Monday, February 11, 2013

The Hazards of Time Travel

I was re reading my last post and I realized that I didn't do a very good job explaining who my friend is. I think I came across a bit harsh and judgmental about her take on her son and his future. In fact, my words sounded quite blaming....and that was not my intention. My friend is a wonderful person and a dedicated and involved parent who wants the best for her son. I have always enjoyed my interaction with her and although we do not see each other often, when we do come together, I find her to be a fun and enlightening person. In some ways, I guess this is my point. This conversation is not about good or bad...or right or is not about judging parents or accusing them of being over involved ( Don't get me started on the whole "helicopter parent" theme.....can we be anymore judgmental toward parents?). My point is that in our society there exists certain themes and messages that we accept as gospel. These narratives become so ingrained in our consciousness that we do not ever stop and ask if there is any evidence that they are true. If we were to thoroughly explore the content of these societal stories, we might find that they are not only not based in fact, but they serve to create a level of worry and anxiety that is not needed, and yet, can feel overwhelming. 

Have you ever stopped to think about the temporal aspect of our thinking and feeling? Where does your mind dwell? If you have a tendency to dwell in the past, there is a good chance that you experience your fair share of sadness, regret and depression. If your mind spends most of its time thinking about the future, you probably experience worry and anxiety. I can't tell you how often my thoughts take me to both my past and my future. Now some of you might be thinking that there is a benefit to exploring both "time zones." This is true to a point. We can learn much about moving forward by assessing our past and the best goal setting requires attention to how I would like my future to look. At the end of the day, this really becomes about two issues.  First, how much time do I spend dwelling in the past or the future? Second, does this endeavor prove to be a productive use of my time and energy?

The "I worry about my child's future" theme is an excellent example from which you can self assess. How much time do you spend ruminating over this thought? What is the emotional cost? What is the level of worry and anxiety that you experience? Is this a productive use of your time? The question of "productive use of time" is the fascinating question for me......probably because I am so often guilty of this. A colleague of mine refers to worry as "time well wasted." If you think about this statement, you will see the truth in it. I don't know about you, but very rarely does my worry result in a "change in reality" as the things I worry about, especially when it comes to my children, are out of my control. I can not make things happen in my children's lives, only they can! They are in total control of their choices, behaviors and lives. It is just a fantasy that us parents like to participate in that we can "control" our children. It's almost like belief in this magical power substantiates my worry. If I believe that my worry, no matter how much time and energy I invest in it, will not result in changes in my child's life, changes only they can make, then, at the end of the day, what is the productivity of my worry? I can extrapolate this line of thinking to any topic that requires me to spend an inordinate amount of time dwelling in the past or the future.

Some of you are probably thinking that it is impossible to not worry about your children. I agree wholeheartedly! In fact, if any of you can figure out how not to spend a significant amount of time and energy worrying about your children, will you please write a book!!!!! I will be the first to buy it!!!!! For me, this has becomes less about beating myself up for hanging out at either end of my life calendar......I consistently find myself in both places.And if I am honest , when I am there, I am engaged in some combination of regret and worry, neither being a productive use of my time. I now simply want to commit myself to stepping out of the time tunnel for even a few minutes a day.

What I now attempt to focus on is increasing the amount of time that I spend in the here and now. I find this to be quite stop my emotional time traveling and just enjoy the moment. More and more is being written about the many practices that fall under the heading of mindfulness. I think in terms of patience and stillness. These concepts remind me to not go into the past or the future....just STOP and spend a moment in the present. I do not practice this as consistently as I would like yet, but I am improving. My goal is to not let a day go by that I do not carve out at least one 10 minute span of time to just sit with my thoughts and feelings, not judge them, not judge myself, not regret, not worry, just be.

Are you worth 10 minutes a day?

Check out this video from mindfulness expert Andy Puddicombe.......

I wish you purpose, passion and peace!


Thursday, February 7, 2013

Will my kid fall behind? issue of mindset....and me

In our present day culture, the emphasis on education as the key to ones happiness in life is a powerful narrative. From the time our children enter kindergarten....let me take that back...from the time they enter pre school, they, and us parents, are inundated with an assortment of messages regarding the importance of education. This narrative points to education as the "key to lifelong success and happiness." Inherent in this general narrative is an equally  resiliant sub narrative that goes something like this; " If our children don't take full advantage of their educational opportunities prior to age 18, if they don't take every AP class, if they don't build an activities resume that lists every sport and club known to human kind, if they don't get into the biggest and best college, they are destined to be behind their peer for the remainder of their lives." If you think I'm too dramatic, you are either not a parent or haven't been speaking with any.  AP classes, GPA's, number of colleges applied to.....welcome to the new form of "keeping up with the Jones." And if you are thinking that this is a source of stress for our children, let me tell you about a recent conversation I had with a friend of mine.

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to spend some time with a woman that I know. We are friends, not close friends, but we know each other through some community connections and our children have been friends. Her son is in his junior year in high school. I know her son. He is a wonderful young man...intelligent, resourceful, strong student and athlete, excellent interpersonal skills..... a nice kid! We had not seen each other in a while so we were catching up on what our children are up to. As she was telling me about her son's latest endeavors, she made the following statement;  " I have told him that the next year of his life with be THE MOST IMPORTANT YEAR IN HIS LIFE." ( I added the caps ).  She went on to share her belief that the last 1 1/2 years of her son's high school career will completely shape his entire future....positive or negative!

I have had the opportunity to have a similar conversation with many parents. The level of anxiety and fear that is embeded in this perspective is palpable and I find myself continually curious about the factors in our culture that create this mindset. I know we all love our children and want the best for them. I get that education is important and that we all want our children to achieve to their ability. But to look at any 16 - 18 year old and tell them, and believe yourself, that their decisions and actions over the next tiny portion of their lives will set in concrete their ultimate destiney is is just wrong! I don't mean its wrong from a moral standpoint or just because I have a different perspective. I mean this is wrong because there is no evidence in the real world to support this supposition.

How many of us have known people ( maybe even ourselves) who struggled through their teens and yet have created a very successful life? How many people were well into their 30's before they finally found their calling? How many people delay college for a variety of reasons and still are able to find a meaningful career? How many people have had to reinvent themselves numerous times through their career? How many people find passion in careers that don't require a 4 year degree? How many people do you know who have been able to benefit from the second, third, or fourth chance that life has afforded them?  How many people do you know who have rejected the traditional college/career path for something a bit more unorthodox and yet still were able to create a very meaningful life?

How can we turn to any teenager and tell them with a straight face that if they don' t get this thing we call life and career figured out by the end of June of their senior year in high school, they are destined for a life of misery??

So back to my curiousity about the origins of this line of anxiety ridden belief. I know that there is no one explanation or factor that has helped to create a generation of anxious and scared students and their parents. But I do believe that part of the answer can be found in the concept of individual's, and more specfically, our cultural mindset around the concept of deficit/abundance.

Is there enough??? This is the fundamental question that is at the base of a person's deficit/abundance mindset. You might be asking, "enough of what?" Well, the answer all depends on what we are talking about. In terms of the heightened parental anxiety around academic and career attainment, a deficit mindset internal conversation might sound something like this; "if my child doesn't get the best grades, he won't get into the best school, he won't have the same opportunities as those at the "better" schools, he will graduate with limited job opportunities, he will fall behind on the career ladder, etc. For the child, and their parent,  that doesn't follow the prescribed route through the educational system, namely, complete high school in four years, go right onto college and complete your Bachelors degree by 22, the volume of the deficit internal voice can be deafening. There is not enough...not enough money, not enough opportunity, not enough happiness. If my child falls "behind" even one day, if she passes on even one opportunity, one club, one sport, one community service experience, she will be playing catch up "for the rest of her life!" "If some one gets there first (who knows where where is), my kid won't."

There is evidence galore in our greater culture of this deficit mindset. The overemphasis on competition vs. cooperation, the media's obsession with what we don't have, with what is in short supply, the drive for consumption, the quick and easy access to everything from food to entertainment to technology. This entire conversation becomes even more complex with the prevailing belief that if you go to school, do well, go to college, do well, and find a job, this will allow you to live a happy and meaningful life for the rest of your life ( there is no evidence of this being true...a topic for a future blog post).  Could the frenetic rush of our lives be driven by a fundamental belief that if we don't get our stuff now, it won't be available tomorrow, and if it's not available to us tomorrow (never mind the fear that someone else got it before we did) we might never be able to attain it?

There is enough! This is the cornerstone belief behind a mindset of abundance. It is a perspective on self and the world that holds that there is more than enough of what people want.... for everyone. An abundance mindset subscribes to win-win! There are plenty of opportunities in the world, there is plenty of money, food, friends and happiness. As I pursue my personal definition of these items, I do not believe that if I achieve what I want, there will be less for you...or visa versa. There is nothing about this mindset that is magical thinking...its not some spiritual mumbo jumbo....and it does not mean a person does not have to work hard to create their happiness.It is just a life view that frees a person up to take their own path, to now follow the crowd out of fear that they will miss something. It is a philosophy that creates less anxiety and more hope, a mindset that honors that not all children will take the same path.  And I would add, that in my 53 years on this planet, it is a mindset that greatly enhances my sense of happiness, meaning, and calmness. I can also admit, that in my role as a parent, there are times that it has been incredibly challenging to not allow myself to get caught up in the prevailing deficit narrative, to not experience that wave of anxiety about whether my children are "falling behind." You know those moments.....when you are talking with friends who tell you all the wonderful stuff that is going on with their kids...and in your much as you don't want are comparing...."maybe my kid isn't doing enough"......."maybe they are already falling behind"........"they have to get moving now on their career"......."have I given them enough"........have I been a good enough parent?"............"what does it say about me that my kid isn't following the preferred path?" AHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!! In a blink of the eye, I go from feeling in control and completely adequate as a parent to inferior, inadequate, and questioning every parenting decision I have made! Oh my God!!!! this started out as me just wanting my child to find success and now, when it comes right down to it, this is totally about me!

What do I need to do to practice an abundance mindset?

What practices can I build into my daily life to actively pursue gratitude (a close cousin of abundance)?

How do I allow my child to truly find their path (not the path I wish for them)?

To be continued.........

I wish you all a life of purpose, passion and peace