Monday, June 11, 2012

Fractions & Whole People

It's a very American mindset to covet everything our neighbors have - the largest house in the suburbs, the large family car, the swimming pool, the ivy-league education. We've gone as far as to motivate ourselves with the inter-generational mantra of "keeping up with the Joneses." Well, I recently came across a car ad on a billboard that - along with the picture of a hip, foreign car - had the message: "%#@! the Joneses!" Keep reading.

In life, we go after everything we can think of in an attempt to validate or measure our worth. If we feel less dignified than normal, we buy a power suit; if we feel lonely, we get a new significant other or have more children or adopt a puppy; if we feel dumb, we read a book and tell everyone in the office about it. This is what I like to call surface-level therapy. Surface-level therapy is when you scratch the surface of a deep-rooted issue, find some way to mask the symptoms for a bit, and subsequently master the give-a-little/take-a-little relationship model. This is the art of compensation. It’s literally like driving an SUV on a road trip, stopping for gas frequently and only filling a quarter of the gas tank, and then complaining about how long it’s taking to get to the final destination.

Most people don’t know that they have the opportunity to live their life as a whole person. Until we transform the way they think, it is extremely difficult to grasp the concept of living our lives as  people who feel whole. There is a misunderstanding of what being whole is supposed to look like; everyone can’t keep up with the Joneses, and in reality, that may not be a bad thing. There is a wonderful Christian scripture that says, "Do not conform to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind" (Romans 12:2). You don't have to be a Christian to understand that  by compensating for something in your life, you are conforming to someone's idea of what your life is supposed to look like or feel like. A renewed way of thinking will give you insight into the difference between knowledge and wisdom. Knowledge shows you what being whole as a person looks like in the lives of others, but wisdom will show you that you don't have to reflect the life image of someone else to feel whole. If you take a tea cup and place it next to a pitcher and fill them to their respective brims, are they both full? The tea cup has a purpose and a capacity, although not as large as the pitcher, it is still useful. You don't have to be a "pitcher" in life to be useful.Having a performance attitude will cause you to confuse ambition with passion. Usually, ambition stems from a place of scarcity (a probable cause of compensation), be it a lack of power, a feeling of inferiority, a lack of money. Passion, on the other hand, tends to be of a less self-interested nature, and builds on an honest and less-conflicted pursuit.

You may be wondering how to recognize if you're compensating for something in your life. There are many ways to recognize compensation versus resolutions in your life, and many of them start with day-to-day activities. If the simplest of decisions often cause you to feel pressure, you may need to address some deeper issues in your life. Life is full of stress, but small decisions should not cause us anxiety. There should be a portion of your life that you can live out on a daily basis without stress. Compensating by working too much, taking on too much debt, or dating too many people will cause you to overflow stress into the simplest areas of your life. Going to the grocery store to buy milk should not give you a panic attack simply because you don't want to risk being seen by multiple girlfriends/boyfriends, or because you can't afford milk (because you were buying a round of tequila shots at the bar last night), or because you feel like taking 30 minutes away from your desk will cause your business to suffer.

Compensating for your problems will only treat the symptoms of your deeper issues, but being honest with yourself  and admitting there are some areas in your life that you need to improve in (be it time management or communication with family, substance abuse, etc.) will help you alleviate large amounts of stress, and you can begin to heal. Every day that you wake up healthy enough to take advantage of a new opportunity is a second chance to reconcile whatever life issues or insecurities you may be facing. Once you become confident in yourself and move toward the progression of becoming a whole person, you will soon learn that in whatever area of your life that you are lacking, you are covered by your integrity, your potential, and your future. That's what makes a whole person. You don't have to have it all, you just have to be all that you are meant to be at that given time. You want to shy away from the feeling of needing to feel needed, and instead of using people or things as supplements to your life, simply allow them to compliment the life you already have.  And remember, %#@! the Joneses!

Monday, May 28, 2012

Identity vs. Crises

Discovering your identity is not as hard as people try to make it seem. In fact, discovering your identity can be pretty methodical if you approach it correctly - ask a few questions, do some soul searching, and as Shakespeare so eloquently put it, "To thine own self be true." On the contrary, the hard part about growing emotionally and spiritually is maintaining your identity. Keep reading.

We often make the mistake of trying to plan our lives as though an outline has been predestined for us, and any bullet that goes unchecked has the power to completely derail the train that travels the path on which we are to reach our purpose in life. We tend to comprehend our lives in terms of accomplishments alone. Although logical, this type of thinking is rudimentary. To paraphrase Reverend Dr. Laurence C. Keene, "There's nothing wrong with a fifth grade understanding of [life], as long as you are in the fifth grade. What I'm saying is, life is to not only be comprehended by our accomplishments, it is to also be understood that failures, misfortunes, betrayals, second tries, and second chances are equally as important. Trials in life build character, and redemption is one of the greatest gifts one can receive in life.

When you meet someone the first thing that is usually asked is "What do you do for a living?" and you respond, "I am a [stockbroker, doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc.]." Take the stockbroker; this is what he eats, sleeps, breathes, dreams about - the stock market. As long as he is pulling in high returns, he is happy to identity with his profession; this is how he or she introduces his or herself to people. 2008 - the economy crashes, the stock market is in a fritz, people are losing everything they have in the uncertainty of the market, Stockbroker X goes home to his bathroom mirror. He realizes a bad investment decision has been made and that his reputation is tarnished. Immediately, his identity is no longer a stockbroker, he now introduces himself to his bathroom mirror as a failure. Stockbroker X is now Failure X (or so he perceives).

What happened with the stockbroker? I'll tell you. Stockbroker X has been in this profession for X amount of years; he always did a good job, but this one time he screwed up. Stockbroker X was known to give his clients the utmost professional service, and always ensured them huge returns on their money - several years worth of success. Will his clients remember this when he calls to tell them he just lost $14,000,000? Probably not. They have now labeled him as a failure, a let down, a disappointment. Stockbroker X is sorry, very sorry, but is that enough? No.

The reality of the world we live in is that people hardly remember the good we do - even if it's several years of it. They like to remember us in our low points, because everyone has a complex that makes them feel the need to be superior. Everyone. The other problem is that when we make mistakes, it's not enough for people to see us sorry for our mistakes. Sorrow is not enough - the world wants to see shame. This is why people label us - failure, disappointment, incompetent. This is where you have to remember that it's important to maintain your identity. There is a big difference between sorrow and shame. Sorrow isn't enough for people because being sorry is what you do, but shame identifies who you are. People are very fond of labeling you with your mistakes, but we live in a world where redemption is ours to seek, and we have to remember that we don't have to lose our identity to our mistakes.

Before Stockbroker X was a stockbroker, he was a person. When he got up and out of the bed on the morning he lost 14 million dollars, he was someone. Had he taken the day off and waited to sell or exchange securities, he would've still been the same person. It is royally important for us to find and maintain our identity from much more than our accomplishments, our careers, our money, or our lifestyles. We should choose to be identified by our hearts, our good-nature,our sense of humor, our passions. And it is our duty to maintain that identity. If your passions just so happen to line up with your career or your lifestyle, then so be it, but just know that if all of that fades away, you are still the same person. It is a dangerous practice to place value or significance on your life according to things that are capable of being beyond our reach at any given point in our lives.

Discover who you are, maintain that identity, and to thine own self be true.