The Tough Questions

It’s so easy to push those negative thoughts down or out or cover them up with pretty frilly things; things that distract, hide, conceal. The hard questions are just that, hard.

About eight years ago my doctor and good friend, sat me down and laid it out for me . . . if I continued living the life I was living, I would die sooner than later. He prescribed Xanax and gave me very clear instructions on how much to take and when to take it. I’ve always hated taking any kind of medication; therefore, I found this to be extremely upsetting and unsettling; I argued and resisted and refused them at first; eventually caving.

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The thing is, I was exercising almost daily, eating healthy foods, seeing a therapist, and talking to close friends. So why was I still so stressed.

“You can play it safe, and I wouldn’t blame you for it. You can continue as you’ve been doing, and you’ll survive, but is that what you want? Is that enough?”
― J.M. Darhower, Sempre

Because I had been in therapy for years and did not feel my life was changing (the way I’d hoped it would), I hired a life coach. Therapy was helping me figure things out and cope with my past, but it wasn’t helping me to see how I might change my current situation.

My life coach helped me to ask the big questions concerning what I wanted in my life and how to get from A to B. She didn’t just ask questions; Betsy was engaging. It was less about figuring out why I am the way I am and more about what I did and did not want out of my life. She was extremely supportive and non-judgmental. Perhaps I could have pulled myself up and out on my own, but the investment in my own wellbeing, paid off.

Questions We Need to Ask Ourselves

  • Am I happy?
  • Am I where I want to be?
  • Are people treating me the way I want to be treated?
  • Are people treating me with respect?
  • Am I being true to myself?
  • Is _____________ good for me?
  • Can I change the things I’m unhappy about?
  • What is stopping me from being my authentic self?
  • Is it worth whatever discomfort __________ causes?
  • Does it matter? Does he/she matter?
  • Is there something troubling me?
  • Is it time for change?

Quick Story

I was involved in a toxic relationship about 20 years ago. It was on and off, more off than on. I kept telling myself that he would change — the lies we tell ourselves. I’m sure you’ve been there. One day I was struggling with the stupid little shiny objects that distract us from the truth. I was sitting in a Starbucks hating my burnt coffee, my stale lemon pound cake, my life. A stranger sat next to me and started up a conversation. She was young and pretty and way too happy.

I kept thinking she would go away and let me get back to my misery, but alas, she was determined. I realized after a few minutes that she was a student at the school where I was the Dean of Students.

At one point while engaging in the usual social niceties, she saw someone walk in and she said,”I thought I just saw your wife.”

I was sort of stunned and bewildered. I questioned her about this and she responded, “Doesn’t your wife work at the school.”

After revealing my sexuality, the two of us had a good laugh. I had no idea that the students thought I was married to a staff member. It got me thinking about perception and forced me to ask myself:

How do you want to be perceived? The truthful answer I gave myself changed my life. I wanted to be perceived as an openly gay and confident man. I had a lot to work on and the questions I had to ask myself to get the work done, were challenging.

I committed to doing the work and although I admit to sometimes going backward before going forward, for the most part, I have been doing the heavy lifting for awhile now. It has been worth the effort, because although life is not perfect, I am where I want to be and I am in a good place emotionally. One can only get there by asking the tough questions.

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Questions I’d Like to Ask You

Many of you contact me privately, which is fine; whatever makes you comfortable. I would like to pose a couple of questions — please answer any or all of them. I ask that you comment on my site so that others can see your response. Many will relate I’m sure. Of course I understand if that makes you uncomfortable and you choose not to. Nothing worse than feeling coerced.

  1. Does fear get in the way of making life changes?
  2. Am I putting off life goals for another time?
  3. Are these issues that worry me life and death matters?
  4. Do you feel empowered to make major changes in your life?
  5. Do you feel that you know yourself?
  6. Are you too comfortable to make a change?
  7. Is looking in the mirror just too painful?
  8. Are you making excuses?

And then there is the question I didn’t ask . . .

Remaining Positive . . .

Or Shaking Off the Negative

 

Around the time that I decided to move overseas, there were a good many disappointments in my life. My 50s were not that great. Frustrated. Feeling trampled on. Left behind. Poor me. No, no, poor, poor me. I struggled with feelings and thoughts that are so foreign to me now, I’d have to dig deep to recall what most of them were . . . and that’s a good thing. I have learned that you can’t run away from your thoughts; however, you can learn to put them into perspective and focus on what truly matters.

I did not move across the pond in order to escape life in Maine. Moving to Europe at some point in my life was a dream and it happened to be as good a time as any to realize that dream.

New beginnings and distance from relationships, helped me examine satisfaction and happiness in my life; where I wanted to be versus where I had been.

 

Goals and Objectives

Objective:  a measure of progress

I have been goal oriented since I decided that peeing in a teeny toilet was far better than sitting in a wet diaper. Seriously, I have always made a list of goals. Early on it was a “to do” list; however, I later learned that there were things I needed to achieve that were more complicated than a daily task. For example:  finding a part-time job when I was a teenager was a way to achieve independence. Buying a home was a way to earn equity; I have often wondered why people who could afford to buy a home, give money to a landlord. It seems counterintuitive to me, but to each his or her own.

Setting goals helps you to feel that have direction; you get a sense for where you want to go. So much more productive than dwelling on negative circumstances in your past.

Current goal:  To learn Portuguese

Objectives:

  1. Set aside a certain amount of time each day to study
  2. Use an app to reinforce vocabulary
  3. Purchase a textbook to assist in the learning process
  4. Work with a tutor twice weekly
  5. Practice, practice, practice

Just an example of what you can do to reach a goal. Don’t forget to periodically check yourself to be certain you’re on track for success.

I went to the grocery store to buy a steak on Monday. I decided I would only speak Portuguese to ask for the steak. The butcher I have been going to for two years, smiled and said, “Excellent, you sound Portuguese.” You have no idea how good it felt to hear those words. Patting yourself on the back is an great way to reinforce the work you’re doing toward achieving a goal. It made me want to learn more so that I can someday have a conversation with him in Portuguese . . . and I will.

I have come to realize that important things in our lives don’t just happen. We have to plan for them, work towards achievement, and reward ourselves when we get there.

 

Dreams

Dreams are very different from goals; goals being more practical and easier to attain. Dreams are big and bold and sometimes seem far into the future. They require out-of-the-box thinking and intense self-empowerment. Neither is easy and we all know that is true.

Sometimes our dreams become reality by luck and good fortune and other times they are shattered and destroyed. Once we accept the ups and downs and highs and lows of life, everything becomes just a little easier. The thing the keep in mind is:  just having a dream is very positive.

Have you ever had a dream come true? When it happens (and it can and will), there is nothing else like the feeling of joy you have when you come to that realization.

I had always dreamt about crossing the finish line at the New York City Marathon. I pictured myself running in Central Park and hearing the crowds cheer me on. I imagined the support from friends and family. I even went so far as to make a space on my dresser for my medal. The day that dream came true was like nothing else I have ever achieved. The elation, the high, the sense of accomplishment and the pride, cannot be measured or fully explained; what you feel is absolute euphoria. The byproducts are even greater:  the knowledge that your dreams can come true, the desire to keep dreaming, and the willingness to do the work.

Yes, I am boasting a bit. I am proud of this achievement and I believe as long as I don’t wear my metal around my neck and rub it in your face, it’s okay to occasionally share my pride with others. I don’t have a partner, supervisor, or fanclub to tout my achievements. It’s my responsibility to puff myself up and show those around me that I am enough. Clearly, you shouldn’t have to run a marathon to know that you are, but the reality is that we live in a world of measurements, standards, and comparisons. Perhaps it’s just human and it will always be this way. You either go along with it or you’re left behind.

I like dreaming big. I enjoy manifesting my dreams and making them real. I embrace the sense of achievement and pride that comes with having a lofty goal become reality. What is that famous quote, “Shoot for the stars and land on the moon?” I looked it up and found 16 versions of the same idea.

 

A lifelong dream:  Someday I’d like to own a home where I can wake up and see the ocean. I can currently see the Atlantic Ocean beyond the Ria Formosa, but what I’m talking about is seeing and hearing waves. I’m not ready to give up on this dream. It’s not world peace; it’s much more realistic and personal.

They (the experts) say, “If you can see it, than you can have it.” I’m beginning to see it.

 

Impulse

Being more impulsive has been one of my more difficult goals to achieve. Stubborn personality traits can sometimes win out over our more whimsical desires. I always wanted to be the sort of person who wakes up in the morning and decides to drop everything and take a flight to Puerto Rico (or some other faraway place); this is unlikely to happen. I am just way too practical and my “to do” list has always been my priority. I’m taking baby steps by booking trips without spending much time weighing the pros and cons. The flip side of being more practical, is the ability to achieve goals by planning; setting aside the funds to have what you want in the future, rather than spending it all on impulses — balance is key. There are some who will laugh at this and wish they were less impulsive; our differences are part of the human condition.

 

The People You Surround Yourself With

I believe that of all the lessons I have learned in life, learning to walk away has been the most important. Toxic people cause us great harm and often, emotional pain. It is difficult to confront a person you have known for a long time and to share your truth. Often you know the kind of response you will get before you even have the conversation. Most people avoid confrontation. These same people have a difficult time with criticism. They become defensive, angry and lash out. I’m willing to give it a go, just to test the waters. However, these days after one failed attempt, I rarely go back for more. You need to weigh the pros and cons to determine how important it is to have this person in your life.

This attitude can seem cold, harsh, and uncaring. Actually, I think it’s love on the highest level; it’s a love of oneself — a love we must embrace. It’s a path to staying positive. I’ve shared this struggle on several occasions, proving to myself, that it remains a struggle.

 

Is Moving Away the Solution?

The answer is no; however, taking a step back in order to gain perspective is key. If moving away means running away and not addressing the issue, then no, it’s not a solution. Stay put and sort things out; if you still want to relocate after you’ve moved on emotionally, then and only then, would a major move be positive.

Leaving New York and moving to Maine was probably a “run away” scenario — I’m certain my close friends would share that belief. It was painful and difficult to address the issue I was dealing with from over 300 miles away. Fortunately, I was committed to facing and getting past the thing that was gnawing away at my psyche.

 

When the Past Revisits You

Many people come in and out of our lives without much fanfare. They are good people who make us smile, teach us lessons, and enhance our lives. Much of the time we’re too busy to stop and truly notice.

This week, I received a call from an individual I worked with in the culinary world 15 years ago. He told me that he’d come across my name and was curious about how things were going in my life. He shared his own success and we talked about the past. He was very generous with his memories of me and my contributions. Two things stuck out about his call:  first, we sometimes make a positive impression on an individual and never get to learn about it, and secondly, we dwell on relationships that are/were difficult, rather than focusing on the ones that enhance(d) our lives.

This individual helped me to remember some very positive events happening in my life at that time. Clearly, when I consider my past these are not the memories that surface for me. What I learned from this unexpected call, is the importance of recalling the positive memories; these memories will add perspective and hope to your current situation. I am very grateful to this individual for unknowingly teaching me an important life lesson. We have the ability to recall significant accomplishments in our past that shaped who we are and informed where we ended up. I would not be happily living in Portugal had it not been for my past experiences — why not reflect upon the happy memories and allow them to add to our current happiness.

 

A Few On-line Resources:

The Power of Positive Thinking

21 Ways to Create and Maintain a Positive Attitude

https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/positive-attitude-leads-success-happiness-dr-sanjay-prem/

 

What’s Coming:

Traveling to Toulouse (return trip) in a few weeks, Manchester in April, and the Outer Banks of North Carolina in May. Look for observations, thoughts, opinions, and travel tips.