Maybe you saw the YouTube video showing a huge chalkboard placed in the middle of New York City with the words “WRITE YOUR BIGGEST REGRET” written at the top. People of all descriptions began to write -- and there was one word that showed up in every response.
What do you think it was? PAUSE --”Anyone want to make a guess?”
It was the word “NOT” -- not finishing my MBA”, “not spending more time with the kids,” “not traveling the world,” “not starting a savings account in my 20s,” “not saying YES to things,” “not following my artistic talent,” “not being a better friend,”..
All these regrets have something in common. There are all about chances not taken, words not spoken, dreams never pursued. There were tears -- and there was one man who said “Thank you, thank you” several times.
Then the people who lingered were given an eraser. You should have seen the smiles as people wiped the board clean. One woman commented: “A clean board seems like where I want to be, seems like where I want to go. It’s hopeful. It means there’s possibility.”
It’s liberating to know that it’s not the missteps -- some of them colossal -- that I’ve taken in life that I’m likely to regret; it’s the steps not taken.
IT’S TIME TO TAKE SOME STEPS!
We All Need a New Heart
I have a dear friend who just launched a private Facebook page called “Heart Munchies.” Anne Marie describes it as a light, playful invitation to enter a world that is rich in meaning, where wonder, adventure and fun are treasured values. Heart Munchies, she says, are “food for your heart, essential nutrients for living a heart centered life, compelling you to:
*Live in possibility
*Be driven by passion and purpose
*Continuously expand with personal growth
*Be obedient to the callings of your heart
*Make your heart your best friend”
What a brilliant idea to offer people a forum to expand into a brighter, more joyful experience of life.
This reminds me of a personal mentor’s commitment to daily “gratitudes” -- compiling things to be grateful for instead of compiling complaints, focusing on what is great about my life instead of what is not so great. This is “heart food” especially rich in nutrients.
So what feeds my heart these days? What makes my heart swell with gratitude and wonder?
*Any thought of Georg Weisenthaler, the surgeon who pulled Lee back from the edge six weeks ago
*Listening to Lee breathing smoothly and easily during the night
*Kris and Allen Sudduth who -- with great generosity of spirit -- have stepped in to keep our business humming while we concentrate on building Lee’s strength
*Anticipating the arrival of Lee’s new heart
*Seeing the faces of men and women bloom as hope and possibility replace resignation and disillusionment
*The great outpouring of love and prayers that continues to rain down in our lives
*Insightful friends who lift us up and carry us forward when the slope is steep
In a certain sense, Lee already has his new heart, because as the song goes, he’s had the chance to live like he was dying.
“Live like you’re dying” is the name of a country song performed by Tim McGraw. It’s about what a man did when he was given the prognosis of only months to live.
The salient parts of the song go like this:
“I loved deeper, and I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying…
I was finally the husband that most of the time I wasn’t
And I became a friend a friend would like to have.
And I took a good long hard look at what I’d do
If I could do it all again.
I hope you get the chance to live like you were dying,
Like tomorrow was a gift and you’ve got eternity
To think about what could you do with it,
What can I do with it,
What would I do with it?”
When your life telescopes down to a minute by minute awareness of the value of THIS moment, you have a new heart. You are living a heart-centered life, driven by passion and purpose, by compassion and gratitude. Life is all about the possibilities that were previously pushed aside by fear and complacence.
We all have limited time here.
We all have the chance “to live like we’re dying.”
We all have a chance at living our lives with a new heart.
A wise man once told me that there are two ways to live my life;
One is as if there are no miracles.
The other is as if everything is a miracle.
Feel the wonder.
EVERYTHING is a miracle.
In the course of this journey to a new heart for Lee, there have been multiple teams.
First, there was the Evaluation Team to see if Lee would qualify for heart transplant. This involved a week and a half of intensive testing for any other health issues, physical, psychological or mental, five or six immunizations and several dozen blood tests.
Once it became clear that Lee’s old heart was deteriorating too fast to wait for the right donor heart, it was the LVAD Team who showed up to help him accept and then function well with an implanted heart pump as a bridge to transplant.
Once Lee had recovered sufficiently from the LVAD surgery, the Heart Transplant Coordinators placed his name on the list of people waiting for a heart and together we began the vigil to find a match in blood type and heart size for Lee when his turn came.
Now we’re working closely with the Post Transplant Team to make sure we minimize the risk that Lee’s body will reject his new heart, and that the very powerful medications required to prevent rejection don’t cause cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis or kidney failure -- to name a few common side effects. For the past six weeks, there have been infusions, labs, biopsies and clinics nearly every day of the week. Our team calls at least every other day to adjust the balance of the 40 plus medications Lee takes every day, and to offer encouragement when progress is painful and slow.
Several of the team members we’ve worked with have become lifelong friends. It’s not impersonal. I’m sure they care about UCSF’s survival statistics and the security of their jobs, but there’s no question that that these are people dedicated to extending and expanding the lives of people like Lee -- as many as they can.
I ask myself: What are the chances that Lee and I could navigate this maze on our own? What are the odds that Lee would have survived without the coordinated efforts of proven teams?
I believe it’s not too much of a reach to say that the coordinated efforts of proven teams is just as crucial in building our business.
When I first became a business owner, I didn’t understand the power of team. I didn’t play baseball, basketball or even volleyball. I wasn’t on a swim team like Lee. I suffered from the common misconception that I had to get up to speed and somehow become a masterful business builder overnight.
It took a while but then I began to understand that I had neither the knowledge, nor the resources, nor the time and energy to succeed on my own. I learned that every part of the business, every step of the 8 Step Pattern of Success is a team effort.
I love Kris Sudduth’s response when a candidate says, “But I don’t have enough time!” She says, “It’s not that you don’t have enough TIME; it’s that you don’t have enough TEAM.”
How do we leverage what time we each have? And how do we leverage the skills we each have? The answer is allow ourselves to become accountable to a proven team dedicated to expanding lives, just as Lee and I became accountable to proven team dedicated to extending lives.
When I first got started in my business, a full time job and two small children meant I had very little time to devote to it. I was a good student: I listened, I read, I showed up at open plans and seminars -- and I made a few calls that resulted in a couple of partners. My support team then leveraged my time by helping me build my dream and my list, improve my calls, show short effective plans and always follow-through as promptly as possible. They were always there to encourage, celebrate and course-correct.
Allen Sudduth likes to say that he and the team supporting him weren’t going to see each other at the same parties. I get what he means: I felt different from my new team; It took awhile for me to look past our differences to see that they had knowledge and experience that I didn’t, and that working together we could create exponential growth. As individuals we each had a piece or two of the puzzle but together we had all the pieces to make our visions into reality.
Success as a heart transplant recipient or as a business owner -- success in anything -- means you were willing to show up for practice, listen to those with the knowledge and the vision, and then pay it forward. The one in the spotlight who has achieved success has a team or multiple teams who supported their ascent -- who provided the knowledge, the resources, and the encouragement. This is always true in any field of endeavor.
Getting registered is good. Getting started is something else entirely. Getting started means finding those members of your team who are eager to show you the ropes and give you a boost in the direction of your dreams. Your team hangs in there, believing in your dream even when you don’t.
Fourth quarter--Counting on Overtime
A wise friend told me that she was resurrecting the victories during each quarter of her life. She decided on 20 year segments: Birth through age 20, 20 through 40, 40 through 60, 60 through 80. “Of course”, she amended, “there will be extra innings -- or overtime.”
Here in the fourth quarter at age 68, scoring victories is different than the wins of 17 or 35 or 52. Some of the victories now are in the service of making those extra innings we anticipate the apex of our “game.”
My First Quarter: Birth to Age 20
The victories of my first quarter include risky ventures like jumping Highway 50 on skis at age 9, walking the spines of homes under construction when I was around 11 or 12, jumping into the well at the Pulgas Water Temple off Hwy. 280 when I was 17.
It was also my 17th year that I gave a talk on French existentialism, in French, at Stanford before I knew I would apply and attend there. I recall that I was so stressed by this speaking debut that I contracted a prolonged and painful case of mononucleosis.
At the time, it seemed like a victory to be dating the MVP in football and basketball even though I was in the “brain” clique, not the “cheerleader/jock” clique in high school.
I was asked to be Valedictorian for my graduating class. My response? Having tested those risky waters, I said, “I’ll write it, but I won’t speak in front of all those people.” I later turned down a radio show offered because of my book review column in San Francisco Magazine. This stance was destined for a one of those complete 180 degree turnarounds. (See 3rd and 4th quarter).
My application to Stanford was accepted and several scholarships awarded. Straddling my 20th year, I attended Stanford in Vienna, which was the first departure from my strictly California cultural roots. This is where I acquired the conviction that one doesn’t appreciate their country of origin until they’ve lived somewhere else. It was also where I learned that most of our education is incidental to the courses we take.
My Second Quarter: Age 20 to Age 40
I graduated from Stanford early, and 45 years later my mother is still disappointed that I didn’t bother to attend the graduation ceremony. Ceremonies didn’t seem important at the time. Only much later did I understand that ceremony exists to focus and unify families, to conserve shared victories.
I got a job with a non-scheduled airline that doesn’t exist anymore to make enough money to go back to school and get a couple of teaching credentials. I flew for two summers, always being furloughed in time to begin the school year, because fewer planes were chartered in the fall, winter and spring. I learned I wasn’t ready to be the free spirit I thought I was; there were times I literally kissed the ground at home. Charter or non-scheduled airlines were notorious for calling the crew half-way home and surprising us with another planeload of Japanese nurses or Shriners or barbershop quartets and sending us back over the Atlantic or Pacific one more time. “We’re turning you around” were words I came to dread.
In my mid-twenties, I started my first long-term (9 years) relationship with a man who is still a good friend. Brian was an Annapolis grad/ model-actor who was rooming with a pilot I dated for awhile. Together we attended a San Francisco Magazine party -- can’t remember why. After a conversation with the editor, I started writing the book column. Victories include interviewing Gore Vidal (best known for the book/movie Caligula), James Baldwin (Go Tell it on the Mountain), Joseph Heller (Catch-22) and Maia Angelou (I Know Why the Caged Bird Flies). I interviewed anyone who went on book tour -- including a hit man, an emerald miner, and the husband of iconic actress Rosalind Russell. “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.” is the Rosalind Russell quote that reminds me even now that the banquet table is set for me. I just have to be have the courage to partake of the feast of people, places and peak experiences.
When San Francisco Magazine was sold to LA Magazine and dropped the book and theatre columns in favor of features like “The Top Ten Eligible Men in San Francisco,” I began writing feature stories. The one I enjoyed the most was “Survivors of the Quake” for the April issue of SF Mag to commemorate the 1906 quake. I interviewed people who had been children at that momentous event, and learned that the child in all of us doesn’t count the consequences -- loss of life and property -- but revels in and retains the wonder of new experiences like camping in the park, Chinese people passing out silver dollars for luck and two sisters who were extricated, giggling hysterically, from a Murphy bed that returned to upright --trapping them like two clams in one shell -- when the early morning quake hit.
With my San Francisco Magazine bi-line as a reference, I climbed on a plane and headed to New York to pitch stories to Cosmopolitan, Redbook and Business 2.0 among others. The next few years I wrote a number of international cover stories on health and cutting edge science. Every few months, I commuted to New York, where my author friends introduced me to the original writers of Saturday Night Live. I still remember swinging down 5th Avenue, my heart in my throat, wearing my black pencil skirt and green silk blouse, to go pitch stories to Helen Gurley Brown, legendary editor of Cosmopolitan. It was an exciting, fast-paced time when pushing past preconceived boundaries became if not a habit, an addictive rush.
I was writing for Cosmopolitan and Redbook, and Brian was doing Doublemint Gum commercials and gracing the cover of Playgirl Magazine. We felt like the role models for the hot-tub-and peacock-feather movement.
Brian had introduced me to running. I still miss heading out the door and working towards that first sweaty epinephrine high about 2 miles into the run. I wrote for about 2 hours every morning and then went for a 5 to 7 mile run - and the rest of the day was mine and I could eat ANYTHING. We raced with the Mt. Tamalpais running club, and just before my 30th birthday I completed my first marathon in just under four hours. I was planning to run half of the San Francisco marathon that day. The victory was that I just kept going. So many of my wins have been just that -- pushing past what I thought I could do.
At 34, it finally registered for me that sweet, fun Brian was never going to change his mind about having children, and it was time to go. This was a very difficult choice, but because I faced this hurdle of moving on, I married John a year later and our son, Duncan arrived a year later, four months after I turned 36. Mayme joined us when I was closing in on 40. Mayme’s birth was a victory. Since Duncan arrived via emergency C-section, I was determined to experience natural childbirth once in my life. I found an obstetrician that would let me labor with no intercession unless absolutely necessary. Fifty hours of labor including 4 hours of pushing later, my beautiful daughter arrived. Mayme still brings me flowers -- on HER birthday.
The later half of my 30’s was a celebration of their victories. I revelled in their childhoods and strived to make them as full of wonder and magic as possible. The Tooth Fairy always left a note praising Duncan and Mayme’s best qualities (in VERY tiny handwriting) and Santa Claus always left a thank-you note for the cookies and a second one on behalf of the reindeer for the carrots.
During that era when so many of us waited to start families, several of my friends waited TOO long and later greatly regretted it. This contrast elevates parenthood from customary to victorious. Even though my first marriage was destined to end, Duncan and Mayme have brightened and enlightened my life beyond measure. There are just things you never need to know about yourself if you never have children -- and for me, self-knowledge, or wisdom, is the ultimate destination.
My Third Quarter -- Age 40 to Age 60
It was just before my 40th birthday that I accepted that my then-husband was not committed to (did not even recall) the agreement that he would take a turn at working out in the world, and I would get my chance to be a full-time parent. He was committed to loving his kids, cooking us great meals and assembling a legendary wine cellar, but only very occasionally contributing to the family budget. Having waited so long, I was desperate not to miss ushering Duncan and Mayme through childhood.
A good friend approached me about a business that might allow me to “retire within the next five years.” Bristling with skepticism (hope twisted by fear), I said, “I’m listening…” A couple of months later, after extensive research, I stopped saying “NO” long enough to see the possibilities. I learned that suspending my programmed disbelief -- and allowing myself to actually believe that life could be better -- is the critical element in navigating to a new destination.
The victory of turning in my keys and coming home to Duncan and Mayme two and a half years later ranks right up there in the top five victories in my life. I still remember how it felt packing up a friend’s truck with my old oak desk and several boxes and saying goodbye to Sonoma Country Day School after 12 years. Relief laced with euphoria is the best description I can come up with. I have a much-loved photo of Mayme grinning impossibly big, sitting on my lap for the pumpkin patch hay ride the following October. I’ve always called this “my victory photo.”
It was a good school and I did good work there, both as a teacher and as Admissions Director, but I had much more important work to do at home and in my business. Duncan, as a dyslexic non-reader in the second grade, would need our combined focused efforts to get him through a school system that wanted to label his exceptional intelligence, creativity and insight as a disability. Mayme, who excelled in school and welcomed new challenges, counted on me as a dedicated cheering section -- someone who was not too tired after a day’s work to spend time baking cookies or watching a Shirley Temple movie with her.
My purpose in my business moved from eliminating the heavy burden of debt we’d accumulated to awakening others to claiming the lives they really wanted to live. After pushing past my initial terror, I began to speak to larger and larger groups from coast to coast -- and I began to enjoy it. The lives of some of the people I had introduced to the business began to change -- less time on the job, more time with the people they love, less debt, a car that started every time. It’s a business that celebrates every little victory,and the victories I remember best during this time were witnessing the recognition of others I had the honor of helping.
It was an unexpected victory to convince John to join me for counseling. I was hoping that -- with someone else in the room -- he could finally be able to hear that I just wanted a little help. I wanted him to find a way to contribute financially -- while I got my business solidly off the ground. What actually occurred is that I finally heard that risk and expansion -- and solvency -- were my aspirations, not his. I’d stopped believing that he’d ever realize the paralyzing effect of alcohol on his life. Duncan and Mayme and I had become accustomed to being on our own from about 4pm on everyday. I had come to think of John’s drinking as slow suicide by very fine wine.
During the next decade, Duncan graduated from highschool and went off to study and paint at the San Francisco Art Institute. Then Mayme graduated and attended Sonoma State and University of London Royal Holloway. This, too, was a victory, because the growth of my business meant they would both emerge without the undermining debt so many students carry for so long after graduation.
My Fourth Quarter -- Age 60 to 80
I’m about one third the way through the fourth quarter, “AND THE SCORE IS……” -- there is no simple score, of course, in the game of life. But there are turning points in the game, and so far, this quarter has already had the crowd (me) gasping in exhilaration and surprise at the plays on the field.
I count it a victory that I stayed in my marriage until I had exhausted all avenues I could think of, until Duncan and Mayme had flown the nest, until I’d stood by John through the death of his father and through his mother Sofie coming to live with us -- until I felt I would contract some dire illness if I continued to be untrue to who I really am.
First I moved downstairs, painting four rooms, adding a kitchen and a pellet stove, insulating and dropping the bedroom ceiling so that I wouldn’t be continually awakened by Sofie. John’s mother was a very sweet woman who had fairly advanced Alzheimers, and her clock was beginning to flip -- up all night moving around the house and sleeping most of the day. I had been providing most of her care -- taking her on outings, giving her showers and soothing her paranoia.
It was a victory to claim my own space, but I was only there for about two months when housesitting for a friend for two weeks brought it home to me that I hadn’t moved far enough away. At my friend’s home, I felt so peaceful and autonomous with frequent spikes of actual joy! I started losing weight and taking LONG walks. During those long walks I found that I was rehearsing what to say to John. It was time to talk about a formal separation.
About this time, I called an old friend about helping me reach a bonus level in my business that would mean a $20,000 check at the end of the year -- a check that had new meaning after spending all my savings on creating a living space (that, as it turned out) I wouldn’t be using for long, and now launching into the unknown.
This friend was Lee Strong -- someone who had been a business partner 15 years earlier. Lee had suspended his business --- in fact he suspended just about everything he was pursuing -- about 10 years previously when he had been diagnosed with congestive heart failure. His heart was so enlarged that they were talking heart transplant. I didn’t see Lee once in that entire decade, but I had heard through mutual friends that the heart transplant hadn’t been necessary. Medications had worked exceptionally well in his case and he was doing fine, thriving in his database development business and going on grand adventures in his RV.
Lee’s response to my call was “Sure! But you have to have lunch with me.” He began calling regularly, asking if I wanted to check out antique stores in Petaluma, or take a hike around Spring Lake, or go geocaching (whatever that was!). I’d always enjoyed Lee’s company so I said, “Sure” -- and thought nothing of it until one day when suddenly we were holding hands over the lunch table. I was STILL thinking that it would be so great to live alone, but it seemed that Lee was making inroads in my heart.
Falling in love again? Lee knew long before I did, but in time I couldn’t deny how happy and present and energized I was whenever we were together.
There followed many happy days and months and years -- and MANY trips in his RV. I rediscovered the magic of campfires and starlit nights, of limitless vistas and deep conversations, of shared purpose and having someone to hold close at night. Both of us were -- and are -- amazed at the simplicity and completeness of our love.
We got married, and for two years now on our anniversary we’ve cried and danced again, listening to the recording of both our wedding rehearsal and our wedding.
We’re now in the very middle of the greatest endeavor we’re likely to face, because Lee’s heart stopped responding to medications and started to deteriorate rapidly about 10 months ago. Now we’re on a new journey. Destination: a new heart for Lee.
Victory Number One: Despite a very close call, Lee made it through the implantation of something called a Left Ventricle Assist Device, which is basically a motor that pushes about 6 liters of blood throw his body every minute. There have been some setbacks but all in all he’s getting stronger, and will soon be ready for
Victory Number Two: Lee’s new heart. We waited only 5 months, and Lee was in the hospital only 9 day -- and these two facts feel like genuine miracles.
Also on the scoreboard is the palpable new depths our relationship is reaching. Speaking with other couples who have gone through close call medical crises, I keep hearing these words: “Boy!! Did I find out who I was married to!” For me, I found out that I am married to a man of exceptional courage, optimism and vision. I also found out that I am capable of dedicating myself whole-heartedly to someone else -- with absolutely no resentment or unrest. I didn’t know that about myself. Lee and I love to talk about the passion, the ease, the playfulness and the harmony of our relationship. Now we’ve learned that it can withstand any storm, and wing even higher in high winds.
To date, in this quarter of the game, the clearest victory is the deep-seated understanding that happiness is born of gratitude married to a strong sense of purpose.
First quarter: experimentation, testing limits
Second quarter: expansion, testing limits
Third quarter: nurture and new beginnings -- reaching for more expansion
Fourth quarter: rejoicing and acknowledgment, gratitude and contribution
Many years ago when my son was diagnosed with dyslexia, a woman I respect greatly counseled me to be on the alert for people who might make Duncan feel like he needed to be fixed -- and to be very sure I wasn’t one of that number. She was another educator with a learning-different child of her own.
Yes, there needed to be strategies to help him navigate the expectations of an educational system that is designed for auditory and visual learners -- those who read fluently and memorize efficiently. At the time it was also a system designed to divert him from his real gifts -- drawing/painting/video production -- in order to address his “deficiencies.” In other words, we were always being told that he would be pulled from art class to take remedial reading classes. This was my cue to start the paperwork to transfer him to a different school. The price to “fix” him was too high; the price to fix him was to take away the primary activity for which he was celebrated.
I transferred Duncan three times during his elementary and high school years. It was a lot of extra work -- and extra driving time -- but Duncan had teachers who found ways to let him shine, both in his artwork and in his contribution to classroom discussions. In the areas where he needed support, these teachers understood that they didn’t need to dumb down the content. They just needed to help him with the mechanics.
I was referred to a tutor who had photos of famous dyslexics all over the walls of her in-home classroom: Steven Spielberg, Whoopi Goldberg, Mohammed Ali, Magic Johnson, Winston Churchill, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, Tom Cruise. Leonardo da Vinci -- and she made sure that Duncan knew that he too had an exceptional brain-- not a sub-standard one that needed to be fixed. She was his cheerleader, and because he was celebrated for his strengths, he improved steadily in those areas that were a struggle for him.
I can still feel my temperature rising when I recall the day a letter arrived from his high school recommending an extra course in making change, so that he could work at fast food restaurants; “After all, we all have to be productive members of society.” They might as well have written, “Here, we have this box we can put you in (literally), and then the problem-that-is-you is fixed.” Many times -- after Duncan had completed his B.A. at an excellent college, the San Francisco Art Institute -- I contemplated sending an announcement of completion to the authors of that letter. My more evolved self decided on a letter of gratitude to his tutor instead.
Years ago when I was teaching, there were always a few parents who would come in for their conference braced to hear how we were going to lower the hammer on their underachieving or misbehaving offspring. I always asked the same question: “Where does your child shine?” Whether it’s soccer or art, video games or the harmonica, a child needs to feel celebrated in order to be open to change. Someone with high self esteem is more productive -- and much easier to be around.
Consider the emotional bank account concept introduced in the book, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey. Covey explains that the emotional bank account is based on trust rather than money. Withdrawals come in the form of criticism, public castigation, any form of abuse and not keeping commitments. Deposits come in the form of praise, celebration, willingness to say you’re sorry and always doing what you say you will. When you’re making more deposits than withdrawals into someone’s emotional bank account, the relationship is strong and harmonious because both parties feel good about themselves and about how the other sees them. Trust is fertile ground for growth -- both growth of the relationship and growth of the individuals.
It’s not uncommon in couple relationships for one party to set out to “fix” the other. Maybe it’s the woman who feels she knows how her mate should dress, earn and recreate. She is the arbiter of correct standards, and she sets out to mold him to these universal (she believes) specifications. Maybe he has a gift for gardening, playing the guitar or running marathons. Maybe where he really shines is in making other people feel important. She admired his strengths and talents when they first got together, but now she is focused on the ways he falls outside her image of how her mate should be -- how loudly he talks on the phone, his propensity for letting the grass and late charges grow, his devotion to football and beer...
When Lee photographs a bee on a flower, the flower and the bee are distinct in the finest detail, but the background is fuzzy and indistinct. That’s what happens when our hypothetical woman focuses with great concentration on her mate’s perceived flaws; What isn’t right is clear and distinct and larger than life. What is right -- where he shines -- fades into a fuzzy, indistinct background. His gifts are denied center-stage. Rather than feeling celebrated, he feels like he can’t do anything right. The more withdrawals she makes from his emotional bank account, the more distance he wants to put between them and the more resistance he feels to changing whatever behavior is disturbing her.
We get more of what we focus on. More to the point, what we focus on is perceived as more and more prominent; it is, after all, the subject we’re bringing into careful focus in the foreground of our mental photograph. The danger is that in perfecting the focus on the ways in which her mate doesn’t meet her expectations, the “shortcomings” expand in her consciousness and before long entirely obscure his true gifts.
Note: Yes, there are behaviors that cannot be overlooked or tolerated. There are people that cannot or will not respond to respectful requests for change. Addictions, abuse -- whether physical or emotional, persistent apathy, clinical depression, diagnosed mental illness -- these are often manifestations of such a depleted emotional bank account that professional intervention is required to bring someone up to a positive balance again -- so that they can respond and not just react, so that they can choose to change.
If like me, you have a mate who is reasonably happy, balanced, and proactive in his life, it’s very simple to fill up his/her emotional bank account. What does it look like for us? It’s a touch, a kiss, a compliment, loving eye contact, preparation of a favorite meal, a back rub, holding hands, a night out, flowers, doing the dishes -- so many small acts of service and devotion.
Lee loves it when I pick up the tab for a meal out occasionally. It makes no difference, really. Our money is entirely merged at this point, but it makes him happy.
I love it when Lee suddenly freezes in mid-step and says, “Oh-oh, it happened AGAIN! I’m even more in love with you!”
We ask each other more than once a day, “What can I do for you?” More often than not, the answer is “Not a thing right now,” but it’s a great feeling knowing that someone really wants you to be as happy as possible.
When one of us does something undeniable stupid (like frying the microwave using it as a kitchen timer; yes, I did this), the other refrains from blaming. Lee helped me clean up, air out and then sat down and ordered a new one. I didn’t need to have a second opinion on how dense I can sometimes be in the service of expediency.
Lee and I recommend the book The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman whenever a friend says something like “We love each other, but we’re so different. I just don’t understand her.” A woman is more apt to say, “He just doesn’t get it!” Each of them are certain that they are showing their love and devotion, and just as certain that their partner is either refusing to acknowledge the effort or is just plain dense. It’s possible, says Chapman, that neither of them is fluent in their partner’s love language of origin. I know that Lee feels loved when I spontaneously give him a good foot rub (love language: physical touch), and he knows I feel loved when he raves about a turn of phrase in my writing (love language: words of affirmation) or jumps in and does the dishes (love language: acts of service). Filling up the emotional bank account is more effective when you’re depositing into the optimal account. As Lee says, why not make it the one that has the highest interest.
As a gardener, I think of it as providing the most fertile ground for Lee’s growth. How? Encourage, affirm, and celebrate him. Take time for a 10 minute foot rub. Love him without conditions. Lee has to do his own pruning, because only he can decide what the finished masterpiece that is Lee Strong will be.
I’ve heard it said that there is no such thing as constructive criticism, because by nature criticism is a tearing-down, not a building-up activity. Or to follow Covey’s metaphor, criticism is almost always a withdrawal from the emotional bank account. Happily, if you’re making frequent deposits and if your mate is a relatively happy, emotionally balanced person, respectful, loving requests for changed behavior are usually not perceived as withdrawals.
Consider this quote from Charles Schwab, investment guru: “I have yet to find the man, however exalted his station, who did not do better work and put forth greater effort under a spirit of approval than under a spirit of criticism.”
This seems like a good place for PROMISE #2 from our wedding:
We are too busy looking at what’s right with us to worry about what might be wrong. We promise to keep looking at what’s right.
What do I want more of?
And why do I want more?
Make no mistake, what we seek to acquire says volumes about us. But that doesn’t mean that you or I decided to live the story in those volumes. Or that we’re even aware of what our story -- specifically our “props” or belongings -- say about us and about our priorities.
One’s life story chronicalled according to possessions changes over time. Classically, we explore as youths, enjoying the acquisitions of our parents, free to travel light in the quest for new experiences in new places. Most attempt to build assets and nest as young and middle-aged adults, often acquiring so much that it spills into storage unit cities. Next, once retired from a job, the script reads: Downsize and consolidate. The fear is that we may outlive our money and end up in “affordable” assisted living wishing we could “opt out.” Worse, your debt AND a monumental pile of your junk might disrupt the lives of those you love the most, even once you’re gone.
There are infinite variations on the scenario, of course. And there’s an actual movement -- the Minimalist Movement -- giving people permission to walk away from hyper-consumption and 80+hour work weeks. Some proponents are extreme, aka “off the grid”. Some are finding the most comfortable way to make the money outlast the month. And some, are reverting to childhood, and choosing adventure and awe over convenience and caution.
There’s a cost, though, to abandoning the cultural expectations that say we have to live in a big house, drive a new car and take enviable vacations in order to wear the badge that says, “Successful American Human”.
Our stuff is inevitably part of our identity. As our possessions evolve so does at least one dimension of our sense of self.
For example, there was a period in my life when I was a college student living on brown rice and water in order to buy books. I didn’t look at this as a problem, just as the reality I was walking through on my way to something better.
There was another period in my late 20s and early 30s when I ran marathons and wrote stories for major magazines.
A more recent identity was as an independent woman supporting a family, and paying the mortgage on a beautiful lakeside property in northern California while building a business.
Most of those chapters were spent in the pursuit of more -- more knowledge, more excitement, more stability, more possessions, more options for myself and my two children.
Lee and I have a stripped-down life. First came the major purge four years ago, when we got rid of three vehicles and a three bedroom home with a large detached office and almost all the contents. We became nomadic, and at the same time, I became almost obsessive about lightening the burden of stuff, quickly donating anything that is rarely or never used. I love this line in a popular country song: “I have everything that I need, and nothing that I don’t.” What some people call “spring cleaning” is really a continual process for us, as we refine and reorganize our very limited storage spaces. If you’re packing everything up and moving every 2 days to 2 weeks, you soon learn to minimize the things that need to be protected from the 4 point earthquake called travelling from one place to another with all your possessions. Roads in California regularly take us into even higher numbers on the Richter Scale.
In the process of purging possessions, we pared down to a stripped-down sense of self. I’m not entirely sure of why this is true, or even how to describe it. I’m thinking it has something to do with departing from socially accepted norms.
Lee and I were recalling an encounter several years ago in a campground in Benbow, California. The man in a neighboring RV came over with his glass of wine and we invited him to have a seat. He was very friendly and forthcoming --- until he asked where our home was, and Lee related that we were renters, not owners. His demeanor changed instantly. He soon departed, leaving no doubt that we had plummeted in his esteem.
Owning one’s home is an ideal that has been equated with a successful life. It’s gratifying to see the assumption that more is always better held up to the light, as more and more people explore tiny homes, tree houses, the camping lifestyle and minimalism in all it’s various interpretations.
Living with less stuff doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. I see it as more of a trade. Lee and I faithfully watched a YouTube channel called “Less Junk, More Journey” once we began to seriously weigh the option of just hitting the road. It wasn’t that we identified with this young family from Tennessee, but their message is clear: They were willing to make the trade and grow closer together versus growing apart. They exchanged their stationary home and established careers for family unity and adventure.
So what was our trade when we made our leap?
We traded plenty of stuff -- closets of extra clothes, furniture, appliances, two bathrooms, extensive garden, precious antiques and memorabilia, books, photo albums, kitchenware, extra vehicles and so much more -- for plenty of new experiences.
We traded being able to do the laundry at any time for jockeying to stay somewhere with good laundry facilities when we start to run out of clean socks and underwear.
We traded seeing the same people frequently for meeting new people frequently. Funny realization came from this: We weren’t seeing those we care about the most any less while on the road. There’s an illusion that because someone is geographically nearby -- that because we could, logistically, see them frequently -- that we must have been actually seeing them frequently. This is not always the case.
We traded occasionally revisiting the beautiful places near where we lived with visiting breathtaking places regularly on our travels. Another revelation: When we had gone on vacations before, there was a frenzy to see EVERYTHING we could, because we didn’t know when we’d be able to come back. Now, when we feel it’s time to move on -- and we haven’t seen everything of interest -- we just say, with confidence, “We’ll be back!”
We traded lots of bills for few bills. We don’t have an electric bill, a garbage bill, a cable bill to name a few. Our fuel bill is larger than it was, but our “rent” bill is ten times smaller. We have maintenance bills seemingly all the time, and although they can be costly (ex. $2000 for a new roof when we drove too close to a tree branch), they don’t come close to brick and mortar maintenance costs.
We traded a lot of time apart for almost all our time together. We feel like we’re inventing a life together. This is, without question, the most fun creative collaboration I’ve ever experienced!
We traded juggling quite so many of life’s responsibilities for refining our sense of purpose. We feel we can make a much larger impact in the world by focusing on how we can give back rather than on how we can maintain an ultimately unsustainable lifestyle.
So we chose “more”:
More time together
More financial peace of mind
More new friends
More creative problem solving
More moments of awe and wonder in the natural world
More presence in the moment
A clearer purpose for our future
How is this reflected in our identities? Our sense of self is now about streamlining our life to free more energy and awareness for the list above. We care less about the assessment of others about how we live, and more about our own alignment with the life we’ve designed and the priorities we’ve chosen.
Susan is a published writer and motivational speaker with 30 years of experience, dedicated to guiding people to a life of financial invincibility and peace of mind.