Quiet Perspective

@cpowell

Written by Chris Powell. Technologist. Minimalist. ISFJ.

9,507 words

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Letting Go of Opportunities

Back in 2015, I had an opportunity drop in my lap. An opportunity to become a certified consultant for a very popular software application used by millions of people around the world. I've used this software application extensively for over 5 years, relied upon it for professional and personal tech information, and have taught a class on this software for beginners. This opportunity would give me increased publicity about my skills as a technologist. I would see increased freelance tech gigs with businesses where I could charge a great deal of money per hour. The path to this opportunity was achievable, and in most cases my typical self would be charging forward with this opportunity like a rampaging bull.

Instead, I chose to let go of this opportunity.

I'm still sorting out why, but my gut reaction was yelling at me that this software application will be experiencing troubles in the future. What once was a great innovation in cross-platform information accessibility a half-decade ago has not seen any updates with new features in quite some time. Also, I'm seeing a number of technologists on the web, some of them are influences of mine, forecasting this software's demise. Plus, I'm seeing a number of competitors rising in popularity; some of whom are real contenders for me to switch. Oh, by the way, this software company just increased their fees around 30% from their previous rate. More money to pay for no value-added features? Color me suspicious. I guess what it boils down to is this: I don't want to invest my time in something that I don't believe in. I don't want to get paid for advising and training others on something that may not be around in the near future. And I don't want to be associated with a technological sinking ship. The software applications I suggest, the websites I publicize, the music I recommend; I believe in them, and I stand behind their quality.

Introduction to Ambient

During the summer of 1991, I was a typical 18-year-old, recently graduated from high school, excited about attending college for the first time, and had a job waiting tables for a family-style restaurant in my small hometown. On Sunday nights, from 10 pm until closing at midnight, the restaurant's usual soft rock radio station wasn't playing Sting, Bette Midler, and Whitney Houston. It played this weird-sounding, spacey music. I kind of chuckled and raised an eyebrow as I listened to the music while cleaning tables and serving food, wondering what the customers might be thinking as they were enjoying their late-evening meal. I eventually learned that spacey music was a syndicated radio show called Musical Starstreams. "The exotic side of radio." Uh, okay.

A few months later, on a particularly frosty fall quarter morning as a freshman at a nearby community college, I had an extended break between classes. Didn't have much on my task list that day, so I drove down to the local music store to check out some CDs and cassettes. I ambled over to the "new age" section and saw Patrick O'Hearn's new album at that time, Indigo. His name sounded familiar. As it turned out, Indigo was a featured album on Starstreams during the summer. I decided to give this guy a try, bought the cassette, popped it into my car stereo, and drove back to campus for my afternoon classes. My driving soundtrack turned into a tense layering of synthesizer waves, sparse piano melodies, and soft percussion accents. And an airy trumpet in some parts. No vocals; my mind created the lyrics. It created quite an exciting sensation inside me as I'm driving around the city streets headed back to campus. I actually took a longer route because I didn't want to finish driving yet.

"So THIS was new age music?" I thought to myself. Sounded like the soundtrack to a science fiction movie and I was the lead actor. Needless to say, I developed an emotional connection with the music, much more in my car than in the restaurant. I really liked it!

Gradually, I found myself listening to Indigo more and more in the evening towards bedtime. Seemed to help mellow me out from a busy day of classes and studying. I chose this music during my weekend naps; it was quiet enough to not jar me awake from unconsciousness. As the weeks passed during fall quarter, I started paying more attention to Musical Starstreams on the radio Sunday nights, recording the shows on my stereo cassette boombox, and writing down the featured artists to research later. Started buying more CDs and cassettes of this new interesting genre of music. And started listening to more and more spacey music.

Let's fast forward 25 years. I stopped using new age (sounds like crystals and incense) to describe this soft, flowing music experience. I now choose ambient as my catch-all genre title. All my cassettes and CDs have been replaced with mp3 music files and online streaming. However, Patrick O'Hearn is still one of my most-listened to artists. In fact, So Flows the Current and The So Flows Sessions are two of his best albums in my collection. It's perfect at work, at home in the evenings, and especially during naps.

Ambient music brings me great joy. Wanted to share the joy it brings me with you.

A Different Internal Monologue

I rarely touch my phone when I drive, so I didn't consult Google Maps before heading home when I picked up my daughter from cross-country practice. As soon as I turned onto the on-ramp, whammo, big traffic backup. Quite unusual for a Thursday rush hour in Bellingham, Washington. What normally takes 15 minutes took us 45 minutes to get home.

Here's the problem. As three lanes of traffic were inching along the interstate, some drivers chose to drive on the shoulder, passing cars waiting in line in efforts to get ahead of the waiting masses. This created an awkward zipper effect with four lanes of cars now having to merge together into two.

My typical reflexive response is to either verbally shout "Idiot!" or some other epithets, but I didn't this time. Not because my daughter was in the car with me. I kept quiet and tried having an internal discussion with myself:

"Crap. Bunch of drivers are being sneaky and not waiting in line like the rest of us. I hate that."

"Yeah, they must be stressed out by not getting home at their usual time."

"I want to be home, too. I don't like waiting in traffic. I should have checked Google Maps and taken the side streets home."

"Oh look, it's a sunny evening, let's roll the windows down and enjoy some cool breeze while we're slowly progressing home."

"Funny thing. I bet those cheater drivers are getting yelled at by other cars as they pass. Oh look, some cars are blocking their path on the shoulder. Looks like Carmageddon tonight."

"Let's alternate picking songs with Apple Music on our iPhones while we're waiting in traffic."

"Mount Baker sure looks nice in the distance."

As stressful times invade our day, and as we experience others doing some sneaky activities, may we have an internal conversation where we avoid the mental anchors and dwell on the good things rarely noticed around us.

Mental Train Kept-a-Rollin'

When I was a lanky, loner of a pre-teen growing up in Sequim, Washington, summers were pretty carefree. I wasn't of the age yet where a summer job would occupy a warm weekday. Instead, I'd probably be on my bike riding around the back roads of town, going to the little league fields to toss a baseball up and try and smack it over the outfield fence with an old wooden bat my parents found at a garage sale. However, any creative outdoor activity I was doing would halt at 3 pm. More like 3:12 pm. Wherever I was, I made a beeline back to my house to eagerly anticipate the US Postal Service mail delivery truck filling our mailbox.

It was an exciting time for me back in the early '80s. I didn't know what would arrive on a given day. A Baseball Digest magazine, bills for my mom and dad, the Sequim Gazette newspaper (delivered on Wednesdays), perhaps even a self-addressed stamped envelope with my handwriting would arrive with some form letter from a rock band thanking me for being a fan. Sometimes I'd receive a small cardboard box with baseball cards or stickers that I sent away for. That feeling moments before opening our gray mailbox by the side of the road was almost like that feeling of diving into a pile of wrapped presents on Christmas Day or my birthday. Euphoria!

Fast forward three decades. When I get home from work, I open our designated slot in our neighborhood group mailbox contraption, and extract many pieces of junk mail, numerous sales flyers and some invoices for medical visits. Not as exciting as my pre-teen days. But there still is a brief moment of curious intrigue as to what the mail slot might hold for me. For the majority of cases, there's not much exciting delivered to me via snail mail anymore.

Question for you:

In both of these instances, if I was to open my mailbox at 9:00 am, see nothing delivered, check again every ensuing quarter-hour, finally receive my mail at 3:12 pm, then continue to check my mailbox every 15 minutes after, you'd probably call me a lunatic. Or at least obsessive-compulsive?

All of this rambling brings me to a question that I've been struggling with for a long time: When did my career dictate my brain should immediately respond to e-mail that gets delivered, even at the expense of the current task I'm working on? Why can't I check my e-mail once a day, process all the requests, reply to messages, set up appointments for the next day, and quit the program?

There is nothing in my company's employee handbook that says I have to have e-mail open at all times. My direct supervisor has not ordered my to keep e-mail open all day, lest I be fired. Even the majority of my clients don't expect me to respond immediately to their e-mails. So what is this internal directive that drives my work life to be a slave to checking, and responding to, e-mail?

Unfortunately, I don't have the answer yet. But I'm working on it. And gathering the courage to limit the frequency that my work tasks aren't superseded by e-mail notifications. Hopefully, some time in the future, I can share with you the results of opening my e-mail box only once a day.

Decluttering Momentum

I grew up wanting it all in the 1980s. I had to have all of the Transformers; autobots, decepticons, dinobots, you name it. I tried to collect all the baseball cards in the world; complete sets and doubles of my favorite players. All the video game cartridges to stick in my Texas Instruments TI99–4A computer. All the sports digest magazines. You get the idea. This mindset exploded like a microwave popcorn bag in my 20s decade. I was out of college, making a good salary, and living the good life in my own home. It was such a dangerous equation:

Money x [Desire for things + Space to store things] = A cluttered mess

Things changed when I was in my mid-thirties. I was in my two-car garage on a Saturday morning. I had to get something out of my car. Reached in, grabbed it, closed the driver-side door, glanced at the other half of the garage, and stopped dead in my tracks. Instead of empty space for another car, I saw stacked boxes of things and miscellaneous furniture I wasn’t using inside my house. It nearly reached the top of the garage. For the longest time, I told myself I might need these things someday, so I kept them. But something happened.

One box of old, irrelevant papers got dumped in the recycling bin. A carload of unnecessary items got delivered to the Goodwill. A couple boxes of books originally bought because I wanted to convince myself and others that I was well-read, but never read, donated to the public library. Buddies with trucks stopped by to help haul my unused furniture to the Goodwill. It turned into a weekend activity. Eliminate the unnecessary. Part with the unused. Say goodbye to someday. And before I knew it, I was able to see the concrete surface in the second car spot in my garage.

Less things stored in my home. More space to move around. Less unused furniture, more open air. Less plates, dishes, and glasses in my cupboards. More space to neatly store what I actually used on a daily basis. It felt freeing.

So I ask you, friend: what can you remove from your life? What is something you are holding onto in hopes you’ll need it someday? What can you eliminate from your home, yet get to someday when you want it? (hint: it rhymes with flybrary rooks.)

What can you say goodbye to? Can you live through the grief of not having it anymore, and make it through to the other side. Can you be okay with it not being around? I’ve been there. If you’re like me, it’s tough to give things away, or sell things online. I’m wagering your memories of stuff will fade someday because your mind will focus on the current things in your life. And I believe now is more important than the past.De

Send a Better Email

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For those of you that achieve inbox zero on a daily basis and enjoy a stress-free work environment, consider yourself lucky. The rest of us have jobs with emails constantly bombarding us during the day, distracting us from our work. Thanks to a huge plate of tasks to attend to, email creates overwhelm at times and leads to the wrong kind of stress. Sometimes this stress spills over into making wrong decisions with our email. These wrong decisions can eventually create more work for us and sometimes get us in trouble. Here are three ways to approach email that your IT support person may not have shown you.

Assume you’re writing to everyone

You’re writing a cheeky response to a co-worker about the status of those weekly TPS reports. Within minutes after hitting send, you receive an email from your boss’s boss requesting to meet with you about the TPS reports… and the questionable tone in which you’re referring to them. Unbeknownst to you, your co-worker thought it was funny enough to forward to a couple other co-workers, who forwarded it to some more co-workers, who forwarded your message to the head honcho. Now you definitely have a case of the Mondays. As you are composing an email, write it as if your message would be read by the CEO of your company, your mother, your spouse, your children, and your entire town once the local newspaper links to it on their website.

Leverage the BCC: field

The term Megathread is not a villainous ball of yarn set to take over the knitting world, but a way to describe an excessive number of replies to an original post. By including all recipients of your email in the Blind Carbon Copy section, you can avoid megathreads.
The BCC: field is your silent partner. Use it wisely.

Check Yourself Before You Wreck Yourself

You just received an email that embarrasses you in front of other co-workers, adds more work to your overwhelmed task list, or is just plain rude. Naturally, you craft a snarky, sarcastic, angry email response to return volley. Hold up, tiger. Don’t push send yet.

Save that email in your Drafts folder and take a walk. Go get some fresh air. Get another cup of coffee. Wait an hour, four hours, or a day, depending on how angry you are. Sending that email may wreck get you in trouble with management. It may wreck an important working relationship. And your supervisor may have to do damage control to answer to their superiors for your immature response.

Want an Email Ninja tip? Put your personal non-work email account in the To: field and mail it to yourself. You get the endorphin rush of pushing that Send button. You get the wadding-up-paper satisfaction of deleting an email. Plus, you save a potential firestorm of awkward in the workplace.

Always keep in mind that your email may be viewed by many more than you’re expecting. By controlling how your email is sent, and how you phrase your email, you can set yourself up for success at work and outside of work.

Having a Bad Day? Permission Granted

How’s this for a day gone bad? You spilled your morning coffee over the center panel in your car on your way to work. In traffic. With no napkins around. Horrible meetings with passive-aggressive co-workers or supervisors. You got blindsided by unexpected complaint emails. It took 40 minutes to get your lunch meal served. To top it off, the waiter messed up your order. On the way back to the office you dropped your phone on the pavement, almost cracking the screen. Nothing but tedious projects got handed to you that afternoon, and there was a car wreck on your way home, causing a two-mile backup, and a full bladder having been stuck in traffic with no way to avoid the wait.

Let’s pause for a moment and look inward. Ask yourself how you would feel after a day like that. Go ahead, I’ll wait. As for me? I’d be all kinds of grumpy. My evening would be shot. And it would take a bunch of successes the next workday to get my emotional barometer back up to good.

Here’s an idea. Instead of sitting in the soup of a day filled with failures, what if we simply allowed ourselves to have a bad day? What if, after crossing the threshold of our home, we told our inner grump, “Okay, that day sucked. But those kind of days happen to everyone. And today it was my turn. Tomorrow it will be someone else.”

I’m trying to adopt this mindset when I have bad days at work. Unfortunately, it’s too easy for me to resort to my tried-and-true script of acting crabby in the evening and being suspicious of another bad day the following morning. I say we try a different recipe when reflecting upon a bad day. Acknowledging that it was bad, appreciating the workday coming to an end, and being thankful for an evening that will be better for us. Certainly couldn’t hurt to give it a shot?

Embracing the Quiet

Quiet can be unfamiliar. With a life dominated by noise, distractions, and chaos we don’t remember what it sounds like.

Quiet can feel tense, like a close-up shot in a suspenseful movie where we don’t know if the person is going to get attacked by surprise.

Quiet can be awkward. We may avoid the quiet so we don’t have to confront our own thoughts.

Quiet can be lonely, where you realize no one is there to keep you company.

I like the quiet because my brain can process what has happened during the day without other stimuli demanding attention.

I like the quiet because I don’t have to expend energy tracking someone’s voice in a crowded room.

I like the quiet because, eventually, a bunch of interesting thoughts pop into my head which never happen with noise surrounding me.

I like the quiet because it’s a valuable commodity in today’s society.

May we all embrace the quiet in our day…

Masks

Recently I had the opportunity to listen to a fellow named Rich Warriner speak about relationships. When he shared the following statement, I had to whip out my phone and jot it down for future thought:

When I put on a mask, the only thing that gets loved is the mask.

Growing up, I learned it wasn't safe to show people who I genuinely was. Kids in school were (and still are) really mean to each other. Co-workers will take information you share about yourself and leverage it to their advantage. Worst of all, family and friends, those know you the best, know just the right buttons to push to get their needs met.

In order to survive, I put on many masks to cope with life. I put on a mask of an aloof loner. A wisecracking comedian. A roadraging bully. A sophisticated conversationalist. An emotional manipulator. An overt gentleman. Worst of all, I wore the mask of liar.

Those that decided to love me only were seeing the mask that I wore at that time. Not who I actually was: a shy, nervous boy who only wanted to play and have fun with others. Someone who wanted to be genuinely happy.

There's no moral for you to learn from. No bullet list of ways to change how you are. I just wanted to share an impactful sentence that got me thinking about how I portray myself to the world, who I am inside, and which masks I want to discard. Maybe you'll have some time to take a look at your mask collection and see what you're still wearing. I wish you the best.

Loneliness at Work

Every now and then you encounter someone who communicates exactly what you're thinking or feeling. It's unexpectedly refreshing. It's somewhat empowering because you feel like you're not alone in your situation; someone actually "gets" you. Most importantly it's relieving, because now you don't have to carry the burden solely on your shoulders. In my case, I discovered an article written by an anonymous author overseas. They nailed it. It was almost as if my water-logged heavy blanket was lifted and replaced with a warm fleece pullover; light, but protective. Someone in this world is also contending with loneliness at work. It is an impactful read. An excerpt:

Workplace loneliness is a real problem, one which is being increasingly recognised, but it’s one we don’t want to talk about – who wants to be the person who opens themselves up to derision by announcing their feeling of isolation to their colleagues?

That is the difficult question to answer. How does one contend with the absence of connections at the workplace, yet not alienate or ostracize oneself from those in the office? It's a complex balancing act, especially when you're an introvert. I have two trusted colleagues in the large organization where I work, but they're employed in different divisions. The connections we gain from collaborating on projects and the shared "we're in this struggle together" experience with are there, but are infrequent.

The risk one takes by announcing that they are lonesome at work is significant. I've been weighing this decision for quite some time before deciding to hit the publish button on this post. But if there are others out there that view this, read the article linked above, and have similar feelings, then we can at least have a shared experience.

Making the T-word and F-word again

I spend a majority of my waking hours dwelling on the T-word. Technology. It’s been a lifelong passion, at least since I was eight. It’s been my career for over twenty years. It’s something I’m pretty good at.

Unfortunately, too much of the T-word has resulted in the O-word. Overwhelm. Constantly bombarded with breaking news, notifications, and ads. It’s a shame, because The O-word creates resentment with the T-word because the T-word used to be the F-word. Fun.

Back when the T-word was the F-word and not the O-word, I gleefully lost track of time on the internet. I spent so many hours clicking on websites and web links to read new articles. Back when Google didn’t give results based on an SEO ninja’s tinkering, I would dive deep into the world wide web to learn how to fix errors and automate tasks. The T-word was a career field that brought oohs and ahhs from people at parties when they learned what i did for a living. F-word!

But something happened along the way. The T-word turned into the C-word. Complex. Every OS update required another immersion; another deep dive to figure out what got changed. Also, T-word devices started propagating at work, like a hot-air popcorn popper. There were so many C-word T-word gadgets around, clients and supervisors fell victim to the S-word. Stress. So much S-word from the C-word T-word would result in the O-word for a high-standards guy like me.

To combat the O-word, I had to resort to the P-word. Productivity. Optimizing my time at work. Using filters to reclaim valuable minutes. Mindfully confronting the S-word to avoid the O-word. Still a work in progress, but the P-word has been helpful in making the T-word F-word again.

Five Rules for Dealing with Computer Techs

Everyone has a friend, or a family member, who is a computer tech. The awkward teenage nephew who always has his nose in his phone during family events. Your significant other’s quirky friend who always wears t-shirts with obscure pictures and phrases when the group goes out to dinner. Your own friend who always has a can of Monster energy drink in their hand and rambles incessantly about Linux server distros. They are valuable people to have available when your computer breaks down or gets really slow. Instead of taking your busted computer to a brick-and-mortar business in town and pay their hourly rate, just like an auto repair shop, you may ask the tech friend to help fix it. After all, if they’re on their phone all the time, they must be bored and can use some activity in their life, right? Before you do that, here are some rules to follow when working with the computer techs in your life:

Rule #1 — If a computer tech is working on your equipment for free, food and drink is a mandatory payment. The longer a tech works on your computer, the higher-quality the food and drink must be. Thirty minutes to install some software updates and remove some annoying pop-ups? Pizza and a beer. Four hours to transfer your data off your dead hard drive and onto another computer? Gift card to a Steakhouse.

Rule#2 — Just because you see your tech around town doesn’t mean you can automatically ask them a question about your computer problems. Techs have lives also. They shop at grocery stores, have dinner in restaurants, go to church, and spend an hour in coffee shops just like you. There is a time and place for everything, and complaining to techs about how slow your computer is while they are eating their meal in a restaurant is not the right time.

Rule#3 — Don’t expect your old equipment to be able to run the latest and greatest software. Homes can last for a century. Properly-maintained cars can run for 30 years. Home appliances should run for decades with normal use. Computers bought in 2005 running Windows Vista Home Edition, with 1 GB of RAM will not successfully run Windows 8. You wouldn’t drive your riding lawnmower onto the interstate, would you? The hardware “under the hood” of your current old computer does not have the oomph needed to run what everyone is using nowadays. Techs understand that you paid over $1500 for your computer a number of years ago, but can’t be expected to hot-rod an old device to make it new, like a technological version of Cocoon, that movie about rejuvenation from the ‘80s.

Rule#4 — When a computer tech tells you a potential solution to your computer problem, do not say, “No I don’t think that’s it.” They are the technology experts, not you. Stop it.

Rule#5 — Do not antagonize, tease, or talk down to a computer tech. Techs have been called all the names you’re thinking of many times. Geek. Nerd. Poindexter. Bill Gates. Techs have heard all the generalizations people make about how they all have the pocket protectors, always wear glasses, always hunched over a computer screen playing World of Warcraft, and have no social skills. You may find these jokes to be funny, and a clever way of disguising your insecurity about not knowing how to fix your computer. Techs get that. But all they want is to be respected for the hours of time they have put into learning and acquiring their knowledge. And techs just want to be appreciated for the work they are doing for free. So be nice to them. Bring them a beer. Give them cookies. And show your appreciation for their help in a big way.

It’s a good thing to have a tech up your sleeve, like a good auto mechanic, or accountant, or a home repair contractor. The feeding and taking care of your tech will reap dividends in the future, because there will come a time when your computer or phone dies, and you’ll need them!

Embracing the Quiet

Originally published on December 1, 2016

Quiet can be unfamiliar. With a life dominated by noise, distractions, and chaos we don’t remember what it sounds like.

Quiet can feel tense, like a close-up shot in a suspenseful movie where we don’t know if the person is going to get attacked by surprise.

Quiet can be awkward. We may avoid the quiet so we don’t have to confront our own thoughts.

Quiet can be lonely, where you realize no one is there to keep you company.

I like the quiet because my brain can process what has happened during the day without other stimuli demanding attention.

I like the quiet because I don’t have to expend energy tracking someone’s voice in a crowded room.

I like the quiet because, eventually, a bunch of interesting thoughts pop into my head which never happen with noise surrounding me.

I like the quiet because it’s a valuable commodity in today’s society.

May we all embrace the quiet in our day…

The Aunch

I refer to it as the “aunch.”

It isn’t a friend of mine. In fact, it’s my worst enemy.

The aunch purposely sits in front of me, blocking my view of life. A wonderful life. A blessed life. Quite frankly, a better life than I deserve. It looks directly at me, smirking like an arrogant bully on a playground. It knows when I’m trying to look past it, and mirrors my movements to block my sight. I want to punch it right in the smirk, but it absorbs all impact. And it actually smiles more when I get angry or violent towards it. I have a tough time getting rid of it.

There are three places I usually get the aunch:

  • When I’m all alone in my bathroom, drying off after a shower. It’s just me and my reflection in the mirror. There’s the aunch, auditing my life and taking a big yellow highlighter and marking all the things I did wrong during the day.
  • When I’m all alone in my car, usually in traffic, often at a red light, which always takes forever. My car stereo can’t block out the aunch. Even when my favorite rock song is blasting, I’m singing loudly and off-key, the aunch still sits there in the passenger seat, fogging up my windshield so I can’t enjoy the ride.
  • When I’m finishing up the workday. So much accomplished, so many people helped, and there’s the aunch waiting for me. Arms folded like a disappointed parent, finger tapping on its elbow, inflating itself to block my path so I have to acknowledge it as I head home.

I’ve had to deal with the aunch since I was a teenager. And I’m wagering a lot of us have an aunch lurking around. If that’s the case for you, I support you. I know how tough it is to eliminate that nagging, dragging, slagging force of unhappiness in your life. It’s been a horrible weight for me to carry for the past 25 years or so, and if you are also saddled with this burdensome weight, keep in mind that you’re not alone. We are in it together.

Pause for a moment and re-read that last sentence. No, really. I mean it because what’s coming up is important.

Those five words, we are in it together, is like a kidney punch for the aunch. It doesn’t like having to pester groups of people; it likes to isolate one person at a time and block their path to happiness. When you can picture in your mind standing up straight, with me right alongside you, facing the aunch, it’s not as big a force as it was when it was just you one on one. I don’t know about you, but it gives me hope. Knowing that I’m not alone gives me the same feeling as when I flip on the defroster in my car. The anxiety I get from having to drive with a foggy, opaque windshield suddenly dissolves when everything becomes crystal clear. I believe we need to fight the aunch with trusted friends. Now I can’t be there in person with all of you, so what I would like you to do is to write down (with pen and paper, mind you, no technology screens) a few trusted friends that you can battle the aunch with. It knows who your friends are, and is deliberately whispering in your ear to disregard them, to not allow them to be your friend, because it wants to isolate you.

But sometimes we have to battle the aunch without our friends around. That’s a tough task. Those three situations I listed above? My battleground with unhappiness. I haven’t conquered this fight, but I’m working on some ways to turn the aunch’s yell down to an inaudible whisper. For what it’s worth, here’s something that’s been helpful to me so far:

When I’m faced with the aunch by myself, I picture in my mind big soap bubbles. It always brings a smile to my face as I watch a little child blowing them from their little soap bubble wand on a warm sunny afternoon in a park. Those floating bubbles are my thoughts; happy ones, sad ones, remorseful ones, future ones, dream ones, angry ones. You get the picture. I take a close look at those bubble thoughts. I know what kind of impact they have on my mood. So I poke those negative bubble thoughts with my finger and watch them pop. The happy, dream, future thoughts are the keepers. I like watching them float around. And the funny thing is, the aunch doesn’t seem to have the ability to pop those bubbles. They’re mine to pop. So I choose to keep those remaining thought bubbles floating around me.

The sooner we can figure out how to quiet the aunch, the better our experiences in life will be. My hope for you is that you will be able to believe, especially when you’re all alone in your car, or drying off from a shower, or hip-deep in busy with your family or with your work, that you are not alone in your sadness, you have friends who want to walk with you from unhappiness to a place of joy, and that we are in it together.

The Right Lane

For over two decades, I was a silent vigilante. An anonymous protector and defender of the rules which govern society. I didn’t have a cape or superhuman powers. I didn’t have a sidekick. However, I had a special ability that most people didn’t have.

I prevented drivers in the right-hand lane from getting in front of me in the left lane when it came time to merge.

It didn’t matter if it was a beat up Dodge minivan full of kids or a convertible Mustang with three gorgeous, women in bikini tops with hair blowing in the warm breeze*, I was first in line, everyone else got behind me. Including big trucks and semi-trailers.

You see, back when I studied my tail off to pass the written portion of my driver’s test, I really locked in on the rules of the road. Rules that state that cars needing to merge must yield to vehicles in the other lane and wait until adequate space is available until executing a successful lane merge. Nowhere in the rule book did it say drivers can turn on their blinker and merge in front of an upcoming vehicle, essentially making it the other driver’s problem to allow them in. Gradually over time, the injustice brought on by insensitive or oblivious drivers formed my anti-hero persona behind the wheel. I saw so much lawlessness and vehicular anarchy that I took matters into my own hands with my car. And I fought the forces of evil behind the wheel.

It was a dark time for society. And for me. But something happened to me recently that made me question my allegiance to this aggressive club.

I took a step back from my anger at insensitive drivers and looked at the bigger picture. I started to evaluate how much time I lost on my own drive time with those cars cutting me off in traffic. What I eventually realized was those drivers weren’t slowing me down from my original estimated time of arrival to my destination. Those drivers weren’t creating a dangerous situation where I might rear-end them. In fact, I had actually gotten good at predicting when they would signal to merge in front of me, so I proactively eased up on my accelerator, allowing enough distance for them to safely merge in front of me.

I often hold the door open for others when entering a store, so why couldn’t I “hold the door” for drivers to go ahead of me?

It took an extended period of time with a dedicated mindset to override my knee-jerk anger at other drivers going ahead of me. I quietly moved along with the traffic stream instead of being the boulder in the stream that the water has to flow around. And when those vigilant thoughts started to bubble up inside of me, I was mindful of them, aware of them, and allowed them to dissolve, resigning myself to the comforting thought that I’m not in a rush.

There is no rush.

  • This only happened once in my life. And the looks on the three ladies’ faces weren’t jovial from my rear view mirror.

They

They say you should buy this new thing, then they will think you’re cool.

They will think you’re ugly if you don’t have six-pack abs, tanned skin, and toned muscles.

They don’t want you to speak up, otherwise you’ll make things awkward for others.

They don’t want you to be nice to that person because they look different than the rest of us.

They will say that big person nearby is going to hurt you, so don’t trust them.

They are all gonna laugh at you.

They will think that personal, handmade accessory you created is horrible.

They will call you a loser because you believe in something most people don’t.

They will look at you funny if you act like your real, genuine self.

They don’t know you.

They don’t care about you.

They will never change their mind, no matter what you say to them.

They are close-minded.

They are mean.

They don’t like anyone.

They don’t know the struggles you contend with on a daily basis.

They don’t care about the hard work you do every day.

They don’t know just how funny your sense of humor actually is.

They don’t know just how much you have to offer someone.

They don’t see how genuinely nice you are deep down.

They don’t see just how lovable you are.

They don’t know that you are beautiful on the inside. And on the outside.

Who are they, anyway?

They don’t matter.

Creating Time and Space

Rare is the conversation where one boasts how much free time they have available. It seems to be commonplace, and in some cases a badge of honor, to lament how busy one’s life is. Most of our meetings with friends or co-workers involve the same chat flow. How you are doing, how is the week going, how busy you are, how cherished is that out-of-the-ordinary experience that was outside of work or the daily routine. I can’t think of the last time where someone shared with me a moment of insight they gained from an extended period of quiet thought. Sadly, I don’t have many meditation instructors or lottery winners in my conversation circles.

Someone whom I converse with on a frequent basis is a fellow by the name of Shay Colson. Shay is a cybersecurity ninja, and has a hectic life. Lots of projects, lots of meetings, and lots of family activities. Recently, he took to his blog to share about his loss of a luxury from the past. Something that was in abundance in earlier days and now is rare. He was talking about opportunities for him to simply think.

…it’s the time and space — and the fact that I don’t just “have” it anymore, but rather need to create it, prevent other things from overtaking it, and preserve it.

I’m in the same boat with him. And I’d wager that we all are adrift with Shay in an ocean of busy, all dog-paddling for a quick visit to the land of peace and quiet before we dive back into life. So where is that oasis of time to think that we all desire? It’s out there, ready for us to visit.

We all need to deliberately set aside time during the day to give attention to our thoughts. This important time must be viewed as sacrosanct. Whether it’s 15 minutes or two hours, this time must not be taken away from our schedule and replaced by another task. Like Shay mentioned in his blog post, we need to prevent other so-called important tasks to taking over our time to just. Simply. Think. Let’s practice this briefly, shall we? I’d like you to ponder this: When did it get to the point where we, as individuals, became lower in priority to our responsibilities at work? Who took that away from us? Take a few minutes to think about this. It’s important. I’ll still be here when your focus returns.

For me, it’s gotten to a point in my life where I purposefully have to schedule a half-hour meeting with myself on a frequent basis. Otherwise the avalanche of things on my plate will overload my thoughts, my actions, and my waking hours. Before I know it, the day has concluded and I’m in bed trying to go to sleep, with a little voice in the back of a arena-sized crowd of thoughts jumping up and down, waving its arms at me and shouting, “Hey Chris! I still need you to pay attention to me!” Unfortunately, when this occurs, I’m mentally shushing this quiet voice as I try to fall asleep. Sad, huh? That little voice, or those little thoughts that come into our minds during the day, need to be given attention. I believe those thoughts are special. They make us better, and they eventually make us happier.

In addition to carving out time for ourselves, we need to create the right environment for us to have a good think:

  • It must not be in your office or where you do your work. That’s where your mind is used to busy activity and stress. Get out of there and find a place that doesn’t scream task task task. Extra credit if you are able to find a place with pleasant scenery and no visual distractions. More focus on your thoughts and what’s going on in your head, less distractions about that awful Inspiration poster print on the conference room wall. When I take time to think, I seek solitude. Superman had a fortress for this purpose, I deserve a place like this, too! No people nearby who could interrupt attention to my thoughts.
  • Have a drink nearby. I believe sipping on something takes away thirst, which will distract your brain from dedicated focus. Alcohol and caffeine alter your mind in different ways, which may prohibit you getting in optimal think mode. Consider cool water with a little bit of lemon, which is also good for cleaning out some toxins in your liver. Double bonus!
  • Avoid music with a recognizable beat. Our minds will eventually synchronize with the tempo, thus taking away dedicated attention to our thoughts. Ambient space music works for me when I need to think. Waves of quiet, non-intrusive soundscapes float in and out of my ears, just like all the thoughts in my brain floating in an out. If you don’t know what kind of ambient music to listen to, consider Brian Eno’s Neroli. It’s been one of my go-to soundtracks for a long time when I need a session of solitude. If you are able to listen to something familiar when you think, your brain may not be paying attention to the music, because it has heard it before.

Just like an art gallery has a curator, our minds deserve to have curation, where thoughts, feelings, and emotions are organized and placed in the spotlight, allowing us to browse and learn from within. We need to be curators of our own minds so that it looks like a place we would want to visit on a regular basis instead of a cluttered closet or attic that we avoid.

Honoring Commitments

Back in high school, I attended Evergreen Boys State, a week-long conference for young men sponsored by the American Legion. A fabulous keynote speaker said this during this conference:

I will do what I say I will do when I say I will do it.”

C.G. “Coke” Roberts, Green River Community College

This phrase has stuck with me ever since. It gives me purpose in my life. It inspires me be responsible to myself and others. I feel an increased sense of honor when I live by this maxim. While I slip sometimes, this statement drives my life, both as a professional and as an adult in society. Holding yourself accountable to what you say makes you an adult.

When I make an appointment with a doctor, an auto mechanic, a massage therapist, or some other business, I’m making a commitment to that business to show up at that given time to get help. And, by cracky, I’m going to show up! Unfortunately, many of us make appointments, and don’t show up. Many of us don’t realize skipping an appointment costs a professional money for billable time. When we don’t show up, they lose money because that time slot could be filled with a paying customer who actually shows up. This brings us to society’s current trend where businesses send us reminders by both voicemail and text message to our phones so we don’t forget or skip our appointment. And asking us to reply to the text message. “Studies have shown” that people who text a reply are more likely to honor their commitment to their appointment. Welcome to the nagging portion of cultural history.

One more distraction added to our day. One more task added to our day’s list of things to accomplish; reply to an automated service telling them we’ll make our appointment. Makes me feel like I’m being treated as an irresponsible teenager again.

The more we integrate doing what we say we will do in our daily walk, the more we will improve society around us. The more we honor the commitments we make to others, the more we will be valued. And businesses won’t have to find additional ways to remind us to keep our commitments. Do what we say we will do when we say we will do it.

The 10-foot Fogbank

Sing along if you know the words.

Someone says something to you that you weren’t expecting. It catches you off guard, and what they said hurt your feelings. You feel embarrassed or ashamed. Doesn’t matter if the person is family, a friend, or an acquaintance at work. Doesn’t matter if it’s done on purpose or on accident. You’re angry at them, and now your world is clouded with negativity. Perhaps you’re even in revenge mode, calculating how you can respond to hurt them back.
InsideOutAnger

I spent a good portion of my adult years looking like Anger from the movie Inside Out when someone caught me off guard with their words.

It wasn’t a pretty sight.

A few years ago, I forced myself to take a step back from my anger and let my mind examine why I was feeling this way. I found a quiet room devoid of distractions or noise. I closed my eyes and took some calming deep breaths. After taking a few minutes of letting my mind settle, a unique scene popped into my mind. I was standing by myself in a field, encircled by dark grey fog. About 10 feet of visibility. I stood there for a few minutes, unable to see anything past the fog. Then my mind watched the fog dissipate, revealing a clear landscape of mountains and fields. I could see so much more than before.

It hit me then that the dark fog was my narrow-minded interpretation of why someone hurt my feelings. I was only focused on myself and what I knew. My limited universe of knowledge. After the fog cleared, I realized there was a lot more to their situation. I allowed myself to consider that the other person could be hurting, or stressed out, or simply oblivious to what they say or do to others. I gave them the benefit of the doubt…and I gave myself permission to give them grace for the hurtful words. By considering their situation, I learned that their hurting me may not have been done on purpose. After a couple of exhales, I visualized others whom I could apply grace and forgiveness to.

Perspective is essential for our inner peace.

Permission

Somewhere along the way we allowed others to speak into our lives. Somewhere along the way we listened to “them” more than “us.” It’s time to take back what is rightfully ours.

  • Permission to place ourselves at a higher priority than our work.
  • Permission to believe in something even though others may disapprove.
  • Permission to not be afraid of society, even though we suffer from the memories of the past.
  • Permission to allow others to love us, even though we may not feel worthy of receiving love.
  • Permission to give ourselves a break when we don’t meet our high standards every single time.
  • Permission to give ourselves credit for small improvements made every day.
  • Permission to be proud of how far we have come since 2015. Or 2010.
  • Permission for others to show us areas where we can improve as a person.
  • Permission to forgive ourselves. For everything.
  • Permission to forgive others and move on.
  • Permission to say no to requests if it stretches us too thin.
  • Permission to speak up when we experience injustice.
  • Permission to play after working hard.
  • Permission to remove activities and commitments from our life.
  • Permission to rest.

May we all grant ourselves, and others, permission. May we enjoy the freedom that results from it.