Finding the Right Balance/When Loneliness Strikes/An Act of Kindness — Reblog

man walking on train rail
Photo by Chinmay Singh on Pexels.com

 

Hard to imagine doing anything these days without feeling some guilt. An overwhelming number of articles, television shows, religious authorities, relatives and so on, telling us what’s good for us; who knows what’s best anymore. Truth be known, most of us know what’s good for us. We don’t need a know-it-all “expert” to share their opinion on how to live. Lately, I find myself almost offended by every Tom, Dick or Harry who tries to influence my next thought.

And it’s not just experts weighing-in. Social media are awash with opinionated people who get angry when you challenge their opinion; I’m not making this about politics mind you; I’m talking about every day thoughts, opinions or advice. It’s terrific that people are willing to share their good fortune or experiences, but one needs to accept that not everyone cares or wants to know. As a blogger, I think about this every day. I’m fully aware that a reader can skip over a line, disagree with a thought, or challenge an opinion. In fact, I welcome it. Like anything else, there are appropriate boundaries and we’re all guilty of occasionally crossing them. The art of discourse is a lost art and I for one would like to champion its return.

You have to find a balance between what you listen to, who you listen to, and listening to the voice within.

 

Loneliness

As trite as it sounds, I enjoy my own company. I’ve always secretly been critical of people who claim to be lonely — I just didn’t relate. Truth is, I woke up at 5:00 a.m. this morning feeling very much alone. The difference is that the Atlantic Ocean lies between me and all the people I love. I didn’t imagine this move would be any different than any I have made in the past, but yes, it is far from the same. When you can’t just jump in your car and see someone in a few short hours, that’s a huge difference. The feeling didn’t last long mind you. I thought about a number of friends and family members who will be visiting soon and I felt better. I also thought about how I take those I care about for granted and of course, I now have a better understanding of what it’s like to be alone.

Lots of lessons here and many ways to cope. Revealing these thoughts to you is a first step. When friends and family told me that I was brave to make a move like this, I shrugged it off. I still don’t consider it brave, but now I know what they meant. So the next step is to search for meaning. I have been trying to protect myself from feeling love, empathy and sorrow. If I live in the moment and fully experience these feelings, what will they teach me and am I ready to learn?

Here’s what I know:

  1. Loneliness is temporary.
  2. There is truth and meaning in the exploration of our feelings.
  3. Strangers can help fill a void.
  4. Memories are powerful.
  5. Loss of any kind hurts.
  6. Accepting your truth is to be fully aware of who you are.
  7. You may not always like what you learn, but you have to forgive and embrace.
  8. You have to put yourself out there.
  9. Be prepared for change.
  10. Books can be delicious company.

Prologue:

I wrote this piece a few hours ago and decided that a cloudy, muggy day is a great day for the mercado (market). I walked in and the first face I saw was Myriam’s. I met Myriam my first week in Faro. She was born in Venuzuala, but she has lived in the States and still has family there. In fact, she just returned from visiting her daughter in Miami. Myriam lives about 30 miles away in Tavira and she has not been in Portugal very long. She manages a Brazilian owned coffee shop in the Mercado — great coffee by the way. Her warmth and smile were what I needed today, but what she shared with me, I needed even more:

Myriam asked me how I am adjusting to life here in Portugal and I told her what I was feeling this morning. She said, “I want you to read what I posted on Facebook this morning.” Reception is bad at the mercado and we both just about gave up on logging onto to Facebook and then this appeared on her home page:

La soledad espeligrosa y muy adictiva. Una vez que te das cuenta de cuánta paz hay en ella, no querrás lidiar con las personas.

– – Paulo Coelho (click for wikipedia biography)

 

Translation:

Lonliness is very addictive. Once you realize how much peace there is in it, you will not want to deal with people.

Me:  Enough said.

 

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Friday on the beach with a good book and the sound of the ocean.

 

When you’re looking for reasons to be grateful and there it is, staring you right in the face:

As is to be expected . . . I’ve been second guessing my move to Portugal. I don’t mean that I lie awake at night regretting my move or wondering, “What did I do?” What I mean is that this is still very new (10 weeks) and I sometimes ponder if this huge change was the right thing to do. I think it’s perfectly natural to wonder and then this happened:

I bought a piece of artwork that needs framing and I asked a friend here if he knew of a frame shop. Funny thing here in the Algarve, when you type “frame shop nearby” into Google, it only lists a select few options. I’m not sure I understand why, but perhaps that will be another blog. Of course Pedro knew of a place, Pedro always knows. He didn’t know the name of the shop, but he pulled out a map and pointed to where it was. The smart thing to do would have been to take a picture of the map; however, I am not a Millennial (not by a long stretch) and so I often forget that I have that option — there is a probably an app that will link the map location with the type of shop and tell you the name of the shop, but alas, I wouldn’t know how to find that app.

I did, however, set out to find the frame shop. I got the general vicinity right (I could feel it) but after 15 minutes of going back and forth on the same three streets I finally gave up and went into a hair salon to ask for directions. The owner knew instantly that I was not a customer (stop laughing, it’s not that funny). I asked her if she spoke English and like most Portuguese people, she responded, “A little.” I joke about this because most people hear will respond that way and then speak beautiful English. I’m not yet at a place in my studies where I can even attempt to have a conversation in Portuguese. I asked her if she knew where the frame shop was and she seemed disappointed. Then she shouted to someone in the back room of the shop. A young woman stepped out and asked me what I was looking for. I told her and she said, “Come with me.” At this point I thought we’d step outside and she would point toward the shop. That is not what happened, instead, she crossed the street (I followed close behind sort of amazed) and then she crossed a second street (I was baffled), then she turned left and then right and there we stood in front of the frame shop.

As I said, earlier, I have been daydreaming about life back in the States; however, today I realized that I am home. I’m not sure I could be living in a friendlier, more welcoming place. A small act of kindness was all I needed for a lot of reassurance.

As my friend John always tells me, “Palms up to the universe.”

The Power of Your Smile

“Always wear a smile because you never know who is watching.” Gracie Gold

 

 

I want to smile more. I do. One would think that this would be an easy goal, but trust me, if you’re not inclined to smile, deciding to do so, just like that, is a difficult objective. I was born cynical, but coming up in my world, how could I not be. I also believe this is one of those nature/nurture arguments. Was I cynical because of my genetic makeup or did growing up in a tortured household make me cynical. For the purpose of this piece, let’s call it a draw and say that both factors are the cause. The point is, I have to work at smiling and how do you get to Carnegie Hall? Practice, practice, practice.

“Love yourself for who you are, and trust me, if you are happy from within, you are the most beautiful person, and your smile is your best asset.” Ileana D’Cruz

Some Ways/Places to Practice Smiling

  • Tell yourself to smile every morning. You can do it when you’re brushing your teeth. It won’t take any more time out of your busy day. Soon it will be as routine as brushing; you won’t even think about it.
  • Add a little caveat to practicing your smile:  make it so that you cannot smile unless you add something you’re grateful for. For example:  this morning, before I brushed my teeth, I thought about how grateful I was that I slept well and then I smiled.
  • Practice while you’re doing something mundane — like when you’re on the treadmill at the gym or while you’re riding in a bus or on the subway.
  •  Look straight into a mirror and keep smiling.
  • Practice with a friend or family member. Let them tell you what they think of your smile and accept the feedback. Is it genuine? Too broad? Too big?

 

Be Your Own Motivator

I have a friend whom I met at a gym in Portland, Maine. He was struggling on an abdominal machine near where I was working out. He saw me watching him and asked me if I knew how to use the machine. I hopped on and did a few reps (gym lingo for repetitions just to show you how cool I can be). Chomba is from Zambia, he studied in Europe, he’s in his 20s and he’s quite a specimen; naturally I was pleased to show him how to use the machine correctly. Like any normal man, I preened and walked away triumphant. A few days later I saw him using the same machine and he was smiling ear-to-ear. Honestly, Chomba has the most genuine and beautiful smile I have ever seen. I noticed him using the very same machine on a regular basis. I finally approached him and asked him if he used any other equipment at the gym. He shared a big laugh and thanked me for showing him how to use the machine. I said, “Chomba, because I always see you on this ab machine, I am naming it the Chomba Machine.” From then on I when I would see him I would ask if he had done his ab reps on the Chomba machine that day.

Weeks went by of just saying hello in the gym and I thought it was time to become friends outside of Planet Fitness. I approached him and invited him over to my place for dinner. I was having a dinner party and I thought he’d be a great addition to my guest list. Chomba was delighted and came to my place with a nice bottle of wine. Everyone at party fell in love with him. He’s the kind of person who lights up the room and makes everyone feel special. That night I learned that he was a motivator working out of Boston. His firm was hired by companies to motivate their staff (Chomba if I’m getting this all wrong I apologize). What I loved more than anything is that he did not boast about his work or his life. We had to poke and pry before he came clean. Chomba is a modest fella. By the way, Chomba models now and always stays in touch. I’m grateful for his candor, his loyalty and his beautiful smile.

What Chomba has taught me is invaluable. Essentially, you can be your own motivator. You can do what he does, but in your own head. You can get yourself charged-up and energized whenever you feel yourself needing a little boost.

 

Experiment

Having been a sociology student in college, I often love to go back to my roots and do human interaction (behavior) experiments. I like to occasionally spend the day smiling all day just to see how people respond to it. I also enjoy seeing if it affects my mood.

I have to say that I get pretty amazing results:

  • People almost always smile back.
  • It sometimes feels like you’re waking someone up and suddenly they seem to come alive.
  • It makes me feel lighter.
  • The results make me want to do it more often.
  • Sometimes it makes strangers laugh; especially when I smile really big. I’m thinking, they must think I’m crazy, but who cares.
  • There is a reason for the saying “A smile goes a long way.”
  • I am in the middle of a very frustrating experience with an upgrade to my apartment. The person responsible for getting the work done has been slacking off and it’s sort of driving me crazy. The project began 14 months ago. I decided to give him an ultimatum knowing that he might walk away from the job. Instead, when I saw him I smiled. It appears that is not what he expected and I believe he may be close to finishing the job. Yesterday, I received a call from a man who will hopefully complete the job this week.

 

Current Mood

One of the interesting things about blogging is how your mood and thoughts change as you work through a particular thread of thoughts. I woke today in a non-smiling mood. You may relate to what I’m feeling, except that I don’t quite know what I am feeling. What I do know, is that I don’t feel like smiling. I had an interaction yesterday that was troubling and it’s still on my mind. I’m pissed to put it bluntly.

I am going to work through these feelings and thoughts by forcing a smile and see where it takes me . . .

The next day:  the left home for a bed & breakfast about 90 minutes away. Sometimes it helps to be away from your familiar environment. I found myself smiling just as soon as I boarded the train.

 

Smiling is one of those things you can do to brighten your day and/or someone else’s day, and it cost nothing! Nada! Zip! Zero cents! In fact, studies have shown that it’s good for you too.

The act of smiling activates neural messaging that benefits your health and happiness. … The feel-good neurotransmitters — dopamine, endorphins and serotonin — are all released when a smile flashes across your face as well (4). This not only relaxes your body, but it can also lower your heart rate and blood pressure.Jun 25, 2012

 

 There’s Magic in Your Smile

 

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Definitely more of a kiss than a smile, but we’re both happy 🙂

A Note to Today’s Youth

To those out on their own paths, setting little fires.

— Celeste Ng

 

 

 

I have to state right up front, I am not bitter nor angry. I like young people — don’t judge, I mean in a healthy way. Lots of 60 year olds are jaded and set in their ways, so conversing with a hopeful, energetic young person can be refreshing. I’m fortunate to have many great-nieces and nephews who are willing to talk; conversation being such a rare occurrence these days. [Note:  One has to be cautious because that the media has painted an ugly portrait of gay men who spend time with boys; I am sadly acutely aware of this perception. I am also aware that the same taboos exist for straight men and girls. In our society, perception is everything.I proceed cautiously.]

The good thing about how I prepare these blogs is the spacing between thoughts. As I think about this entry, I realize that I know nothing about what is on and in the minds of our young people today; therefore, I am making a lot of assumptions and I hope to be forgiven for it. I’m also aware that much of how we behave is developmental and in reality, some of us develop more quickly. But the nature versus nurture factor has a large baring on how the young mature and therefore, it is the nurture part I will address.

 

My Observations, Some Speculation and a Lot of Darts in the Air

Lately, rather than sit in rage and stew about global matters, I have been directing my attention to our youth. I live just feet away from a high school in Faro, Portugal. Some of what I observe on a daily basis is disturbing and confounding. I cannot imagine how any young person today could smoke that first or 100th cigarette. Even if parents and teachers are not educating children about the dangers of smoking, there are an abundance of warnings put out there by media and the government. Still, during their class breaks, I see hundreds of young people outside smoking cigarettes and marijuana. I’m concerned about their health and the economic future of our planet. Smoking is the number one cause of our escalating healthcare throughout the developed world. The role models these kids look up to in Europe, are unfortunately,  not very heathy; the amount of adult smoking is astounding. To those young adults smart enough not to smoke, I say, good for you for taking care of yourself.

I’m starting with the negatives, however, there will later, be a good deal of positive observations to share.

  • I have to be careful not to make sweeping generalizations here:  I know there are young people who are employed; however, I also know that one of the reasons it has become very difficult to fill physical labor and entry level positions, is that young people are not entering the work force until after much later in life. In the past, parents had their children work while in high school and college in order to teach them the value of money, independence, and self-discipline. Parents today are afraid to take the focus away from studying and extra-curricular activities. I believe it’s important to make a little money and learn how to manage one’s time. I strongly recommend that young people have a part-time job as early on as possible.
  • Our youth are obviously frustrated with politics. Considering old white guys have, for the most part, been running the show for a long time, who’s to blame them. Being frustrated is no excuse for inaction. Change will never take place unless our young people start to question our political leaders and en masse, take them to task. I see some of this, however, not nearly enough.
  • Social media came on pretty quickly and I know it’s done more good than damage; however, what I have seen is a change in the way people are communicating. Since I am focusing on the youth, my biggest concern is the amount of time young people are spending locked-up in their bedrooms face timing, texting, and surfing the web. Face-to-face, human-to-human interaction has to be better than cyber communication.
  •  I’m going to blame the parents for problems we are having with young people; there is no one else to blame. From where I’m sitting, it seems to be an issue around respect. Now of course this is not true of all parents, but in general, parents seem to have lost control over their kids. I’m not a parent and I don’t have the answers; however, what I’ve noticed over the last 30 years or so, there is too much freedom given to children. Kids want discipline in their lives; it’s a way of saying I love and care about you.
  • Those who teach young people have a huge role to play in how they behave, their self-esteem, and the life choices they make. It’s not fair to put it all on the teachers. They now have the added fear and responsibility of dealing with guns in schools and I’m not sure any of us can imagine what that must be like. In reality, this too is an opportunity to shape the minds of our young people (example of students rising up and demanding change). It’s easy excuse to complain about student apathy, paperwork and low salaries. Teachers need to remember why they decided to teach and they need to begin to work together more to bring about change. Again, we are at a place where frustration and anger are getting in the way of process. Clearly, those emotions are being projected on to the children. I imagine my words will anger many teachers. I was a college instructor for day years and I know from experience that when you show interest and make connections, it makes a difference. It means more time, energy and dedication, but even if you make a difference in one life, you have done a service to that individual and society.

“[Kids] don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are.”
― Jim Henson, It’s Not Easy Being Green: And Other Things to Consider“

The mediocre teacher tells. The good teacher explains. The superior teacher demonstrates. The great teacher inspires.”
― William Arthur Ward

 

What Makes Me Hopeful

So much is happening all of the world that makes me feel hopeful about our future. Young people protesting gun violence in schools, young people marching against climate change, young people turning out to vote, and young people inspiring adults. It’s not all doom and gloom — I just want to see more of it.

I was more involved as an activist as a young person. I has energy, ambition and drive; then I became jaded and judgmental. We all go through different stages of our lives; we all look back and have regrets; and we all have opinions. In my opinion, the youth of today is smarter and more mature than we were 30, 40, 50 years ago. Social media has made it easier to spread the word and light a spark, the likes of which we have never witnessed in the past. We are experiencing such polarization and global awareness and I believe our young people have taken notice and are finally coming to terms with their power, obligation and their ability to make change with a sense of urgency and real impact.

 

A quick Message to Our Youth

  • Take to the streets, Have you seen what is happening in Hong Kong and extradition to mainland China. I am inspired by this uprising and I am certain that this very large group of protestors are making a difference. Venezuelans, Europeans, Argentinians, and citizens throughout the world are coming out in massive numbers to show their opposition and initiate change. Empowerment is powerful.
  • Use social media to make your message clear and you thoughts/feelings known. Spend less time on selfies and superficial matters and more time on social change and shaping the future.
  • Stop smoking and start taking better care of the vessel you have been given to live a meaningful life. Your future will be better for having done the work now.
  • Live in the moment and savor every second you have to enjoy nature, human imperfection and one another. Our capacity for depth and meaning knows no bounds.
  • Guide adult behavior and action. We’re all human, we all make mistakes, and it’s never too late to learn. Adults are often at a loss about how to treat you, what to say to you, and learning more about who you are. Share what is in your heart and on your mind; the revelation will astound them and you will benefit from their response.
  • When you get older you will realize that the gift of youth is energy, passion, fearlessness and the ability to make mistakes — you have some time to correct those mistakes and learn from them. Embrace all of those things while your young and you will be a better person for having done it. You will inspire your peers and set an example for the rest of us; God knows we need inspiration.
  • Be yourself and resist the urge to conform.
  • If you feel different inside, allow that difference to shine through in self-expression. People will embrace you for your authenticity and courage . Those who cannot because their minds are small or their own experience is limited, should not be regarded; focus on yourself. What others think of you is none of your business. Worry more about what you think of yourself. Once you have learned to love yourself, all the other love in the world will come your way — you will be a magnet for positivity and healthy love.
  • Talk to one another face-to-face and share your feelings. We all have insecurities, self-doubt and pain. Sharing it makes it so much easier for coping. You will find that being human means we share similar thoughts and feelings and that are dissimilarities are beautiful.
  • Physical love and affection is another one of our many gifts; however, impulses and hasty decisions often lead to pain and regret. Caution is good and learning to say no is empowering. Be your own person and don’t let others tell you how or should feel or what action you should take. Being your own person means making your own decisions, learning from failure (don’t be afraid to fail), and starting again; sometimes it takes several tries before you get it right — this is how we learn.
  • Don’t be afraid to debate adults; however, diplomacy and empathy go a long way. Human beings are fragile, resilient, and long for acceptance. The amount of time it takes to process varies for each of us; give adults time to absorb your words — your patience and understanding will be greatly rewarded.
  • Embrace your youth with joy and zeal. There is a reason we are given the gift of growth. Be young with enthusiasm and grab life by the balls. The amount of power and strength you have is limitless and setting your sights on achieving all you desire will make the journey fruitful and meaningful. There is a reason adults often wish they could return to their youth. Know that this is your chance to shine and change, for good, the future of the world.
  • Dance as much as you can and continue to do so for the rest of your life.
  • Tell those around you that you love, why you love them and then show them that you love them.
  • Give back to the children who will determine the quality of your future. Paying it forward is gratifying and mutually beneficial. We own nothing; it is only ours to temporarily borrow. It is our responsibility to return it in better shape. The gift of life is the greatest gift we were given. The gifts of nature, the planet, the animal kingdom, time, the universe, food, and love, are all lesser gifts not to be taken for granted or abused.

I learned a great deal about my own misgivings and perspective writing this blog. In truth, I am enough and so are you.

 

 

 

A few days in Tavira was restorative (40 easy minutes from home). I did not take a lot of photos, I resisted spending too much time on twitter, and I laid off the keyboard. What I can tell you is that I have discovered a place close to home to clear my mind and cleanse. It beautiful, quaint, excellent food, and a great value.

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Tavira, Portugal at dusk

 

From Troubled Boy to Troubled Man

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Me when I was two years old (I know, I was adorable). That’s my baby sister Debbie on the right.

I am not writing this blog so that you will feel sorry for me. In fact, I am only able to write about this chapter of my life as a result of having learned lessons and having done the hard work of self-reflection; by all accounts an on-going process. One big lesson:  do not dwell on who is to blame for your misfortunes. It’s all about looking toward the future. I am happy, looking forward to new adventures, and a hot mess — yes, it’s possible to be all these things at the same time. My hope is that I might help those who feel psychotic, lonely and lost. There is of course the added bonus of empathy from those who know me well or are just getting to know me.

 

Looking Back

Do people tell you not to worry? “Oh you’re fine; you’ll be alright” I think I may hate that more than people telling me I’m too sensitive. We all know people say stupid things all the time and I’ve learned that, for the most part, they mean well. Self-reflection may be more productive then listening to the advice of people who do not know you. Reflecting on what I was like as a child has always helped me to appreciate where I am today.

As I boy witnessing chaos all around me, I was always certain that it was all happening because of something I had done. I’d like to say that I grew out of that way of thinking. I would like to tell you that my mother sat me down and told me that none of it was my fault or that an elementary school teacher gained some insight into my family life and whispered that I was not to blame. I’m afraid that didn’t happen. Deep down I knew that I was a horrible little boy whose sins were the cause of all the terrible things happening around me. Some kids believe this and they cut themselves; some kids start taking drugs when they are nine years old or drink booze till they’re inebriated at eleven. Some kids take their own lives. I retreated to dark places and hid my shame. I bargained with God so that it would stop.

God, if you make my mom love me, I’ll be good for the rest of my life.  If you’ll just make the noise stop, I’ll clean the whole house tomorrow. God, if you make me stop thinking about men, I’ll go to church. Growing up Catholic was confusing; I found myself wanting to repent.

The chaos continued and I continued to find reasons to blame myself and hate myself even more than I already did. This self-loathing went on throughout my childhood. I’ve shared an incident in a previous blog that I frequently recall just to remind myself how much better life is today. On my 10th birthday, before blowing out my candles, my wish was to die before my next birthday. I was too afraid to kill myself, but if I wished hard enough, I was certain I would die. I thought about death a lot when I was a child. In my mind, it was the only way out. I firmly believe that children should not be dwelling on death.

For the longest time I thought it had something to do with my sexuality; or at least that’s what I told my therapist. In retrospect, I think it had more to do with a need that was not being met. As a child, I needed to belong, to be accepted, and to be loved. I’m certain most children feel this way. What was different for me, and I’m sure others, was that since not all of my basic needs were being met, I carried that longing into adulthood and continued to search for belonging, acceptance and love. Often, I looked in the wrong places. There were times when I was so desperate for it, I put myself in a compromising position to have it. What followed was self-loathing and a lot of pain.

Escape came easy during the day; it was at night that the demons were harder to run away from. Looking back, I guess I had pretty good coping skills. I would always tell myself that if I did well in school, my life would improve and it did, by leaps and bounds. I also took myself out of that very negative environment as early on as I could. Being on my own at 16 years old wasn’t easy, but I was free and able to make my own decisions; good, bad or otherwise.

 

The Journey

Getting from point disaster to a better place isn’t easy and there is no formula for making it happen. It’s a combination of exercise (physical and mental), goals (long term and short term), meditation, therapy, gratitude, keeping your eyes on the prize, moderation in all things, forgiveness, listening, letting go, being true to yourself, loving yourself, and looking forward — not an exhaustive list. I’d throw a bit of luck in there too.

You put all that down on a list and it’s daunting to say the least. I also try to congratulate myself when I complete a goal and I start projects by taking baby step. If you try to do anything too quickly, you will either do a half-assed job or you will fail. Take it slowly, do the best you can and pay no attention to those who tell you it’s not possible.

 

Looking Forward

You can’t hear me, but I am sighing. I am constantly sighing. The various meanings are below, however, for me, it has been about relief. I am relieved that I no longer (for the most part) feel the weight of the world on my shoulders.  I intend to be easier on myself, to accept who I am, to be more forgiving of others, to be more grateful, to spend more time resting, to see more of the world and do it with intention, to care less about the things that do not concern me, and to smile/laugh more.

 

sigh

/sʌɪ/

verb
gerund or present participle: sighing
  1. emit a long, deep audible breath expressing sadness, relief, tiredness, or similar.
    “Harry sank into a chair and sighed with relief”
    synonyms: breathe out, exhaleMore

 

Troubled Boy to Troubled Man to Loving Myself

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Stepping out on a Friday night. I have to remind myself to look in the mirror and smile; keeping in mind that if you are the best version of yourself you can possibly be, well then, you’re okay. Not quite as adorable as the first photo when I was two years old, but none the worse for the wear.

Publishing when I finish a thought rather than waiting until Sunday. I hope that’s okay with my readers. Happy Gay Pride everyone; we’ve come a long way and have an even longer way to go.

Perspective

 

I like to think that I’m a big picture kinda guy, except that I’m not. I get pretty bogged down in minutia. Big picture would mean that I’d be considering how I fit into the scheme of things and how small I am compared to the universe. It’s time for me to start differently. Getting older and living overseas helps; however, I still think about what’s to come more than I should. I am constantly about living in the present, but the present just passed me by, in a big way. How about I try just living?

 

Who Am I?

You need to figure out who you are before you can consider how you fit in with the rest of the world.

It’s a big question, no? It would obviously take up a great deal of blog space to provide an answer and I’d end up boring you to death. Therefore, I’m going to attempt to answer this question in just a few short sentences. Hopefully some of what I have to say will resonate for you.

I am first a foremost a human being. The reason it is important to acknowledge this is simple:  human beings are flawed; accepting this is the key to accepting yourself. Next, my identity:   I am Christopher, a name given to me, that I have always liked. I am nearly 60 years old, caucasian, gay, and divorced (the order doesn’t matter). I am insecure, fairly healthy, happy, sad, and about 20 pounds overweight. I am sort of retired; however, I’m not sure I actually believe that. I am average looking (meaning I don’t believe that I am ugly), a bit taller than the average man, I still get pimples, I am bald, I am arthritic, I am quick to judge, I feel deeply and cry easily, I work hard on my friendships, I love most of my family, I have achieved some financial success, I am proud of my career, I am educated, I drink too much, and I can be lazy. Most of this stuff is easy for others to see and some of it may be a surprise — I like that the people around me don’t know everything about me. Yes, there is more to learn (for another time).

Let me stop now and conclude that in truth, I not fully aware of who I am. Lately, I have scratched the surface and thus far, I like most of what I see. Discovering who you are is a big part of life’s journey. That journey is far from over.

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I give myself a facial once every few weeks. I’m not sure it doesn’t anything for my skin, but it makes me feel better about myself; certainly I feel cleaner.

 

How Does Who I Am Fit Into the Rest of the World

It doesn’t hurt to be answering this question in my beautiful hotel room, with a magnificent view of Seville, Spain. Sometimes, in order to gain perspective, it helps to be out of your element.

As I begin to see myself as a very small part of the universe, it helps me to understand where and how I fit in. A tiny part of me is fully aware of the difference I make in other people’s lives. Would they survive without me? Absolutely. Would the world keep turning? Of course. I know in my heart that each of us, in a small way, can change the world. I also acknowledge that some of us have the ability to change it in a big way; I’m thinking:  Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King, Eleanor Roosevelt, Barack Obama, Gandhi, and people like that; people we should be grateful for and grateful to.

In short, I fit like a pair of mismatched shoes; the feet go in, but something doesn’t look quite right. You know what? That’s okay.

 

Who Do I Want to Be?

Most of us start thinking about this question early in our lives; I know I did. Funny thing is we don’t always come to a conclusion. I find myself reflecting on this question quite often. There are times when I’m sailing along and I’m thinking, I am an educator and I’ll just keep educating. And then there are times when I think, I haven’t amounted to much. The latter is of course, irrational thinking. It’s a trap we all fall into — the ol’ I’m not good enough trap. On good days I know that this is ridiculous. Still, coming to terms with the presence of demons is important for growth. These days, I acknowledge the demons and then I decide to deal with them. It’s okay not to know the complete answer to this difficult question. It’s okay to search. The implicit meaning of searching is to seek an answer; an action and therefore, not stagnation.

Dictionary result for search

verb
  1. 1.
    try to find something by looking or otherwise seeking carefully and thoroughly.
    synonyms: huntlookexploreforage, fish about/around, look high and low, cast about/around/round, ferret (about/around), root about/around, rummage about/around; More

noun
  1. 1.
    an act of searching for someone or something.
    “the police carried out a thorough search of the premises”

 

Reality Check

It is important for me to acknowledge that at 60 years old, I will probably not achieve a few of my goals. I can sit around and pout and beat myself for this or I can set realistic goals. That is not to say that I should abandon everything I’ve wished for. When I take inventory of what I have achieved, it makes me feel better about what I have not. I don’t reduce my list of goals, I adjust it. Knowing your limits is essential. Reaching beyond your limits is healthy and may surprise you. It’s all about balance and your personal threshold.

I’ve heard it said that when people are dying and they are asked if they have any regrets, there are a few common answers:

  1. I wish I had spent more time with the people I love.
  2. I wish I had worked less.
  3. I wish I had worried less.

There are more, but these are the ones I am paying the most attention to. It’s important for me to learn from the mistakes others have made and learn from the lessons others have taught me.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 

An Organic Lifestyle

These days the word organic is overused and abused. I thought twice about using it today because it has been watered down of late. I am going to simply state that it is my goal to gain some perspective on my life by allowing it to unfold before me more organically/naturally. I’ve talked about this before, however, I think it’s worth repeating. When I have been able to move more fluidly through life without little planning, I have been pleasantly surprised. Amazing things happen when you open yourself up to possibilities. It seems so simple when I type the words. The truth is that for some, it is extremely difficult. I have been known to actually plan what time of the day I will plan — that’s right, I will make an entry on my calendar at the 9:15 a.m. slot, that states, “make a to do list for the next week.” It’s going a bit too far I’d say.

Perspective can be gained by allowing oneself to think freely and move through the day without directing every action. In other other words, allowing yourself to just be.

 

A Strange, but honest side note:  I just returned from Seville, Spain. Seville is a little over two hours from my home in Faro. When I decided to move to Portugal, I had no idea I was so close to Seville. I had been there about 15 years ago and I had a not-so-great experience; I won’t go into the details here. I had the occasion to return to Seville a few months ago and I fell in love with the city. It is rich in culture, authentic, rich in history, there are many modern restaurants worthy of trying, it is clean, friendly, fairly easy to navigate, and not at all pricey. Spain is a progressive country that embraces all people. Being gay in Spain is not at all an issue and that is not true of every city.

The reason I started this note by writing that this entry would be strange, is this:  I don’t want to blog about where I eat when I’m there (although I have made mention of a place in a previous blog), where I stay, the places I visit, etc. I do post on Instagram if you’re interested. I want Seville to be a quick getaway for me. It’s sort of my second home. I want to just enjoy all that it has to offer and I have decided to be selfish and keep most of it to myself. Feel free to contact me if you’re interested in going. I would be happy to share privately with those who are truly interested. I make no apologies for this.

 

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I met this wide-eyed little boy on a bus to Loulé last Friday. It occurred to me that all he wanted was to make a connection. Had I not been open to interaction with another human being, I would have missed out on the innocence of this beautiful child.

 

 

Owning Your Own Business Versus Working for Someone Else

 

 

Having worked for several companies/universities and then owning my own small business, I have had some time to reflect on my career and the choices I made.  Although I would not call myself a career expert, I have learned some valuable lessons along the way. There are times in life when we have the luxury of choice and there are times when we do things out of necessity. Planning is key so that you have more control over your direction and the outcome.

 

While You’re in College

I recall being in a panic during my second semester in college because I had decided to major in Sociology after an amazing Intro class. What will I do with a sociology degree was all-consuming. Keep in mind the internet did not exist back then. I spoke to people, canvassed my professors, and searched my soul, but after months of panic, nothing resonated for me. Then one day while working on campus my, I saw a poster on a bulletin board and the title was:  100 Careers with a Sociology degree; I was elated to say the least. I thought about stealing the poster but my conscience  got the better of me. I jotted down a number of career titles that seemed possible. I then set out to learn more about each of them.

At this point in my life, working for myself would never have been an option; I was lazy and unmotivated and way too insecure. My thinking was conventional and my dreams lacked possibilities. I mostly thought that I’d be lucky to finish college. I also wondered if anyone would ever hire me. Most of my college friends were far worse off in that they were even lazier. My parents were blue-collar and the word “career” had little meaning for them. Times have changed . . .I think.

Young people today seem to be much more aware of their options; I would even venture to say that many are fearless. People no longer think in terms of one job/one career. Moving from one job to the next is more the norm than the exception. I dare say that many young people today have their parents to fall back on. There are stats pointing to many living at home with their parents well into their late 20s and early 30s.

Endless number of resources on the internet:

Pros and Cons list (click)

Reasons to Run Your Own Business (click)

 

Out-of-the-Gate

I read and hear stories about young entrepreneurs starting their own business either while still in college or right out of college. I imagine some of these kids do it without even thinking too much about it. The world has changed and technology of course has everything to do with it. The absence of bricks and mortar make start-up costs far more affordable for tech entrepreneurs with a good idea. There is a lot to consider when starting your own business; I will share some of my own experiences later in this blog.

 

Your First Position

In my day, your first position was incredibly important. Where you worked and for how long mattered a great deal. Staying in one place for a few years was very important for resume building and to show stability. I’m not sure this is true anymore. I think it is more the norm to try new things and then move on to the next new thing. There was a time when individuals might work for the same company for 30 or 40 years; this is hardly the case these days. One big problem that I can see when considering changing jobs often, are the raises and promotions one might receive by proving oneself valuable to a company.

One of today’s considerations is that many of today’s businesses appear to have a revolving door policy:  once an employee begins to become too expensive, companies often let them go and hire another employee at a lesser salary. This issue makes stability more difficult and mobility more prevalent. When you’re starting a family or caring for aging parents, moving from one city to another may be difficult — as I stated earlier, so much to consider.

I am a list-maker and I find it helpful to jot down all of the variables. What are your wishes, hopes, and dreams? What in your life is non-negotiable? Where do you want to live? What are your salary requirements? Is longevity important to you? Do you have a five-year plan? Can you put money into savings and/or a retirement plan (never too early to consider building retirement savings).

 

Owning Your Own Business

I had no choice but to start my own business. I was a high earner in New York and when I left to start a new life in Maine, I had a difficult time getting my foot in the door. I managed to convince a couple of big companies to interview me; however, as time went on, it became clear that I would probably not acquire the position I hoped for. I had a number of things working against me:

  • I became too expensive for most companies
  • Employers were afraid of offering me a job at a lesser salary, fearing that I would not stay long (they told me so). Career advisors told me to omit high level positions from my resume; something I just could not or would not do.
  • When you’re over fifty you become high risk for companies offering insurance benefits. Older hires can raise premiums significantly.
  • Many of the HR individuals doing the interviewing were in their 30s and 40s and could not relate to an older candidate.
  • Ageism is alive and well in the United States.

I experienced one road block after another until I finally gave in and decided to start a consulting business. I thought that my expertise in hospitality could be an asset in a city that had a reputation for great food in a magnificent seaside setting (frankly the reason I relocated to Portland, Maine). Starting a business these days is not easy. After developing a business plan, developing a website was my next greatest challenge:  cost, content, credibility, target markets, and time, were all major considerations. I had some savings put aside for survival in my new city and decided to put some resources toward my new venture. I was fortunate to find a graphics design students who was developing websites part-time. She was smart, talented, and her youthful outlook was exactly what I needed to offset my “older” perspective.

I never kidded myself about my age and what I knew and didn’t know. I bartered with my first few clients. I needed endorsements and a client list in order to garner any credibility in the crowded field of consultants. Initially, several businesses were very kind to me and open to giving me a chance. I learned some valuable lessons along the way:

  • Don’t expect to make any money your first year (your expenses will outweigh your income).
  • Keep track of every expense — tax deductions will become extremely important
  •  Be generous with your time and budget. I offered the first hour of consulting free and that turned out to be the cornerstone of my early success.
  • Find other ways to supplement your income while you’re building your business. At one point I had three part-time jobs. All three were ways of meeting new people, attracting potential clients, and providing a distraction from the hardship of a start-up.
  • Be careful not to burn out. I rewarded myself with some travel and nice dinners after each new client was signed on.
  • Make sure your fees are competitive and fair. Offer clients an out and stand by your accomplishments. Don’t give away the farm; what you are offering is valuable.
  • Your network is larger than you might imagine. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Consider how much you help others and the joy that it brings you. Others will want to do the same for you.

 

Our Changing World

I voluntarily left a position when I was 54 years old thinking that with my education and experience, I was highly marketable; was I ever wrong. The world changed in the blink of an eye and I was so busy living life, I didn’t see what was happening in front of my face. We all grow up in a certain time and place where norms guide us. Change has always been a constant; however, today change is more rapid than it has historically ever been. Keeping up with change is an almost impossible challenge, but try you must or you will be left wondering why you didn’t. Never assume you know enough. Never assume that everyone around you has integrity. Be hyper aware without being cynical. Do your homework, ask a lot of questions, and keep up with technology.

Sometimes I have so much going on in my head and so much information coming at me, it feels like my brain is about to explode. I have learned how to store information on my laptop so that I don’t have to keep it in my head. Freeing up space in your mind will make it easier to allow new thoughts and knowledge to flow in. Meditation was a big part of my work life. I would close the door and free my mind of all distractions. This 10 to 20 minute almost daily practice would help me to gain perspective. Above all else be grateful that you get to choose. And never forget to thank those around you who have helped you succeed. Often we say thank you when it is too late. No matter how smart you or how resourceful you might be, you more than likely have cheerleaders:  spiritual, emotional, and caring support and guidance that helps you navigate this changing world. Be gracious and grateful and good things will continue to come your way.

 

Follow Your Heart and the Money Will Come

Life is all about choices. When choosing working for someone else or having your own business, remember that decisions are often not etched in stone. Trying out an idea or pursuing a dream, doesn’t mean that you will be in it for life. Our fear of the unknown can be so strong it stifles us. Money complicates matters further. You know all the questions you ask yourself:  Will I make enough to live on? Can I afford to send my children to college? Will I have enough for retirement. The questions can be overwhelming.

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Photo by rawpixel.com on Pexels.com

 

Where Your Career Takes You

People often think that owning your own business means that you no longer have to answer to “the man.” In truth, no matter what you do to earn money, you will always have to answer to someone. Restaurant owners answer to their customers/clients, as do plumbers, CPAs, lawyers, real estate brokers and so on.When you become successful and no longer have to be hyper concerned about earnings, you might be able to pick and choose your clients. I know very few business owners who can truthfully claim this position. Most business owners are beholden to their clients and in some ways, this can be even more stressful that working for someone else. When you’re an employee, because you do not own the business, you are usually not ultimately responsible for the business. You can always be held accountable; however, legally, the business owner(s) is responsible. You can be terminated, but it would be rare for an employee to be financially libel (there are of course exceptions). Most business owners carry insurance which should or could cover you up to a certain limit. It’s a good thing to look into before starting a position.

Big Lesson:  If you go into business in order to escape working for someone else, you’re doing it for the wrong reasons.

 

Pointers Along the Way

  • Stay true to yourself
  • Weigh the pros and cons (make lists)
  • Talk to people who have taken different paths
  • Keep an open mind
  • Consider your partner
  • When do you want to start or family?
  • Consider the lives of your children
  • Have short-term and long-term goals
  • Save and start a retirement plan early on
  • Remember to enjoy yourself
  • Be prepared for curve balls
  • When you own your own business, you could easily end up working very long hours. It’s a good idea to plan your work day and try to stay on a schedule.
  • Go on vacation; take time off

 

Last Words

One of my favorite questions is:

If you could do it over again, what would you change?

When I look at the decisions and choices I have made, I realize that although I did not love every job I have had, all of my life experiences seem to have led me to where I am today. Often we have no idea where a decision will take us; will it be the “right” job? Will I make a lot of money? Will it lead to a promotion? Will I like the people I work with? You can do a great deal of research and talk to many people about a company or business, but you cannot ever predict the future. So many things can happen along the way to determine an outcome. This is why it is often best to go with what you feel in your gut. If you have a support group around you and you work hard, you can weather just about any storm. Character building is just as important as career building.

One thing I might have changed was my appetite for risk taking. I’ve realized that times in my life when I threw caution to the wind, I had some positive results. I learned more about myself, I was prideful about the outcome, and I was often pleasantly surprised with the results. I was able to retire when I was 58 years old because I did a lot of planning. For me, leisure time, travel, exploration and enjoying every minute I have on this planet, have been my top priorities. Keeping your eye on the prize is essential for reaching your goals. Be flexible, be realistic, be daring, and be happy and as the experts say, “don’t sweat the small stuff.”

A number of you own your own business or may have thoughts about the topic. It would be great to hear your perspective.

 

Observation

Last post of the year. Reiterating an important message:

One of the many advantages of being present is the ability to take in what is all around us. Observation is a privilege very few people take advantage of. It’s way too easy to get so caught up in your own small world that you fail to see the many wonders around you. I have been keenly aware of my surroundings the last few months and the following are just a few of my observations:

  • I have never seen as many elderly people out and about as I see here in Portugal. It probably has a lot to do with the weather in the Algarve, but I also believe it is the culture. What I am seeing is that seniors are respected and not ignored, I have been observing their daily routines and I am loving what I see. The patience they show with their pets is admirable. I see healthy people in their 80’s and 90’s; although some are using canes and walkers and moving slowly, they are outdoors and they are enjoying themselves. I am observing lots of smiles and warm greetings. I am also constantly seeing people ask the elderly if they need assistance. On the bus, in the streets, on the sidewalks; everywhere. A couple of reasons I’m liking what I see:  for one, I’m approaching 60; therefore, I’m closer to be a senior than I ever was before, and two, I have always enjoyed being around the elderly and this makes me feel really good. Note:  I live on a street with an uphill climb. People that are up there in years are climbing this hill daily and many are doing it without assistance. It just seems like a good thing.

Side note:  I have a friend here who is in her 70’s. Yesterday, she looked me right in the eyes and said, “You just need to slow down a little.” I was struck by her honesty and directness; the truth is she’s right.

  • Young people are engaging in conversation (not always on their cell phones). I live next door to a high school and I see young people outside of the school almost daily. It is refreshing to see that many of these young people are talking to and laughing with one another. I was honestly under the impression that this practice of communicating in person, was a dying art. It seems to me that it is as much a part of life for our youth as it’s ever been.
  • The streets of Faro are filled with cafés. Due to the mild weather here, these cafés are overflowing with people enjoying one another’s company and drinking espresso. If you listen closely to the chatter it has a wonderful rhythm. The best part is that an espresso is still under a Euro here. A café com leite (coffee with steamed milk; a latte) is often one Euro.
  • Bicycle riding is often quiet and graceful. I love watching people dart around on them or peddle slowly through neighborhoods; taking in the local scenery. I try to do it myself at least once a week — it’s a nice break from the day-to-day.
  • Foliage:  the shedding of leaves, the receding of plant life, the changing fauna and flora; are all amazing to observe. If you pay attention to the foliage on a daily basis, you will notice the subtle changes. The changing seasons are another gift our planet gives us. Life is a precious thing to behold.
  • The sounds of  the city:  dogs, children, people chatting, traffic; are delightful — a city symphony if you will.
  • Sit on a bench and just watch humankind. You’ll see snippets of stories, anguish, real life playing out, right under your nose and you’ll know you’re not alone.

 

The Noise in Your Head

I have a noisy brain. Constant static and colliding thoughts. Switching from listening to that brain chatter, to taking in the world around you, can be calming and hypnotic. In fact, it can be a whole lot more pleasant than what might be going on in your head.

How to Stop Your Noisy Brain (click for article)

 

Meditation

There are many different ways to meditate; however, I have found that just being present — living in the moment — is a great way to meditate. Being acutely aware of what is around you is an eye opener. It sort of shocks your body and in turn, your entire being wakes up. If I had read this just a few years ago, I would have been a doubter; what a bunch of mumbo jumbo. However, practicing meditation — in its many forms — over and over again, will demonstrate the power of mindfulness.

Remember, this is all part of my journey. There have been some bumps in the road, people who are toxic, rules meant to be broken, checks that didn’t come, and so forth, but so far, I’m on the right track. Thank you for listening.

 

Happy holidays folks; until next year!

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There will be no blog post for the period between December 30 to January 6 (two weeks). The next blog post will be January 13 — Morocco. The Canary Islands