Inner Voice Determines Outcomes

The other day a friend brought up the subject of one’s ‘inner voice’ – that unsolicited voice who speaks up without us ever asking for an opinion.

My friend had spoken with someone who’s inner voice instinctively responded with reasons of why they couldn’t or shouldn’t do something.

Our ‘inner voice’ is best described as how we instinctively react to circumstances or challenges we meet in life. And learning to successfully train our inner voice to our advantage is one of the most valuable lesson we can learn in life.

Imagine when someone suggests you perform a task at work differently? For many people, their first instinct is defensive. Even the dreaded – but comfortable – phrase of “but we’ve always done it this way” can find it’s a way to our lips. Or say another suggests you could save money by shopping at a different grocery store? Again, we rationalize that we’re familiar with our regular store. Having to learn a new store layout would make us uncomfortable, less secure.

‘No’ is easy. Going back to the literal beginning of human existence, our brains were intentionally wired for us to avoid change – equating shifting surroundings with danger. Survival is about being aware of unusual activities and potential threats. Fast forward though history and this is still our default setting – even if it means doing a task as non-threatening as finding what row the peanut butter is located in a different grocery store.

And in today’s world of hyper-change, this default setting is increasingly a losing proposition.

Good news is we can rewire ourselves.

One day a group of us sat around a table and looked up at an image on a screen on conference room wall. The image was large horse tied by small leather reins to a plastic lawn chair.

“The horse is larger than the plastic chair, right?” was the question. “Then why does the horse not simply walk away, dragging the chair wherever it wants to go?”

This was not a trick question involving physics or clever word play.

“Because he does not believe know he can walk away whenever he wants,” came the answer.

The truth is when the horse is young it is reined to a solid fencepost. Try as it might, the young horse cannot pull off from the anchored marker. After a length of time, the horse learns whenever it is reined to something, it cannot break free. It simply stops trying. For the rest of time, the slightest resistance of the reins when tossed across even a tree branch will keep the horse in place.

This learned behavior is inside of us. Our minds as well as outside influences tend to teach us to be cautious and avoid danger or uncomfortable situations at all costs. Successful people commit to breaking from those reins – learning to fail or experience uncomfortable situations.

Training your inner voice can be the difference between you forever tied to small tree branch or running freely across open fields.

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Training Wheels Play Important Role

Riding my bicycle beneath the canopy of low-hanging Live Oak trees of a quiet side street, a pair of small objects to my left redirect a flash of light into my sunglasses.

One of the best things about traveling at seven and a half miles per hour is you can easily detour your plans at a moment’s notice.

Turning the raised handlebars of my cruiser bike, I circled back around.

Sometimes life gives you only a hint of a story, leaving you to fill in the vibrant colors, relatable details, and unfamiliar faces. The small objects abandoned on the sidewalk of an otherwise empty road would be my only clue.

Pulling up beside the curb two small black and silver objects silently began telling a story without details, however, one each of us can relate to and recognize in our own lives.

Sitting on the sidewalk, abandoned and alone, sat a pair of training wheels for a child’s first bicycle.

Pausing and looking around the quiet street, I realized I shared the road with only the breezes running though the branches above and the small silver and black wheels cast off by their former owner. Like the haunting exoskeleton a nymph cicada leaves behind while molting into an adult, the wheels were a marker in time for someone else to discover.

Training wheels are an important metaphor in nearly everyone’s life. Leaning to ride a bicycle is an unnatural instinct. The act plays on our power fear of failure and our natural survival instincts of avoiding pain and danger. A wobbly bicycle requires a young child learning to defeat what their mind tells them they simply cannot do. The training wheels dutifully serve as temporary bridge between what they know and understand and the difficult experience of mastering their mind and body over something forcing them far outside of their known comfort zone.

The sound of the breezes sweeping through the branches above reminded me I was still alone on the quiet street.

Learning to leave our training wheels behind is a critical life skill. For the former owner of this particular set of wheels, waiting ahead comes the courage to face a classroom of strange faces on the first day of school following at a dizzying pace of first dates, moving away from family to go to college, and possibly committing to spending the rest of their life with one special person. Sprinkling between those events will be the successes of earning job promotion, a close friend unexpectedly passing, or even learning the hard lesson all your dreams may not come true and you need to rewrite your plan.

Leaving your training wheels behind is an important step on a remarkable, unpredictable journey of life. And like the view from between the handlebars we will discover the most beautiful and inspiring moments balanced by the pain that accompanies crashing to the pavement. But to fully enjoy the ride, we must all learn to first leave our training wheels behind.

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Don’t Put Off Sleep Until Death

 

A friend is telling me about how her life never seems to slow down.

“I guess I can sleep with I’m dead,” she says.

Laughing, she turns and heads to her car – a four-hour drive is ahead of her for yet hotel bed, another meeting, and another day.

Life has a life of its own if you aren’t careful.

Ask yourself, or anyone else for that matter, if life is moving a bit too fast for comfort. Are we constantly trying to keep up with a schedule rather than pausing with nothing but our thoughts? Or are we so overly committed we find ourselves – absurdly – trying to schedule times to do nothing?

Finding the right balance is difficult. And in today’s world, one where our cell phone is rarely out of reach or text messages blindly intrude into even our most private moments, learning to erect walls or filters is becoming a survival skill.

My friend is not alone. And planning on catching up on sleep when you’re dead can be a dangerous for our health. Even the most finely turned racecar motors run a finite number of hours before having to be torn down and rebuilt. Even long-term stress on high-tensile steel eventually leads to a weakening state. Our bodies and minds are not any different.

I’ll admit I am working hard to intentionally carve out few minutes of each day with the expressed goal of not doing or thinking of anything important. While I’m not sleeping, I am trying to manage a mental balance of work, play, and life. Sometimes these moments are as simple as sitting on the front steps for 5 minutes actively listening for specific sounds – birds, plans, or even the wind pushing through the branches of trees. My phone and the hectic pace of life are, at least for those moments, on pause.

Last year a good friend sent me a book on the concept of mindfulness. He is not too unlike my other who friend who jokingly claimed she was deferring a good night’s sleep until her death. Both are highly driven, remarkably talented, and accomplished in all aspects of life. But to do so, takes balance on their part.

I’m learning is in order to take control of our lives we must first recognize the need to take control of our lives. To not is like driving a car without glancing at the fuel gauge. Eventually, both will run empty – ending in disappointment.

We owe ourselves – and those around us – the effort to pause and periodically redirect our attention. Whether meditation, reading a trashy novel, or getting in few hours of fishing is our idea of escape, we need to remind ourselves doing so is an important investment in ourselves. A life out of balance leads to unpleasant outcomes. Engines seize, fuel tanks run empty – leaving us stranded alongside the road alone and damaged.

Yes, we can all sleep when we’re dead – but no need to rush the appointment.

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Journalists Under Fire

I am a journalist and I am not your enemy.

I never thought I’d be writing the sentence printed above but I find myself motivated not out of fear, but concern for democracy. Furthermore, I’ve never felt so strongly about the role of the press as I do today. Today, possibly more than ever, we need a free and robust press. 

When I was a child, Walter Cronkite reported nightly about the Vietnam War. My first memories are of body counts, grainy black and white images of helicopters, and bloodied soldiers moved around on stretchers. Then in 1968, after years of reporting on the war, Cronkite told the viewers in a rare on-air editorial piece, ‘enough was enough’.

“It seems now more certain than ever that the bloody experience of Vietnam is to end in a stalemate,” he said. 

Many historians consider this one the most powerful bullets ever fired in the war. The public, armed with a straight-talking source and indisputable facts, began decisively pivoting against the government’s powerful will and entrenched narrative of the necessity for the war. 

A free press was indispensable in 1968. A free press is indispensable in 2017. 

I also do not mean this column to be perceived as a political statement, although recent remarks from President Trump only underscore the urgency of my convictions. The wheels of democracy only function when an independent and free press plays a vital role on behalf of the citizens. And as of late, the future of a free press is being pressured to back down from providing an aggressive role in keeping elected officials and government bodies in check. This is a dangerous road for society – one that leads to a junk yard populated with other societies crushed by the weight of an oppressive government. 

Open discussion, complete a wide range of passionately and differences of opinions, are a hallmark of the American democracy. Collectively we’ve spilled blood, sweat, and tears to pay for this right to disagree. We should be alarmed with anyone tries to erode or belittle our process of airing differences.   

Thomas Jefferson, while developing the architecture of the newly formed government, believed so strongly in this principle he put his words to paper in 1787 to close friend.

“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” 

If Jefferson were alive today I am confident he’s feel the same passion in today’s world. Social media, 24-hour news cycles, and citizen journalists all play an important role in our democracy – as do an individual’s critical skills to personally vet and challenge what they see, read, and hear. We, the receivers, are the ultimate gatekeepers. 

Power is intoxicating. Human nature is highly questionable. Bad things happen to good people. The press is there to tell dig, uncover, and tell these stories for the public and those who cannot speak for themselves.

I am not your enemy.

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Photo Credit: Walter Cronkite conducting an interview in Hue, February 1968. (National Archives and Records Administration)

Art of Conversation Threatened

Fine does not always mean fine, so says my friend.

Sitting in her office earlier this week we were talking about how our kids equate texting each other the same as speaking verbally. Today, many people use the two terms interchangeably without a thought.

“There is a difference,” she said. “Fine is not always fine. I want to hear if your fine means fine or maybe something a bit less. All that important nuance gets lost in the translation of texting.”

Her words reminded me of a conversation that same day where my daughter was using the term, texting, interchangeably with verbally communicating. She’d said she’d been speaking with a friend – someone currently halfway around the globe.

“You guys actually spoke?” I asked.

She acted as if I missed a critical class in basic communications along the way.

“No, no one talks on the phone anymore. We text each other.”

Fine, I thought to myself.

The art of conversation is simply that, an art form. Like learning to dance, carrying on a good conversation is an acquired experience. Without repeated practice, we are never sufficiently challenged to improve and sharpen our skills. And without putting in the time and effort, we tend to speak with two left feet.

Quality conversation is all about the other person, listening, responding, moving the conversation forward in sync with the other person leading whenever possible. And, like dancing, being nimble on your figurative feet, is key to being able to both see and feel the emotional tells from the other person. You are always scrutinizing the words selected (why that particular word?), reading for emotional body language (eyes darting or looking away?), and being aware of the unspoken emotions (sense any changes in the speakers cadence?).

Texting, however, is a cold and lifeless form of communication absent of genuine emotion. Emoticons are not a substitute for reading the small pause in someone’s reply to an innocent question of how they are. Empathy simply does not translate through a keyboard. And many times, this lack of multi-dimensional communication leaves a receiver misinterpreting the sender’s message.

Spoken communication is a critical component of society. Without developing the important skills to accurately read and correctly react to a live conversation, one leaves room for misinterpretation. And misinterpretation leads to hurt feelings or inappropriate replies. Verbal stepping on toes, so to say.

So where do we go from here? What does this new social acceptability of non-verbal communication mean for society? Does the loss of the art form of highly developed conversational skills potentially point to a future of more confusion and more miscommunication?

The old phrase ‘lost in translation’ is appropriate here. Translating from one language to another requires a measure of understanding the receiver may not fully understand the message as intended.

Which brings me back to my friend’s point about the important difference between texting and verbally communicating. She told me she is fine – and I believer her. All the other signs told me so.

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Living with a half-full glass in a half-empty world

Cabin Slows Down Time

 “One day the dogs came back to our house wet. We didn’t even know the river was across the road.”

I’m standing on a raw roadbed speaking with a woman who owns a small cabin where my wife and I are spending a few days. She and her husband lived seven years in the small wooden space not much larger than a two-car garage in the big city they left behind.

“Our kids graduated high school and we moved out here. They thought we were crazy.”

The truth is, the owner and her husband might be the sanest people I’ve ever met.

After a lifetime of raising their family on the outskirts of one of the largest cities in America, the two decided to invest in themselves and head for the hills – the Texas Hill Country.

They followed the dogs back through the brush, down nature-cut rock pathways, to discover the Blanco River gently sweeping past. Also, as if forgotten by time and pushed aside, rest a small wooden cabin near the water’s edge.

“There were holes straight through the roof and the floor,” she says.

Then the next chapter began – they saved the cabin.

“We bought the property and my dad and I took the cabin apart, piece by piece, and dragged it up the hill,” she says.

“My husband and I planned to live a year in the cabin, but it turned into to seven years.” She pauses. “But you know how things can go,” she says with a warm smile.

Today they share their cabin with a few people looking for a quiet, simple place to reset or reconnect.

“We saved the cabin and the cabin saved us,” she says, her words hinting at another story reserved for yet another time.

The cabin demands you slow down. From the moment the screen door welcomes you with a universal rasp, the pace of the one-bedroom cabin permeates your being, as if insisting you turn yourself over to a time slightly beyond your memory.

Morning coffee? First grind your beans and wait for to coffee to be ready. Biscuits? Lift up the metal grate inside the small white appliance and light the pilot light. Cold? Grab a blanket while the cabin takes a more natural timeline to warming up.

There is something beautiful about living in a world where your coffee is not prepackaged in a small pod and ready at a moment’s notice. And to have to figure out how to light an oven without calling a repairman is rewarding. And as for a blanket, we could all learn this lesson.

The cabin offers a world where streaming television and movies are replaced by board games and compel deep and meaningful conversations between two people.

One evening sitting on the front porch, my feet up on the wooden railing, I again lose the sun behind the hills overlooking the gentle turquoise river. But if the cabin taught me anything it is that there will always be another day.

 

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EndFragment

Trump Brews Concerns For Barista

 

Apparently last Thursday was not just another Thursday for a young girl behind the counter in a Dallas coffee shop.

Her smile is wide and beautiful, but her voice hinted at something hidden behind her metallic barista nametag.

“How are you doing today?” I said as she began pouring my coffee.

“Well, okay I guess,” she said. Hesitation punctuated her words. “Actually I’m nervous.” Her confession surprised even her.

“About what?”

“We get a new president tomorrow and I’m not sure what is going to happen.”

Turns out she is a college student who also happens to be an African-American worried about what the new administration might mean for America.

“I’m worried about things changing back,” she said.

She began sharing with me of what friends and family were telling her about how the world would be changing with Donald Trump in the White House. She was nervous and concerned days of prejudice and ugliness would return.

Inside I hurt for the college student and I found myself wanting to relieve the pain she was carrying around with her. But I also knew there was no way for me to accurately appreciate or recognize the fears she carried. With decades between us, our worlds are different. She is African-American and I am not. Her future is before her; mine is approaching the home stretch. She has been politically aware of one president for most of her lifetime. Trump will put me near a half dozen. I also know Trump will be the forty-fifth president and another will follow.

“Remember, there are over 300 million of us verses one in this equation,” I said hoping to offer her something to hold onto. “Most of us in this nation are good people who are never going to let our country go backwards to the very things you are worrying about. We simply won’t stand for it.”

I know the words I shared with her are true but also carry the heavy burden of others getting productively engaged if this thing gets off the tracks. We, as a nation, owe it to this young woman and others to not passively sit by while a government – regardless of who sits in power – attempts to reshape or attack the rights of others. I know I will not.

The barista looked up and offered me a broken smile.

“I hope so,” she said, her words trailing softy off.

I wanted to giver her a hug. I then told her while the world does contain a number of people who are truly ugly and cruel, the vast majority of Americans are good people. And those of us who know how far we’ve come to get where we are today will be damned if we let this nation go backwards in regards to women’s rights and the basic freedoms extended to all regardless of race, creed, or color.

And for the next four years I will be working to keep my word to the young college student.

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Haircut Reveals Journeyed Soul

Little steps lead to big steps.

“I’m going on twelve years clean and sober,” said the man sitting in a plain chair. Black molded plastic and four thin metal legs support a man whose journey is one most of us can never envision.

He smiles, his salt and pepper mustache colored with a touch of yellow nicotine above his upper lip – a subtle tell of not being a stranger to a cigarette or two.

At a local community church outreach, homeless and others in need are invited for free haircuts. No questions, only love, a hug or two, and a haircut. The event, staffed with volunteers – even those cutting – are here because they want to help.

What they don’t know, nor does anyone else, are the personal stories sitting beneath the black cloths that drape around each of the guests.

His eyes are bright as the hair stylist weaves his unkempt hair between her fingers, carefully threading strands between the black teeth of a comb as the silver blades of scissors cut a horizontal line.

With each pass for the shears, a new person is being revealed from behind the hair.

“Yes, I did my share,” he said. Alcohol, drugs, and other things he’d just as soon not remember, litter his past he tells me.

“But I’m clean now,” he says again, this time as a statement. The words he now owns – he’s earned them and knows it.

I congratulate him. He tells me about his path, one of time in the military and bouncing around different areas. But what he knows now is each day is a blank slate and it is up to him to succeed against the odds.

Life is hard. People who fight substance abuse face an even more difficult road – one filled with misguided solutions to pain and people who care for you is superficial at best. Having no one to turn to or anywhere to turn when you need it the must be one of the truest definitions of loneliness. And for most of us, we can only feebly relate through our limited imagination of such circumstances.

Looking down around the man is a pool of black and white clippings. He looks remarkable. A transformation is occurring before my eyes. Even his spirit is lifted by his new appearance. Magic is happening.

The next day our paths cross inside a church service – he’s taken me up on my offer to visit. Sitting within feet of where his remarkable transformation occurred 24 hours earlier, he and I visit again. He’s strong, solid, and confident.

I notice a silver bracelet on his left arm.

“My brother-in-law was a welder and made it for me when I got clean,” he said.

Slipping the heavy silver object off his wrist, he proudly shares with me. Much like my new friend, it is worn, shows a few nicks, but regardless is strong and proud. The bracelet is more than a piece of beautiful woven metal rope – it is my friend.

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Social Media Not So Social To Many

Wednesday I had lunch with the last man on the planet not on social media.

“The only ‘insta’ I use is instant oatmeal,” he said.

Another friend once said that “Facebook is the door in which the devil walks into your life.”

He’s not a nut. Actually he is a highly intelligent man schooled and deeply accomplished in the media world. And better yet, he was saying this long before others began to question their blind integration of social media in their lives.

My lunch friend, the one who limits his ‘insta’ to instant oatmeal, is also a perfectly well adjusted and successful person. He has a wonderful wife, kids, and probably a mortgage.

“So,” I said. “Are you happy without social media in your life?’

He looked back at me like I’d asked him how did he live without a daily dose of cod liver oil.

“I’m very happy.”

Remarkably the blinding shine of social media is beginning to fade. After years of unbridled enthusiasm, many people are beginning to question the time and effort they invest in social media. And furthermore, with a seemingly new option hitting the app store every time you turn around, where does one decide to put efforts?

In the United States, the average user is not a teenager, college student of newly married family with kids. On the contrary, those users are exactly the ones abandoning social media in legions. Nearly 43% of all users are over the age of 40. Some younger users already are recognizing social media may not be all it is cracked up to be.

My lunch friend is an example some whose life many look to longingly – a time before notifications, likes, and emojis floating across their screen. He feels no pseudo social pressure to participate in conversations because someone tagged him. He is even free to think political thoughts – and not share them across the digital landscape.

Yes, he is a man at peace with himself and the world around him.

This week I shared a video with friends about how social media is creating a world of terror between the ears of today’s youth (and others). Social media, the speaker said, is like a drug – literally.

“Every time you receive a like, tag, or notification, your brain releases a shot of dopamine – the natural chemical designed to make us feel good,” he said.

“And dopamine is highly addictive. In society we have laws about alcohol, drugs, and gambling – but not social media.”

He’s not recommending legislating social media, but he goes on to identify how social media is a leading or contributing factor in rising teen suicides and other dysfunctional activities.

Life on social media looks great – even when your life is crap. And the images and implied on social media can be lethally destructive to users.

I envy my friend at lunch. His world is what he sees, who he speaks to, what shows up in his email. When someone unfriends him, he moves on.

Thumbs up.

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