored in late nights drinking coffee at Denny’s. Many of our friends eschewed studying for partying. I put off homework for -- what? -- hours of pondering what made people act the way they do…and cracking up at the twists and turns of the latest fun conversation.

That should’ve told me a lot about myself, but it didn’t. My friend knew someday I’d be doing exactly what I’m doing now.

I didn’t know that!

Why hadn’t he told me? Oh, but he had. He’d told me constantly what made me unique, and what kind of work might be really fun for me. I didn’t hear a word of it, apparently, because I soldiered on and got that engineering degree as if it was a life sentence.

No, wait. I take that back. I heard my friend. I just wasn’t ready to believe him.

My college pal helped me see myself more clearly, eventually. That’s what friends are for.

Life is a lot of work. Ever noticed that?

It’s one reason I found Darrell difficult to resist. He’s such a hard worker I swear every time he picks up the phone to make another pitch I vow to be a better person.

Every time I tell him that -- often daily, sometimes more -- he tells me the same. We’re almost in a contest to see who can do more for the other. Good thing. We’re so buried in deadlines it doesn’t take much in the way of an interruption to throw off the whole week.

“I wouldn’t want to be in business with someone who didn’t pull her weight,” he told me once. “Can you imagine the resentment?”

No. I can’t.

Because I’m married to him.

If you’re making a list of qualities you hope the person you marry will have, don't forget to factor in his work ethic. Looks fade, life will eventually throw you the occasional curve if not toss you over a cliff -- and you could do worse than team up with someone with an abundance of grit.

Who lifts you up?
May 10, 2014

Of all the ways people have described me, incisive feels the best. I even like how the word sounds. I’d love to deserve that description.

To the extent I do, I blame Darrell. A smattering of friends. And mostly, Katie. She keeps me sharp.

A while back I told you I was taking a class, of sorts, to help me polish the skills I need in a new job. One gentleman wants to help me beyond the confines of the class. He isn’t helping within those confines, I keep teasing him, but whatever. He’s relentless in his insistence we work together more closely, and it’s creeping me out.

And yes, I realize it’s possible he reads this blog.

I’ve already told him he’s creeping me out, though -- so we’re cool. And I did it so nicely he continued to insist we…see each other outside of class! Oh, well.

Katie’s the reason I took such a direct approach. When I practiced on her what I’d originally planned to tell the guy -- something to the effect I’d found another coach, but thanks so much anyway -- she balked. “You’re taking the class to get coaching,” she reminded me. “You need to tell this man the problem is him.”

When did she become the grownup? Oh, that’s right. She’s been setting me straight since she was four.

Thanks, kiddo!

About ten years before I sold my first book, I told my little brother the plan. And he, like the sweetheart he is, didn’t act as if that was impossible. “It happens to someone,” he said.

That little gem lodged itself in my brain until I sold the book.

“It happens to someone.”

Yes, it does.

An IT guy from Peoria, for example. I think you’ll love this story of how being silly on Twitter led to something big, really big.

I bet you know people who insist you tell them what’s new in your life, but when you do -- if it’s good news -- they respond with ridicule, with cruelty.

With friends like them, as the saying goes, who needs more practice keeping bullies at bay?

I think we have a responsibility to share what’s working. What’s threatening to one person -- as if there’s only so much happiness to go around -- is another person’s reason to get up in the morning.

Long before Martha Stewart did time in jail, I was at a party where some women were taking it to her but good. The venom! They hated her -- and they acted as if everyone else should hate her, too.

“What did Martha do to you?” I wanted to ask. “My cupcakes are never going to be as sweet as hers, granted -- but I learn things from her…”

You don’t have to look at people who are more successful than you are with disdain. You could regard them with curiosity. Your choice will be evident, with the bounce in your step and the sparkle in your eyes.

Doing What Works photoOf anything my college boyfriend shared with me, this became a guidepost. I’ll butcher the quote, but it went something like: “The question of whether there’s a hell is irrelevant. Most people create a bigger hell in this life than anyone could dream up for them in the next.”

It’s a great reminder we’re responsible for our own happiness. Our limitations are largely self-inflicted. When I get bored -- more often in this limbo I feel between full-time Katie’s mom and full-time whatever’s next -- I think, “That’s not a very nice thing to say to whatever force brought you into this world.” Then I pretend to be my own parent: “Go find something to do.”

In eighteen years of living at home I don’t think Katie told us she was bored once. She wasn’t shy about asking, “What are we going to do fun today?” -- but that’s different. It’s sunny and sweet and motivated, the opposite of entitled. She didn’t expect us to fix what she didn’t like about her life.

If you’re in the mood to map out a new future, my friend Heidi Hanna has a suggestion -- a working vacation that sounds, well, dreamy.

I always smile when I think about Heidi, because she admitted in a keynote she gets a massage once a week. I was in awe of her courage. Wasn’t she begging people to mock her for pampering herself?

I can’t think of a better way to imagine a bigger, better life for yourself than what Heidi has in mind.

And yes of course you’ll get a discount for reading about that, here. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. for details.

Thanks!

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photo courtesy of Danielle LaPorte

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photo courtesy of Danielle LaPorte

We started a major home renovation six years ago. I wanted Katie to remember growing up in a gingerbread house that looked as cute on the inside as it was inviting on the outside.

The house?

It apparently had other plans.

Maybe it knew something we didn’t. Maybe it knew we belonged on the road with Katie more, expanding those horizons and showing her what a great big beautiful world there is beyond the reaches of our little hamlet. We hit that road -- and Katie set her sights on the east coast and then the west before making her home on the east.

Maybe the house knew if our surroundings were more comfortable, once Katie moved out Darrell and I might be tempted to stay put.

I’m willing to consider the possibility the house knows what I’ve long suspected but pushed down, that it’s just an address. It isn’t a life sentence. Are we going to turn this place into the cute little cottage I imagined at one point? Maybe not. We may have missed the…window.

Darrell and I married each other. We didn’t marry the house. We could move. Living where it takes more time to get ready for a run, for example, than the run itself feels…unnecessary.

The winters aren’t getting any less brutal. Katie isn’t here. Why are we, still?

Just contemplating the possibility we won’t always be is a bigger mood lift than the arrival of spring, which is saying a lot.

Next up, a working vacation that sounds like heaven -- to me.

“I know for a fact God isn’t real.” One of the people I follow on Twitter says that’s according to someone who doesn’t understand what facts are.

His observation made me smile because I used to think agnostics were chicken. “Make up your mind!” I’d want to scold them, the way I imagined my teachers would -- not that many agnostics roamed the halls of our Catholic school back in the day.

Now I think, “Make up your mind about what? The unknowable? Are you kidding?”

I think the worst you can say about agnostics is they’re pragmatic.

The most pragmatic thing I’ve ever heard on the subject of life and death and more life was this: “Let the mystery be.”

I want to. I really do. But I’m too much of a sucker for that mystery not to contemplate it. And soon I find myself wondering about all kinds of things I don’t understand and have no way of proving or disproving.

Like whether our house is trying to tell us something.

More on that tomorrow.