Try this experiment some time; Think about some of the most unhappy moments you have experienced, and you may realize that they all have one major element in common:
You felt powerless.
When I was young, I'd sometimes lose my temper. Ok, I’d OFTEN lose my temper. You lose your temper when you feel frustrated, when you don't feel that you have control over your life. I guess I felt that a lot growing up.
I can tell you that in terms of controlling my emotions, I was always my father's son.
My Dad had an AMAZING legendary, movie caliber, Monster sized temper…measured in biblical-apocalypse like terms. I had that when I was young, and I had it bad. It took me a long time to learn how to control my temper and it continues to be a periodic challenge for me, even today. When we are unhappy, it's because we feel we don't have control over our lives. Physically that's often true, but when we remind ourselves that spiritually we are always in control unless we give it away, then you really can find happiness. It’s something I work on and strive towards every single day with mixed results. Sometimes, things just push my buttons!
When I was a senior in high school, I had a chance to take an elective course.
Ornithology; that sounded rather interesting and easy. Besides, I was in Northern Idaho…and I knew what was flying around.
I was a senior, already had enough credits to graduate, so I was looking for a little “cruise” class to fill my time…and I learned something the first day: that it's the study of birds.
I didn't know that at the time. It was a large class, by my small town standards. A class of 25 people. The teacher was good, and he warned us that on the final exam we'd have to identify birds. Well that seemed fair; after all it was a class in ornithology.
But when we got the test, it was 18 pages of pictures of birds' feet. Eighteen pages! I still remember sitting there and looking at the pages…and the frustration was shared with many in the room.
After the test, I went to his desk to complain. I was not the only one in line. By the time I got there, he was pretty fed up. He said to me, "If you're here to complain about that test, save it. It's a good and fair test. I've given it before, and if I hear one negative word out of your mouth, I'm reporting you to the principal." So, slowly I said, "Well, sir, it was a great course, very interesting, very informative, but a bit unusual test."
He said, "I'm warning you, not another word."
True to my personality, I couldn’t leave THAT alone.
My somewhat infamous temper flared and I HAD to say something. I can’t recall exactly what I said to him (that’s a lot of years ago), but it was something along the lines of… "Fine! That's the most stupid test I've ever taken. I don't know how anyone could give that to a group of high school students. If I were you, I'd be ashamed of myself." He said, "That did it. What's your name again?"
So I held up my foot, and said to him, "You tell me!"
Hey, it seemed appropriate at the time. I thought it was sarcastically clever. He didn’t share my talent for a witty comeback, clearly.
Nor did the Principal. Principal Bailey and I knew each other pretty well by the time I graduated….
But I digress….
So, once again for emphasis, unhappiness is most often based on the feeling that you have no control over your life.
Now, I’m a control freak…so this is not a feeling that I like.
When you think about some of the promises you make to yourself in life to achieve certain things, such as, "I promise to have more control over my emotions," ask yourself, "Who's my audience, and are they worthy of my promise?" There was a story of an actor who was doing Shakespeare, and he wasn't doing a very good job. After a point, the audience, who had been pretty patient with his lack of talent, finally started booing him. And the actor walked to the very edge of the stage and said, "Hey, why take it out on me? I didn't write this garbage."
Anyway, I believe it was Shakespeare that said, "All the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." I think he was right, of course. Even if we’re not consciously aware of it, we are all performing for an audience of some sort. When we make a promise to ourselves, directly or indirectly, we are often doing so because of that audience.
If, for instance, you make a promise to yourself to eat healthier and exercise, you are probably doing it not only to improve the quality of your own life, but also to increase the probability that you'll be healthy enough to take care of those who depend on you. In such a case, you’d be consciously aware of who your audience is.
But maybe there are a few other people in your audience for whom you are not actually aware you’re performing for. Deep down at some level, perhaps there's a small part of you who thinks that someday walking down the street you're going to meet your high school sweetheart. She'll be astounded by how young and handsome you look and will regret the day she dumped you. A few years ago I did actually run into my high school sweetheart, who told me I hadn't changed at all.
So apparently I'm the only middle-aged man who looks like he's 18, or I was the only high school student who looked like a middle-aged man. I prefer the former rather than the latter.
Or you may still be listening to the voice of your mother telling the 10-year-old you to eat healthier. The problem is that many times we don’t really think about who our real audience is. We don’t look beyond the footlights on our “stage” to see the faces of the people we are truly and often unconsciously trying to please. We KNOW there's an audience out there, but we don't bother to consciously think about who they are, how they affect our behavior, why it's so important what they think of us, or how much power we give them over our lives.
Some of us unconsciously (and sometimes very consciously) perform for our co-workers, friends, or even the neighborhood kids whom we grew up with and have not seen since our childhood. We may be performing for parents who have been dead for years (thanks Dad). Some of us even perform for an audience made up of people or even one person whom we despise. Think about some man or woman you know that got divorced, yet continued to dedicate their lives focused on impressing the spouse they lost, even though they never heard from them again.
After you make a promise to yourself, take an honest look at the faces in the audience. Then you might want to ask yourself some questions: "Is performing for this audience making me happy? Are these people really interested in my life, my performance, in the promises I made to perform, or am I just imagining the whole thing? Do these people care about what I'm doing? I mean, REALLY care? Do they even know what I'm doing? Are there people in my life who may not be in my audience but who need to be, more than the ones I have now? Am I the kind of person, for instance, who consistently behaves in ways to please my friends at the expense of my children? Do I choose a day of golf with my friends rather than a day at the park with my kids?
Maybe…the most important member of your audience the one who should always be sitting in the center seat? Shouldn't that person be you? Realizing who’s faces should be in the front row makes the promises you make to yourself and to them become more worthy, and your determination to do it right is stronger and more focused.
We too often conduct our lives to please the collected whims and whines of those we care about or those around us. We voluntarily place their collar around our own necks and put the chain that attaches to it in their hands, even though we fully realize that we’ll not be happy about it. What we want to do, of course, is logically limited to what is legal and moral, and does not intentionally hurt anyone else. But the basic rule here is, the basic thinking is, never walk a road that doesn't lead you to your heart.
Given all that then, what makes us subordinate what we want to other people's wishes? Perhaps it’s because we respect their judgments, insights, points of view, and opinions more than we do our own. We don't have enough self-respect, so we depend on the respect that others give us. We believe that people will respect us if we do what they want.
In fact, just the opposite is true. In the long run, most people respect you more if you do what you think you should do.
Self-respect is incredibly important. You're here; you have talents, opportunities, intelligence. Do something. You’re in control of that. It's foolish to hold yourself responsible for what you cannot control. You can demand that people treat you with respect, but that is very different from people actually respecting you. You can only influence that; you can't control it.
So what is the reality? Just because some people thought the world was flat didn’t make it so. Most great achievements were, in its initial stages, either condemned, dismissed, or laughed at by the majority. To my knowledge, history has never recorded any conversation such as, "Gee, Mr. Edison, it sure gets dark at night. Do you think there's anything you could do about it?" Every day, in ways that we are not even aware of, we give power over our lives to other people. Often it's people we intensely dislike.
There are many times when quite logically you do care about the opinions of others. If you're in sales, you care about what your client thinks about your product or service. I really do care about your opinions of my writings and postings because I am interested in articles that I come upon and how I can take those writings and somehow express them in such a way that portrays my frame of mind and perhaps a train of thought that you can hop on to. Parents care about the opinions of their children. But all of this is quite different from advocating power over your personal choices, your decisions, and the promises you make to yourself, to the opinions of other people.
It all starts with your attitude and it’s the foundation of what you are. Without a strong foundation, you will need to lean on the strength, the opinions of others. You should have a high opinion of yourself that is backed up by achievement and promises that can lead to even greater things. It’s ok to feel good about yourself. The virtue of humility is greatly overrated. The meek may inherit the earth, but only after the confident get darn good and ready to let them have it. My Dad once said to me, “listen to everyone's opinion; take no one's advice.” (Hmmm… I need to listen to Dad more often….)
Life is the art of balance.
You have to be happy enough to enjoy today, while at the same time feel enough unhappiness or dissatisfaction to want to make a different and better tomorrow. There must be a balance between conscious and unconscious choices. A balance among all the "me's" within you. You must be obsessed with living your life to its fullest, but moderate in some way too. That’s your choice.
Whatever it is, your job or a hobby or spending time with friends or family, at the time you are involved with it, you should be living totally in the moment. But when you make a promise to yourself, you must be moderate in how much space you give it in your life. Otherwise you may consciously succeed at keeping that promise at the expense of unconsciously abandoning other important areas of your life. Don’t obsesses about it though. Obsession can also be a very dangerous thing.
I’m reminded of a joke…A guy is obsessive about golf, absolutely loves it. Last March he got up early one Saturday morning, kissed his wife goodbye, put on his golf clothes, walked down the stairs, got his golf clubs, and opened the front door. But unfortunately, he lives in the Midwest. This was a March morning; it was probably no more than 35 degrees; it was raining, sleeting, snowing. A 35-mile-an-hour wind was blowing everything sideways. He stood in that open doorway knowing what he had to do, but not looking forward to it. Finally he sighed, closed the door, put his golf clubs away, walked up the stairs, back into his bedroom, took off his golf clothes, climbed into bed behind his wife, and he said to her, "Man oh man, it is one horrible day out there."
And she said, "Yeah, and would you believe my husband, the nut, is out there playing golf?"
Thanks for reading….